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James Wintle, Reference specialist, Music Division
Cait Miller, Reference specialist, Music Division
Robin Rausch, Head of Reader Services, Music Division
Note: This guide was created to highlight digital resources from the Library of Congress, Music Division.
Created: May 11, 2020
Last Updated: March 18, 2021
Louisiana-born composer and pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) was renown in his time as a virtuoso performer and one of the first American musicians to gain an international reputation. The syncopated rhythms of Haitian and Cuban contradanzas are present in many of his compositions. This influence has caused some scholars to make connections between Gottschalk's music and Ragtime's later development. Primarily educated in Europe, Gottschalk made his professional debut in 1849 at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. He received favorable comparisons to Chopin, and his creole-flavored pieces became the rage in Paris salons. Returning to the United States in 1853, Gottschalk found success more elusive than he had in Europe, eventually changing his fortunes after using distinctly American idioms in his music. This development appears in Le Banjo and Columbia and other pieces that contain allusions to popular songs by Stephen Foster and patriotic melodies. Gottschalk toured the United States and Canada exhaustively, estimating in 1865 that he gave 1,100 American recitals and traveled 95,000 miles in the process. Extremely popular in South America, he toured the continent extensively for the last years of his life, even continuing to perform while battling malaria until a few weeks before his death in Brazil in 1869.
Gottschalk is known today for his piano compositions but also wrote songs, symphonic music, and operas. His ability to integrate popular melodies and exotic rhythms into his music brought him fame during his lifetime but did not fare well for his posthumous reputation. Although music scholars have primarily ignored Gottschalk, his music has found a place with the more eclectic audiences of the late-twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It also continues to be a favorite among his fellow pianists. Most of his manuscripts were unknown until a significant collection was discovered by a distant family member in Philadelphia and eventually acquired by the New York Public Library.
The Performing Arts Reading Room is the access point for the collections in the custody of the Music Division at the Library of Congress. Numbering approximately 20.5 million items and spanning more than 1000 years of Western music history and practice, these holdings include the classified music and book collections, music and literary manuscripts, iconography, microforms, periodicals, musical instruments, published and unpublished copyright deposits, and close to 500 special collections in music, theater, and dance.