BAMBOULA! by S. Frederick Starr

BAMBOULA!

The Life and Times of Louis Moreau Gottschalk
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The definitive biography of a uniquely American cultural figure. In 1869, when 40-year-old composer and piano virtuoso Louis Moreau Gottschalk died in Rio de Janeiro, South America and much of Europe went into mourning. In his native United States, newspaper retrospectives portrayed his career as a descent from genius into triviality and scandal. With this contrast, Oberlin College president Starr (Red and Hot: Jazz in the Soviet Union, 1983) begins his exhaustively researched, solidly written study of a musical artist whose short but eventful life encapsulates the history of concert music in the New World during the first half of the 19th century. Born in New Orleans to a Creole mother of ``aristocratic'' origins and an English Jewish father who had a second family living three blocks away from his ``legal'' one, Gottschalk was indelibly formed by parental duplicities and childhood insecurities (his father eventually went bankrupt). As an adult, he inhabited the same world as piano virtuoso Franz Liszt and had the same cataclysmic effect on audiences: Men wept, women swooned. But Gottschalk did not understand that American public opinion would not take kindly to even a few notorious affairs, though Liszt got away with dozens of liaisons in Europe. Despite being hailed as ``the first and greatest composer of the age'' as late as 1864, Gottschalk was ultimately forced to decamp for South America, where he garnered artistic triumphs but no lasting financial success. Though he persuasively argues that Gottschalk's work had greater artistic merit than his received reputation as a composer of salon music and party pieces with a Latin American flavor, the author does not purport to offer a detailed musical exegesis of the compositions. Everything else is here, however, including the famous ``six piano'' marathon concerts and an astute appraisal of Gottschalk's reputation in the 125 years since his death. Starr's scholarly passion provides key insights into an emerging national culture. (40 halftone illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-19-507237-5
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1994