American composer and pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829–69) was a major figure in 19th-century American music.
Gottschalk was born in New Orleans and studied there before moving to Paris in 1841. His ‘Louisiana Quartet’ – four piano pieces that drew on West Indian influences learnt from his maternal grandmother – led to his widespread fame in Europe by 1850. He made his formal debut as a pianist in 1849 and enjoyed tremendous success in Switzerland, Spain and France. He returned to the USA in 1853, where ballads such as The Last Hope and patriotic works such as Union proved immensely popular. He toured extensively until 1857, including to Cuba and Canada. He then travelled around the Antilles before settling in Guadeloupe, with works from this period including the Symphonie romantique, the opera Esceñas campestres and numerous piano works. During the US Civil War he championed the Unionist cause through performances that spanned the country. From 1865 until his death he toured South America, working to encourage local musicians, develop performance traditions and celebrate pan-American culture.
Gottschalk’s often syncopated style, which drew on a range of influences, is now considered an early precursor of ragtime.
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