From the mid-1850s until his death in December 1869, the New Orleans-born pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk was also a prolific composer.
During that brief decade and a half, he is believed to have written about 300 musical works, ranging from full-length symphonies to one-act operas to his most famous solo piano compositions.
A piano virtuoso and international sensation during his short lifetime, Gottschalk and his works have been enjoying a rebirth since compositions once thought lost forever were found.
Ten of Gottschalk’s pieces will be given an airing on Oct. 14 when the Historic New Orleans Collection presents “Louis Moreau Gottschalk and the Spanish World” at its annual Francisco Bouligny Lecture.
The free concert, featuring pianist Peter Collins and soprano Amy Pfrimmer, will be conducted in the HNOC’s Williams Research Center on Chartres Street in the French Quarter.
A world traveler who spent considerable time in Europe, the Caribbean and South America, in addition to traversing the U.S. from Boston to San Francisco, Gottschalk was especially inspired by the Spanish-flavored music he heard while growing up in New Orleans.
This will be the focus of the Oct. 14 concert, according to HNOC Curator of Manuscripts Alfred Lemmon, an authority on 19th century Spanish and Latin American music.
“When we think of Gottschalk, we always think in terms of him being French, but he had a very large Spanish influence,” Lemmon said, adding that Gottschalk’s most famous piano piece, “Bamboula,” was dedicated to Queen Isabella II of Spain. “When he went to Spain he was treated as a national hero. The public went wild over him.”
Collins, a New Orleans native and music professor at Missouri State University for 22 years, said the concert will start with three pieces from Spain, then six compositions with Caribbean influences. It will conclude with “Bamboula,” which, Collins explained, “brings the journey home to New Orleans.”
Many music historians consider Gottschalk’s Caribbean-influenced pieces a forerunner of ragtime which, in turn, evolved into jazz.
“I think a lot of pieces in this program will show that connection, especially those with the syncopated Caribbean rhythms,” Collins said. “He was technically innovative, forging his own identity instead of just imitating the great European composers of that day. I think Gottschalk, in many ways, was looking to the 20th century.”
Pfrimmer, the head of vocal studies at Tulane University, will sing two of the songs Gottschalk composed over the lyrics of two Latin American poets. One of them will be in French, the other in Spanish, she said.
The French song is a romantic paean, and the one in Spanish a lamentation to lost love, she added.
“The vocal pieces are as varied as the orchestral and piano pieces Gottschalk composed,” Pfrimmer said. “He wasn’t a one-trick pony. He liked and was influenced by a lot of different things around him, and so he just lived in the moment. He composed works that were delightful to him.”