Louis Moreau Gottschalk was the first American composer, and well regarded pianist, to combine classical and popular music and in the process include syncopation that anticipated the music of ragtime a half century later. He composed and performed his music in the 1850's and during and immediately following the Civic War. Two of his most popular compositions, Bamboula and Pasquinade are regularly performed by ragtime and classical pianists at concerts and festivals around the world and his symphonies and piano concerts are available on CDs. Gottschalk was also one of the most effective American good-will ambassadors to Central and South America in the 1850-60s.
Louis Moreau Gottschalk was born a Creole in New Orleans on May 8, 1829, and died while touring in Brazil. His father was of English origin and his mother’s grandparents, related to the French aristocracy, had been plantation owners in Santao Domingo (Haiti) at the time of the great slave uprising.
From infancy. Louis showed remarkable musical gifts, able to repeat on the piano airs from the Rossini operas that were regularly performed at the French Opera House in New Orleans. As a child he heard Spanish and French gavottes and quadrilles at the French Opera House in New Orleans. As a child he also heard music of the African slaves and the Latin music of the Caribbean islands and South America. All these melodies were absorbed by the young Gottschalk.
At age 13 the young Creole was sent to France for his education and proved to be a remarkable keyboard virtuoso, praised by Chopin as a future "king of pianists." He also entranced the French public with his compositions, like The Banjo and La Bamboula, based on the Negro and Creole folk strains he had absorbed in his youth. After his return to the U.S., in 1853, he gave concert tours that were not only sensational events in the large cities but also brought a first taste of classical and light classical music to many backwoods communities as far west as St. Louis. In the west he commonly traveled with his grand piano by stagecoach. Beginning in 1856 he gave a series of concerts, over a span of six years, in countries of the Caribbean, including Cuba.
During his tours, in addition to drawing rave reviews as a pianist and composer, he was known as an organizer of gigantic concerts sometimes including as many as 650 musicians (orchestras and chorus). In Central and South America he spread the gospel of democracy.
His concerts in New York City were almost always sold out and the public could not get enough of him. During his lifetime he performed thousands of concerts all over North and South America. During his tours of South America he acted as America’s first informal ambassador who sought cooperation from all the countries in the hemisphere. He left us more than 100 published compositions including two "symphonies," numerous pieces for small orchestras and piano solo pieces which were played in parlors across the U.S. between 1860 and 1900. As part of the distinguished American composer series Oottschalk was honored on a 32 cent U.S. postage stamp in 1999.