Louis Gottschalk
September 9, 2006 5:22 PM   Subscribe

Louis Moreau Gottschalk - an unjustly forgotten American composer of classical music
posted by Gyan (13 comments total)
Cool, Gottschalk's got his own website! I await the blog...

I fell in love with his Grand Tarantelle back in college, and can still hear those showoffy chords in my head. Go listen to Gottschalk, everyone!


Charles Ives, born in 1874, and Charles Griffes, born in 1884, can both claim chronological precedence over Copland and Gershwin, but the proto-modern music Ives wrote prior to World War I has never been popular except among critics and a handful of performers...

Fuck Terry Teachout and his neoconservative agenda. He has good if limited taste, but I really get sick of his apparent need to dis everyone he doesn't have a taste for. Ives was a great American composer, some think the greatest; yeah, he's quirky and can be hard to take at times, but a smug "never been popular" used to sweep him under the rug is just dumb. Can't we praise those who we want to praise without this kind of crap?


posted by languagehat at 5:37 PM on September 9, 2006

In high school concert band, we played an arrangement of "A Night in the Tropics" before a gymnasium/auditorium of bemused Kansas small town folk and farmers, but it went over pretty well. We worked like hell all spring practicing it, but we never tired of it, and it felt as fresh the night we performed it in May, as it did when first we got through it complete, if shredded, on a cold winter morning, before school, the previous February.

Our high school band teacher did the arrangement himself, and he was extending us, as he always did, by getting us to play it. We knew nothing of Gottschalk when we began, but we had some greater pride in American music, and in ourselves, when we finished.
posted by paulsc at 5:53 PM on September 9, 2006

I agree with languagehat - Ives was very talented, but music snobs tend to shoot his work down. My own father dismisses him as "a bad Mahler impersonator", which I find ridiculous!
posted by tomcosgrave at 5:57 PM on September 9, 2006

I played the original orchestration of "A Night in the Tropics" in college - it was really something playing a piece written in 1859 that used Latin percussion! He was far ahead of his time.
posted by QuietDesperation at 7:07 PM on September 9, 2006

He still had some currency when I was living in New Orleans before Katrina. I have a half-dozen of his compositions in my iTunes, including Baboula.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:00 PM on September 9, 2006

I too balked at that sentance about Ives. The influence of Ives (musically AND financially) in establishing a lineage of innovative American experimental music (Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison, Harry Partch, John Cage....etc. etc.), of creating a distinctive American tradition separate from the European models is unmeasurable and much more important than any other composer Teachout names. I guess I didn't realize that in order to be important you had to be popular. Sounds like high school.
posted by Bistle at 8:10 PM on September 9, 2006

Ives is pretty well recognized at this point, as well he should be. Someday Anthony Braxton and Alvin Lucier will be too.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:53 PM on September 9, 2006

In college I was a member of a women's music fraternity. One of the core tenets was that we supported music by American composers, and put on an annual concert of music by American composers. This was particularly useful to me as an American composer, but I digress. As a result, we became more familiar than most folks with people like Ives and Gottschalk among others. I think part of the problem with Gottschalk's popularity is that what I've seen/heard of his work is so darn difficult! I loved "The Banjo" but there's no way in hell I will ever be able to make my fingers move like that. Conversely, this is why every serious high school musician knows about Paul Hindemith. Large swaths of his work are written to be deliberately accessible (Gebrauchsmusik).
posted by ilsa at 10:05 PM on September 9, 2006

Gottschalk is neglected, it's true. He's fun, and his biography is wonderfully outrageous. But he's not a major. On the other hand, he's certainly the American composer we should all be listening to instead of that irritating flea, Ives.
posted by Faze at 9:32 AM on September 10, 2006

Ives was very talented, but music snobs tend to shoot his work down.

Maybe amateur music snobs--every professional composer or conductor with whom I've ever discussed his music holds it in great esteem. The man is still among the most significant artists the US has ever produced.

[Pre-emptive broadside to all the haters:] If you don't like or get Ives' music, the problem is with your lack of understanding, not with his music. The substance of a work of art has little to do with one's taste. And Ives' profound influence on every other American composer who followed him is another clear indication of his worth as an artist. It is asinine to consider his 'popularity' when estimating the value or impact of his work--popularity is fleeting (as Gottschalk proves), and is often an inverse barometer for predicting the long-term impact and importance of an artist's work (consider how many significant composers have been roundly booed at premieres of important works--Strauss, Stravinsky, Varese, Bartok, off the top of my head. Slonimsky put together a whole book on this, the Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven's Time.)

As to Gottschalk, he's an interesting piece of a far too neglected developmental period in American concert music. Joseph Horowitz' fantastic book Classical Music in America: A History of Its Rise and Fall gives an excellent account of this period. Gottschalk's popular downfall was primarily brought about by John Sullivan Dwight--the significant Boston taste-maker of the time, who was all for the sacrilization of "high" art in music, and who naturally deplored Gottschalk's willing embrace of folk musics. Given that Gottschalk said things like this, I'm certain he had many well-placed detractors:
Understand then that I am simply Gottschalk, and nobody else....I could not be other, if I would--and I certainly would not be, if I could. I compose just to suit myself, and if my way please you, I am delighted---if not, I cannot help it.

The Germans and their music, I don't much like--with exceptions, of course. A sonata of Mozart sounds thinnish to me, of only Homeopathic potency, and very "mildly drawn." Those little bits of melodies in one hand and little bits of accompaniment in the other--don't ask me to like them--I cannot.
He fled the US in the wake of a scandal (apparently a misunderstood outing with a female Oakland seminary student), and died in South America at the age of 40, apparently from a ruptured appendix. Offending the taste-making elite (who, in late 19th century Boston and New York were mostly very wealthy and powerful) could be dangerous, it seems. No wonder Ives sold insurance and mostly kept his writing to himself.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:57 AM on September 10, 2006

Also, great post Gyan, thanks. And I see that the Terry Teachout article does cover Gottschalk's conflicts with the taste-making elite, sorry to be redundant. I quit reading that article the first time when the author dismissed Ives, which to me is a certain badge of musical ignorance.

(Yes, it's perfectly OK to not like Ives at all, in fact, it's OK by me to hate hearing his music. But to dismiss his work and impact because it wasn't 'popular' or doesn't fit your tastes is ignorance, is all I'm sayin'.)
posted by LooseFilter at 11:04 AM on September 10, 2006

And Ives' profound influence on every other American composer who followed him is another clear indication of his worth as an artist...

Sorry, but every American composer who followed Ives blew, big time. To escape the stink, the talent migrated to the admittedly minor realm of shows and popular music. A fixation on Ives is your short cut to compositional oblivion. The man was a dead end. An egotist who wanted to immolate himself and all Americam music with him. He pretty much succeded, as far as concert music is concerned. Ive's worth as an artist is about the same as Bin Laden's worth as a theologian.

While our pop, show and folk music have conquoured the world, the sheer putridness of American concert music is a profound wonder.
posted by Faze at 7:44 PM on September 10, 2006

Faze, your ignorance of American concert music is profound. I pity that you don't see the incredible artistry in the modernist masterpieces of Aaron Copland, or the exquisite craft of Samuel Barber, or the mind-blowing reinventions of tonality and counterpoint in the music of John Adams, because their music really is quite astonishing.

Really, to say something like:

Sorry, but every American composer who followed Ives blew, big time.

...is just plain ignorant.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:21 PM on September 10, 2006

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