What Berlioz Thought of Gottschalk as a Pianist

By Edgar Wild

Had the erratic genius, Hector Berlioz, been better appreciated in his own day, the world would be without some informing comments on his musical contemporaries. His compositions ignored, Berlioz turned critic, as many less gifted composers have done, and despite a tendency to exaggerated statement, extravagant praise or condemnation, a very good critic he made. Schumann alone among musicians of genius has surpassed him. Berlioz had the following to say about Louis Moreau Gottschalk, first of American piano virtuosi, composer of “The Dying Poet”, “The Last Hope”, etc., and first teacher of Teresa Carreno:

“Gottschalk is one of the very small number who posses all the different elements of a consummate pianist, all the faculties which surround him with an irresistible prestige, and give him a sovereign power. He is an accomplished musician: he knows just how far fancy may be indulged in expression. He knows the limits beyond which any liberties taken with the rhythm produce only confusion and disorder; and upon these limits he never encroaches. There is an exquisite grace in his manner of phrasing sweet melodies, and throwing off light touches from the higher keys. The boldness and brilliancy and originality of his playing at once dazzles and astonished, and the child like naivete of his smiling caprices, the charming simplicity with which he renders simple things, seem to belong to another individuality, distinct from that which marks his thundering energy: thus the success of M. Gottschalk before an audience of musical cultivation is immense.