The American composer and pianist, Louis-Moreau Gottschalk (1829 – 1869), was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, one of the most culturally diverse areas in America during his time. His father, Edward Gottschalk, was of German-Jewish heritage, and his mother, Aimée de Bruslé, was a Creole of French-Roman Catholic background. The Bruslé family had fled from Haiti to New Orleans because of the rising slave rebellion. Also, his maternal Grandmother Bruslé and Sally, her African-American nurse, were originally from Saint-Dominque. The cultures of Gottschalk’s family resulted in his mixed heritage. His family background most likely triggered an interest in him to travel and tour many places during his musical career. He travelled to places including France, Switzerland, Spain, as well as the West Indies. All of the areas he visited influenced his music in some way.
Gottschalk’s unique blend of exotic cultures was key to perpetual fame during his time. By examining the compositions Bamboula (Op. 2) and Souvenir de Porto Rico (Op. 31), I will demonstrate how Gottschalk’s musical style represents an integration of Creole, New Orleans, West Indian, and Afro-Caribbean backgrounds he was exposed to throughout his life.
Gottschalk was a child prodigy, showing astonishing musical abilities at a young age. His father, against his mother’s wishes, sent him off to study music more intensively in Paris. During his time in Paris, Gottschalk studied piano with Charles Hallé, Camille Stamaty, and later studied composition with Pierre Maleden. Paris was just the beginning of the many places where he would compose some of his finest works.
Bamboula, one of Gottschalk’s early solo piano works, is part of a set of four pieces called the Louisiana quartet, which includes La Savane, Le Banier, and Le Mancenillier. These four works are commonly known as his “Creole works” because they are all based on Creole melodies. Bamboula has the subtitle, Danse de Nègres, immediately implying the dance element of the piece. The title of the piece, Bamboula, is the name of an Afro-Caribbean drum. Ironically, the title of the piece is completely unrelated to the text of the song, which is about grilling potatoes. Gottschalk seems to have just written this song as a work of art rather than a way of purposely creating a “piece of ethnographic reporting”. This portrays how the cultural influences heard in his music were not forcefully placed notes and rhythms, but were inspirations fixed in his memories from a long time ago.
The story behind this composition as recalled by Clara, Gottschalk’s sister, was composed when he was staying with Dr. Woillez, in Clermont-sur-l’Oise, a small town in Paris. Gottschalk was inspired by the popular Creole folk tune Quan’ patate la cuite (see figure 1), most likely remembered from his Grandmother Bruslé and nurse Sally.
Similar to several pieces Gottschalk later composed, Bamboula is loosely organized around three...