Louis Moreau Gottschalk was an artist and composer whose gifts were never more than half developed; for his native genius as a musician was of the highest order. Shortly before he died, at the age of forty, he seemed to have ripened into more earnest views and purposes, and, had he lived to fulfill his prime, it is reasonable to hazard the conjecture that he would have richly earned a far loftier niche in the pantheon of music than can now be given him. A rich, pleasure-loving, Oriental temperament, which tended to pour itself forth in dreams instead of action; vivid emotional sensibilities, which enabled him to exhaust all the resources of pleasure where imagination stimulates sense; and a thorough optimism in his theories, which saw everything at its best, tended to blunt the keen ambition which would otherwise inevitably have stirred the possessor of such artistic gifts. Gottschalk fell far short of his possibilities, though he was the greatest piano executant ever produced by our own country. He might have dazzled the world even as he dazzled his own partial countrymen.
His style as a pianist was sparkling, dashing, showy, but, in the judgment of the most judicious, he did not appear to good advantage in comparison with Thalberg, in whom a perfect technique was dominated by a conscious intellectualism, and a high ideal, passionless but severely beautiful.
Gottschalk’s idiosyncrasy as a composer ran in parallel lines with that of the player. Most of the works of this musician are brilliant, charming, tender, melodious, full of captivating excellence, but bright with the flash of fancy, rather than strong with the power of imagination. We do not find in his piano-forte pieces any of that subtile soul-searching force which penetrates to the deepest roots of thought and feeling. Sundry musical cynics were wont to crush Gottschalk’s individuality into the coffin of a single epigram. “A musical bonbon to tickle the palates of sentimental women.” But this falls as far short of justice as the enthusiasm of many of his admirers overreaches it. The easy and genial temperament of the man, his ability to seize the things of life on their bright side, and a naive indolence which indisposed the artist to grapple with the severest obligations of an art life, prevented Gottschalk from attaining the greatness possible to him, but they contributed to make him singularly lovable, and to justify the passionate attachment which he inspired in most of those who knew him well. But, with all of Gottschalk’s limitations, he must be considered the most noticeable and able of pianists and composers for the piano yet produced by the United States.