Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Louis Moreau Gottschalk

Dr. Bob Prescribes The Piano Music of Louis Morau Gottschalk

The Prodigy and the Musical Venues of New Orleans Louis Moreau Gottschalk began playing the piano at around age 5, and by the time he was 7 he was one of those “child prodigies” of which every city could boast. However: Moreau (as he was called) lived in New Orleans, and for him, that made things different. It was no exaggeration when an article in the New Orleans Bee asserted – on November 18, 1837 – that: “the little musical enthusiasm prevailing in the United States is nearly entirely concentrated in New Orleans.” The young prodigy would grow up in a city whose population had available to them a variety of music unique in the United States at the time. There were three essential public venues for music in Gottschalk’s New Orleans: theaters (meaning opera houses, concert halls, and standard theaters); ballrooms and dance halls; and the streets. In the decades prior to the Civil War, New Orleans was the opera capital of North America. In the 1830s, New Orleans had two permanent opera houses before any other city in the United States had even one. In a single week in 1836 – the year the 7-year-old Moreau Gottschalk attended […]

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Music History Monday: Louis Moreau Gottschalk, or What Happens in Oakland Does Not Stay in Oakland

We mark the birth on May 8, 1829 – 194 years ago today – of the American composer and pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk, in New Orleans. He died, all-too-young, on December 18, 1869 at the age of forty, in exile in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Events that occurred in September of 1865 in San Francisco, California and across the San Francisco Bay in Oakland led directly to Gottschalk’s “exile” to South America. Those frankly tawdry events, most unfairly, have been recounted way too often and as a result, they have come to obscure Gottschalk’s memory as a composer, pianist, patriot, and philanthropist. That’s because people like me continue to write about them as if they, somehow, encapsulated the totality of who and what Louis Moreau Gottschalk was. I hate myself for having participated in this unholy example of scandal mongering – I do – and I stand before you filled with shame and remorse. Nevertheless. Nevertheless, I fully intend to rehash these salacious events here and now with the understanding that following that rehash, we will spend the remainder of this post and all of tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post doing penance, by providing a proper account of the cultural […]

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Music History Monday: We All Make Mistakes

Today we celebrate the 188th birthday of Louis Moreau Gottschalk. During his all-too-brief, 40-year lifetime, Gottschalk was considered to be the greatest pianist and composer ever born in the Western hemisphere, the “Chopin of the New World.” An American patriot, he foreswore his allegiance to his native South and embraced the Northern cause during the Civil War because of his unreserved hatred of slavery. During the Civil War he travelled and concertized tirelessly across the North and Midwest of the United States, inspiring his audiences with patriotic compositions and arrangements and giving away much of his earnings to veterans’ organizations. He was born in 1829 in what was then the most cultured and diverse city in the United States: New Orleans. Gottschalk’s heritage was diverse as well. His father was a Jewish businessman from London and his mother was Creole: a Louisiana native of French decent. He was a musical prodigy whose early compositions synthesized the incredibly different sorts of music he heard around him in New Orleans: African music, Caribbean music, Creole music, as well as the classics of the Euro-tradition. Gottschalk composed “Ragtime” fifty years before the term was invented. In some of his pieces he used the […]

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Louis Moreau Gottschalk: The Justin Bieber Of 1860s San Francisco

“Fame” and “fortune” remain two of the great bugaboos for those morality police who, possessing neither, would make our lives miserable for wanting either. I personally see no harm in fortune. Yes, I am aware that “money can’t buy you love” but it can buy just about everything else, most especially time: time to do things that do not in themselves generate money, like playing and composing music. Yes, I have read that wealth encourages sloth and boredom, but these seem to me to be operator errors and not something intrinsic to wealth per se. Certainly, there is nothing slothful about Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet, or Jeff Bezos. Fame however, is another thing. At the very least, fame destroys any prospect of privacy and freedom of motion. The pleasures small and large we all enjoy — a stroll to the grocery store; a visit to a museum; a quiet dinner in a restaurant; going to see a movie; being a tourist – are virtually impossible for the famous. Can we imagine George Clooney or Beyoncé or Tiger Woods living normal lives? We might envy them their wealth, but they are birds in a gilded cage. Fame — celebrity […]

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