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Notes of a Pianist Paperback – June 11, 2006
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"Exactly what it took to become a musical superstar in the mid-19th century is vividly documented in Notes of a Pianist, Gottschalk's charming and fascinating diaries, which are now back in print for the first time in decades. . . . Notes of a Pianist is informative, above all, as a document of our cultural adolescence, a time when Americans knew the were supposed to want good music, but weren't quite sure how to enjoy it."--Adam Kirsch, New York Sun
"First published in 1881, this work is an invaluable first-hand look at the music and culture of the 19th century."--H.J. Kirchhoff, Toronto Globe and Mail
"As well as a pianist and composer, Gottschalk was a superb writer of prose. . . . Notes of a Pianist is a work of the highest importance, the first book of permanent interest by an American artist who was not a fulltime author and matchlessly vivid document of American musical life during the Civil War."--Terry Teachout, Commentary
"Louis Moreau Gottschalk had something resembling rock-star status in 19th-century America, but the pianist-composer's most important contribution might not be musical; rather, it might be his tumultuous, trenchant, Zelig-like diary. . . . His perspective is singularly significant."--David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer
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Since I ordered it for a research project paper, it was perfect, I have Moreaus' personal notes.
Even after I finish the report, I am going to continue to read this book!
Gottschalk has given a funny and lively account of the travails of being an artist on the road (or rail or sea) even during war years; there are happy and frustrating encounters with the public, and stories of pleasure in performing well or doing good. He is a great complainer, often about people he sees or performs for. Another target is the pianos he has to put up with; in Panama, "The audience appears to be charmed, while I am playing on a cottage piano that I suspect was the product of an illicit union between a jew's-harp and a large kettle." But this is not the account of a peevish man; more than once he says of an annoyance something like "These things are amusing and break the monotony of our existence." He also has many times to report that in a certain concert every piece was encored, that the crowd was enthusiastic, that he has been given jeweled laurels, or a bouquet "not less than four feet in circumference." He is amused by misprints on his own playbills, and by newspaper reports of his death. "I wish to speak of my death. This sad event took place at Santiago three months ago. I was carried off in three days by a frightful attack of black vomit; it is the newspaper _Savana la Grande_ that tells it; but the _Revue de Villa Clara_, without doubt better informed, makes me succumb to an aneurism of the heart, which I much prefer, the aneurism being much more poetical than the black vomit."
A journal is a perfect place for an author to record the foibles of others and of himself, but readers will find here remarkable descriptions of such problems as using the train during a time of war and having to share it with Union soldiers who are wounded or who are boisterously rude. Embarking for Norfolk, he has to pledge an oath of allegiance to the government. He was at sea off Acapulco when the captain of another steamer boarded with news, "... words like thunderbolts: 'Richmond is taken,' 'Lee has surrendered,' 'Lincoln has been assassinated'." He had personally played for the president years before, noting, "Lincoln is remarkably ugly, but has an intelligent air, and his eyes have a remarkable expression of goodness and mildness." He reports from the middle of a battle for Lima in a revolt in 1865. Gottschalk had an amazing life, generously shared here in one amusing and surprising page after another. He possessed enormous talents to entertain, within the concert hall and on the printed page. If you don't know his music, read his book, and then listen to, say, the merry and moving symphonic _A Night in the Tropics_. I think you'll be hooked.