Rediscovering Gottschalk

This weekend the San Antonio Express-News announced that we’ve matched the all-time city record for “Most Days Over 100 Degrees.”  And it’s only August 2nd, in a region where summer runs through Thanksgiving. 

We are lucky to have an apartment in an old complex built 60 or 70 years ago for young post-war couples, back when air conditioning was still an expensive novelty.  Wide overhangs block direct light.  Outside, the low-slung wood and stone buildings are surrounded by sloping lawns and spreading trees instead of encircling moats of blazing blacktop.  The scorching afternoon sun filters through the Crepe Myrtles outside our windows, bathing the living room in flickering diffused golden light.  It’s a beautiful place, with honey-colored wood floors and built-in shelves and nooks, a cozy haven from harsh weather or hard work days. 

When people flee the sun and shut their doors here, another thing seems to shut down as well.  Music performances.  The symphony takes a summer break.  Private concert series are on hold until school resumes.  Choirs are on hiatus. Which brings us to a music source that never goes on summer break and reaches us here in our sheltering home: YouTube. 

The other night while packing Carl’s bags for Germany, clear crisp piano music from around the world poured into our study as ceiling fans turned lazy circles overhead.  Louis Moreau Gottschalk is a lot of fun – he picked up tunes and themes from many cultures and translated them to piano in compositions alternately dreamy, picturesque, and flashy.  The Banjo is a great piece, but a huge challenge for a so-so pianist.  After wrestling it into shape over nine months as a teenager, it’s refreshing to hear it played beautifully andeffortlessly by a really good musician – stick around for the second half where it really starts to pick up spead and complexity:

“Souvenir de Porto Rico”, also by Gottschalk is another great work, on a much different vein.  It’s a series of variations on a Puerto Rican Christmas carol tune, ranging from bare simplicity to wildly bouyant romps through the keyboard.

Finally, Gottschalks “Manchega” is a new one to me.  The performance below is a fun fast one, but it’s also interesting to hear it at a slower tempo.

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