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May 8 Composer birthdays: Stamitz and Gottschalk

May 8 Composer birthdays: Stamitz and Gottschalk featured image

Violist Ulrich Koch performing Stamitz 

Carl Philipp Stamitz was a classical-era virtuoso violinist, violist, and viola d’amore player. He toured regularly, and was a freelance musician who never managed a permanent position either teacher or as a court composer, a typical way to earn a living.

The Viola Concert in D Major, Op. 1 is a lovely, sprightly piece, likely designed to show off the abilities of the composer. I wish it was part of the standard concerto repertoire, as there are precious few solo works for viola. Unfortunately for violists, it is often used for students as an exam or competition piece, so there are some left-over negative feelings by association. Stamitz’s music sounds very much like early Mozart or mid-career Haydn, and it would be forgivable if you mistook his music for theirs. His melodies are attractive, buoyant, and honestly, worthy of a revival. I’d love to hear his music at a summer festival (with a cocktail in hand, is that allowed?).

Do you think this Viola Concerto should be performed more often? Have a listen and decide for yourself.

Viola Concerto in D Major, OP. 1 featuring violist Ulrich Koch and Collegium Aureum orchestra conducted by Franzjosef Maier.

Carl Stamitz was born May 8, 1745, in Mannheim, Germany, and died November 9 in 1801 in Jena.

Today is also the birthday of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, virtuoso pianist with an island feel. So many classical composers have a similar story – European-born and raised, employed by a court or church, travelled a bit, and became known for their performances or compositions. So it’s refreshing to take a look at Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who was born in New Orleans to a Jewish father and Creole mother, with family ties to what is now Haiti. He was exposed to all kinds of music during his childhood, and was a piano prodigy.

The Paris Conservatoire rejected Gottschalk outright because he was American, but Gottschalk managed to work his way into the system thanks to family friends. Chopin said “Give me your hand, my child; I predict that you will become the kind of pianists,” and Liszt also admired the talent in Gottschalk. If that’s not high enough praise for the Conservatoire, I don’t know what is.

Gottschalk travelled to Cuba and Central and South America, continuing to pick up different kinds of music along the way. His compositions often have marked syncopation and “ear-catching” melodies and rhythms. He was a highly successful soloist, a total rock star in the piano playing world. He dealt with scandals as some rock stars do; he had to flee the US after a scandalous affair with a student of a girls’ school. Gottschalk even died like a rock star; he collapsed while onstage, and died in his hotel room in Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro, likely from a quinine overdose at age 40.

The Souvenir de Porto Rico was composed when Gottschalk visited the Puerto Rican countryside in 1857, and is based on a tune, “Si me dan pasteles”, a Christmas tune. The piece mimics a group of walking peasant singers, so it begins quietly, gets much louder to suggest the singers being nearby, then fades away.

“Souvenir de Porto Rico – Marche des Gibaros, Opus 31.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk was born May 8, 1829 in New Orleans, USA, and died December 18, 1869, in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

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