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Louis Moreau Gottschalk was a virtuosic piano player and composer born in the Faubourg Marigny district of New Orleans, Louisiana. An ethnic Creole, Gottschalk's formative years were spent absorbing the musical aesthetics of the many disparate cultural groups of the city: the native French and Spanish, the synetheses of the two, and more importantly, the Caribbean ryhthms of African Americans.

During the nineteenth century, slaves and free blacks congregated in a small park in the old part of the city called Congo Square where they were permitted to do as they pleased. They spoke in their native languages, celebrated old cultural rituals, and played the songs they had brought with them into America and the Caribbean.

Gottschalk would wander around Congo Square and listen to the performances, and their particular styles influenced his later compositions. In 1842, he left America to visit Paris and tour Europe, and his reputation as a virtuoso pianist secured his success abroad. He enjoyed stays at several royal courts and performed in major cities, offering both his own compositions and interpretations of the general classical cannon.

He traveled extensively throughout his rather short life, aware of the value of exposure to inately distict musical systems, and died in Brazil. Though he spent much of his life abroad, he was (and is) widely celebrated as an American composer and pianist.

Personally, I strongly recommend his Bamboula piano piece, which is indicative of the surprisingly beautiful manner in which he melds his many influences to create an utterly individual style. It's just excellent, as are his symphonies and, really, all of his work.

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