Anthony Olson, pianist
Anthony Olson’s career as a classical pianist has taken him throughout the United States, Europe, and China. His ability to combine expressive phrasing with virtuosic flair and a dynamic stage presence led to his performances being broadcast on America’s National Public Radio, KSCI Television (Los Angeles), and Nanjing Television Broadcasting (China). In one concert at the Redlands Bowl Amphitheatre in southern California, he attracted an audience of 5,000. He also travels throughout the United States to judge piano competitions and festivals.
A dedicated educator, Anthony Olson is currently Associate Professor of Music at Northwest Missouri State University. He has taught as a guest professor at Imperial College (London, England), Teikyo University (Maastricht, The Netherlands), the Roosevelt Academy (Middelburg, The Netherlands), and Adelphi University (Garden City, NY). He has presented lectures and recitals on a variety of musical topics at national and international conferences sponsored by the European Piano Teachers’ Association, the Music Teachers’ National Association, the American Liszt Society, the World Piano Conference, and the College Music Society.
An active author, he has written articles for The Piano Journal, Clavier Magazine, Classical Singer Magazine, American Music Teacher, and The Choral Journal. He has written about topics ranging from piano literature, to opera, to business management.
He studied piano at the University of Southern California, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, and the University of North Dakota. His teachers have included Daniel Pollack, Greg Allen, and Arthur Houle.
Anthony Olson’s biography is included in Who’s Who in America.
Louis Moreau Gottschalk
Born in New Orleans on May 8, 1829, American pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk led a high-paced and fascinating life until his death in Brazil on December 18, 1869. Gottschalk was (for better or worse) the most quintessentially “American” musician of the nineteenth century. A truly Pan-American composer, his sensitivity to local styles of folk and popular music foreshadowed American musical developments of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hints of Charles Ives can be heard in Gottschalk’s frequent use of quotations. The syncopated rhythms and jagged melodic lines of many of his pieces “boldly prophesy” the coming of ragtime and jazz, styles of American music that developed decades after Gottschalk’s death.
Many of the lasting influences on Gottschalk’s musical language were instilled in him during childhood. He had the good fortune of growing up in New Orleans, a city that enjoyed great public support for the performing arts. At the time, a population of 40,000 supported four professional opera companies as well as numerous concert series, orchestras, and other musical organizations.
Gottschalk’s musical talents developed quickly and his father, Edward, seeing his son’s potential, sent him to Paris for more intense training. He arrived in Pairs in the early summer of 1841 with the intention of studying at the famous Paris Conservatory. On his arrival, the head of the conservatory’s piano department, Pierre Zimmerman, sent him away without even an audition, saying that “America is only a land of steam engines.” So Gottschalk studied with pianists Charles Hallé and Camille Stamaty. He also studied composition, his primary composition teacher being Pierre Maleden, the teacher of Camille Saint-Saëns.
Gottschalk soon developed amazing skills at the keyboard. Concert reviews praised his abilities as being as good as, or better than, Liszt and Thalberg, the two leading European pianists of the day. To this dazzling technical ability, he added rhythmic and harmonic elements from his American heritage. In his earliest compositions, Gottschalk mixed virtuositic display with a Caribbean-American rhythmic energy and drive. Four of his original pieces from this time became known collectively as the “Louisiana Quartet.” The poignant melodies and syncopated rhythms of these works captivated critics, who quickly hailed Gottschalk as the “first eloquent and authentic musical spokesman of the New World.”
Upon his return to the United States in 1851, Gottschalk was offered a lucrative contract by P. T. Barnum, founder of the Barnum traveling circus and variety show. But at the advice of his father, he declined the offer and, as a result of this decision, had to rely on continuous concretizing for the rest of his life in order to maintain a steady income.
Gottschalk toured the United States for three years before sailing to Cuba. He then spent five years in Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Cuba, devoting himself to playing concerts, composing, and writing. During this time, he wrote numerous dance-inspired pieces, a few operas, and articles for the American and French press. He even under-took a disastrous season as conductor of the opera at the Teatro di Tacón in Havana, Cuba.
