Bamboula! the Life and Times of Louis Moreau Gottschalk
There can be few nineteenth century cultural figures whose lives offer a more splendid panorama of Old and New World culture than the American pianist and composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk. This eldest child from the union of a London-born Jewish businessman and a French Creole mother (descended from French landowners from Saint-Domingue) was born in New Orleans and was sent to Paris at the age of eleven to study music. Gottschalk returned to the United States in 1853 an internationally renowned concert artist and spent the next decade and a half traveling and concertizing across two continents, from New York to Havana and San Francisco to Rio de Janeiro, where he died in 1869 at the age of forty.
Gottschalk was without exaggeration the best-known and most significant American composer and performer of his age. In Paris, he was a friendly rival of Franz Liszt and Frederic Chopin, a friend of Hector Berlioz, an intimate at the most scintillating salons, and the acquaintance of most of the luminaries of the literary and artistic world. In Spain, Gottschalk was feted and knighted at the court of Queen Isabel II; across the Caribbean and through South America, from Peru and Chile to Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, he was celebrated as a pan-American hero. In the United States, Gottschalk knew Walt Whitman, was reviewed by Mark Twain, played for Abraham Lincoln in the White House, and became a cult figure during the Civil War when he criss-crossed the northern states in concerts in support of the Union cause.
S. Frederick Starr has captured this glittering career in a well-researched biography that does far more than merely enumerate the names and stations in Gottschalk’s career. His narrative offers a rich cultural history of four decades of musical life filled with fascinating detail concerning concert management and programming, travel...
(The entire section is 442 words.)