Gottschalk – Symphonie Romantique: Noche en los Tropicos (Night in the Tropics)

by Max Derrickson

Louis Moreau Gottschalk
(Born in New Orleans in 1829; died in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1869)

Symphonie Romantique: Noche en los Tropicos (Night in the Tropics)
1. Night in the Tropics
2. Fiesta Criolla

Louis Gottschalk was born in New Orleans to a Jewish father and Creole mother.  Soon, he moved in with his Haitian relatives, and in all, a love of Latin music infused his musical sensibilities.  By age 13 Louis was showing extreme promise as a piano virtuoso, so he and his father moved to Paris for a better musical education.  The Paris Conservatoire rejected him entrance due to its typical xenophobic dislike of foreigners, but Gottschalk nonetheless made his mark as a soloist in Europe, gathering high praise from the likes of Liszt and Chopin.  He returned to the United States and began a series of the most demanding concert tours perhaps ever undertaken:  a San Francisco newspaper in 1865 reported that Gottschalk had “travelled 95,000 miles by rail and [. . .].”   When a scandal erupted over a young female student in late 1865, Gottschalk headed for South America, where a few years later he unexpectedly [. . .].

Besides his prominence as one of the first great American piano virtuosos, Gottschalk was a “first” in other regards, but most importantly as a composer who introduced American (and European) audiences to the charms of Latin American music.  His Symphonie Romantique: Noche en los Tropicos (Night in the Tropics), was composed in 1859 [. . .]

The first movement is a Romantic evocation of peaceful tropical evenings and delightful climes.  Most enchanting is Gottschalk’s mastery of orchestral color – soothing strings above [. . .] by a Mendelssohnian sense of lightness.

The second movement is a masterful amalgamation of musical influences.  Beginning with a full complement of Latin percussion and the beginning strains of a West African song, Bamboula*, the movement cavorts [. . .] , guiros and drums and shakers a-blazing, to a perfectly rousing close.

*The Bamboula is an African dance, much like a samba,  and also a drum made of a segment of a giant bamboo as the shell with a piece of thinned hide stretched over one side—much like a conga drum.  The instrument and art form travelled [. . .].