Gottschalk’s peaceful island life was shattered when the American Civil War broke out. A staunch Unionist, he suddenly found himself in pro-secessionist Cuba. Gottschalk quickly searched out a profitable contract to tour in the US again and was soon playing for New York audiences. He immediately launched into a brutal performing schedule across the northern states. In the next four and a half months, Gottschalk traveled 15,000 miles by rail and gave 85 recitals, an insane pace that he maintained for the next three years.
It was during these war-time travels that Gottschalk developed into a truly “American” pianist. While he had always infused “Americanism” into his music, he had done so, in large part, to enhance his image as a unique showman – in essence, using his American heritage as a marketing tool. Up until this time, Gottschalk had also retained a certain demeanor from his education and experiences in Paris. During the war years, he lost the last traces of his old “Parisian dandyism.”
One of the strongest influences on his personal development during this time was the realities of war. Gottschalk saw the effects of the Civil War first hand. He spent all of his time traveling the country on trains, many of which carried wounded, war dead, and grieving relatives. The personal tragedies of war, mingled with the practicalities of rail travel, gave Gottschalk a new perspective on his home “land of steam engines.”
The concerts themselves also had a lasting influence on his personal and musical development. During the three years he spent touring the northern states, he gave about 1,100 concerts and traveled over 95,000 miles. These performances were very unique experiences; they were not solo piano recitals, but more like variety acts. Gottschalk traveled as the main attraction within small, touring opera companies. Programming consisted of arias, vocal duets, and operatic scenes interspersed with piano solos, piano duets, and chamber music. Guest musicians were vital to every concert; commonly, a troupe would arrive in a town and seek out all the musicians in the area as supporting artists in the concert. This had the practical effect of making the programs very eclectic and attractive to a nineteenth-century American audience. It also created a much stronger connection between the audience and the traveling performers. Occasionally, symphony orchestras would invite the company to stay and produce a full-length opera. Most US cities and towns experienced opera for the first time through small touring companies such as the ones that included Gottschalk as their featured star.
Nationalistic sentiments spawned by the war led to programming in support of the Union cause. Concert programs were often designed to boost the morale of both the troops and the public at large. The Union and Battle Cry of Freedom were Gottschalk’s most frequently programmed works during this time. The Union, dedicated to General McClellan of the Union army, is perhaps the most truly “American” piece of music ever written for the piano. It quotes the US national anthem, the US presidential march, and the American folksong “Yankee-doodle.” Additionally, musical depictions of bugles, drum rolls, and “horrific sounds of battle” permeate the work.
Near the end of the war, Gottschalk headed to California and a tour of the far western states. Upon landing in San Francisco in the spring of 1865, he began concertizing with great success. During his time in the west, he found working with concert managers and local impresarios harder and less stable than he experienced back east. Eventually he was booking his own engagements and found that he could easily and successfully manage his own business affairs.
His concerts included large numbers of guest musicians and works for multitudes of pianos. Gottschalk expanded on this concept, organizing performances that would become his trademark legacy, the monster concert. This formula would prove successful for the rest of his career. By the end of his life, he was producing spectacles that included thirty one players on sixteen pianos, accompanied by eighteen orchestras – a total force of 650 performers.
Gottschalk’s final years were spent touring in South America where he died of appendicitis on December 18, 1869.
Although looked down upon by some today as being trite and empty, Gottschalk’s music was an expression of the time in which it was written. A very practical musician who earned his living as a performer, he catered to the tastes of the time in order to meet the needs of the audiences for which he performed. Although he was not an ‘advanced’ composer, Gottschalk’s sensitivity to the needs of American audiences and to Caribbean rhythms enabled him to develop a unique and truly “pan-American” voice. As musicologist John Godfrey Doyle wrote, “Gottschalk was the first American musician to use the folk idiom and rhythm of this hemisphere in serious composition. Had other composers followed his lead, an American school might have resulted much earlier. Instead, Americans of Gottschalk’s time were dominated by European musical traditions, and they continued to flock to Germany, returning only with pale imitations of Brahms and Wagner.”
– Anthony Olson