Society for American Music

Bulletin, Volume XXV, no. 3 (Fall 1999)

From Albion to Albany: On the Tracks of Gottschalk in the Hudson Valley

By Bridget Falconer-Salkeld, Institute of United States Studies, University of London

In the acknowledgements to the 1964 edition of Louis Moreau Gottschalk's Notes of a Pianist, Jeanne Behrend observed that in Gottschalk's writings, "Many personal names and place names were misspelled." Given the extent of Gottschalk's travels by rail, and the fact that he wrote his journal entries in the cars, other discrepancies may appear in French, the transcription, and the English translation published as the first edition of Notes of a Pianist.1 I noted two such discrepancies during a research trip by train from New York City to Albany in May 1998.

According to the journal, in the summer of 1862 [the entry is not dated precisely] Gottschalk was endeavoring to create a record of giving "three concerts echeloned over a route of one hundred miles" within a single day.2 With New York City as his starting point, these concerts were scheduled for Newark at noon, Albany at 4:30 P.M., and Troy at 8:00 P.M.. But it was not to be, for after helping "a charming young girl and her mother" to disembark at Fishkill station, the train departed before he could reboard, and he and his manservant were stranded there.3

These and subsequent events are related in this extract from Notes of a Pianist:
Gottschalk's colorful description of this episode resembles a film scenario: a deserted country station; the sight of "beautiful princesses" with their menfolk dashing his anticipation of conquest and rapture; a blazing sun contrasts with his bleak, poignant emotions. He falls victim to "corroding reflections on the inconvenience of being too susceptible," and to the universal truth that the "competition" is generally "a frightful fellow," and the "thousand tender looks" she gives him are entirely unmerited!

To return to the present, it became apparent as the writer's train progressed northwards along the east bank of the Hudson River, that Fishkill was situated at some considerable distance from the home of Gottschalk's friend, Frederic Edwin Church, landscape artists, landscape gardener, and like Gottschalk, a romantic nationalist.5 Later, at Olana State Historic Site, near Hudson, formerly the property of the Church, the curator confirmed that Fishkill was approximately fifty miles distant.6 So, Gottschalk could not have been stranded there in the circumstances he relates, nor was Church's residence near Fishkill; it was some three miles south of Hudson.

In Gottschalk's day, the railroad route on the east bank of the Hudson River was served by Catskill station;7 it is here that he would have been detrained, and been conveyed the short distance of 1 mile by horse-drawn vehicle to Church's residence. He could have detrained at Hudson station three miles further on, but the possibility does not accord with the journal entry either.

At the time of Gottschalk's summer visit in 1862, Church's home was a board-and-batten cottage he had built for his wife and future family of six children, who were born between October 1862 and 1871. It was called "The Farm," later "Cosy Cottage," and was situated on 126 acres of farm and woodland that Church had purchased in 1860, the year of his marriage to Isabel Mortimer Carnes (1836-99). It was here that Gottschalk must have "passed a charming afternoon."8

In fairness, it should be added that it would not necessarily have been an easy matter for the editors of Notes of a Pianist to locate church's Persian-style residence, Olana, set 600 feet above the Hudson river in 250 acres of landscaped grounds, because until 1864 it was owned by the Church family, and was not transferred to the State of New York until 1966. Gottschalk never visited Olana, for construction did not start until 1870, the year following his death.9

Not surprisingly, the discrepancy has been replicated. In Robert Offergeld's The Centennial Catalog, for example, there is a reference to "the painter's [Church's] Fishkill home."10 This inquiry would seem to confirm the possibility that there might be other discrepancies to be found in the printed sources.

1. Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Notes of a Pianist, Clara Gottschalk Peterson, ed., trans. Robert E. Peterson (Philadelphia: Theodore Presser, 1881).

2. Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Notes of a Pianist, ed. Jeanne Behrend (New York: Da Capo Press, 1964), 103.

3. S. Frederick Starr, Bamboula! The LIfe and Times of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (New York: OUP, 1995), 332.

4. Notes of a Pianist, ed. Behrend, 103-105.

5. From ca. 1857-1865 Church was at the peak of his career and enjoying spectacular financial success. Like Gottschalk he too fell into oblivion. However, while Gottschalk's revival can be dated from 1948, with the U.S. premier in New York of the Symphony No. 1 La Nuit des tropiques in an arrangment for two pianos, Church had to wait until 1966 for his first retrospective exhibition. William E. Korf, The Orchestral Music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (Henryville, PA: Institute of Mediaeval Music, 1983), 63-65; Starr, Bamboula! 448-454; Carol Troyen, Burlington Magazine, vol. 132, No. 1042, January 1990), 70-72.

6. The Times Atlas of the World (London: Times Books, 1992), 103 G3.

7. Catskill Station. Decayed piling along with some concrete stairs are the only evidences remaining today at the site of the hamlet of Catskill Station. This hamlet was located directly on the Hudson River approximately three miles south of the City of Hudson. The area known as Catskill Station consisted of a railroad station, a ferry slip, a general store and a post office for the town of Greenport. Completion of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge in 1935 brought an end to the need for the railway station and by the early 1940s the hamlet was entirely closed. Marjorie Grabowski, Greenport, The Forgotten Town: A History Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Town of Greenport (Hudson, NY: Town of Greenport, Columbia County, Historical Society, 1987), 27.

8. Notes of a Pianist, ed. Behrend, 105; "The Farm," or "Cosy Cottage," illustrated in Franklin Kelly with Stephen Jay Gould, James Anthony Ryan and Debora Rindge, Frederic Edwin Church (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), 129; Historic Landscape Report (1996), letter ca. 7 June 1870, Isabel Church to Mrs. Erastus Dow Palmer, Albany Institute of History and Art.

9. Olana, from Olane, a fortress-treasure house in ancient Persia, constructed by Church as the ideal environment for raising his family. Kelly et al., Frederic Edwin Church, 144.

10. Robert Offergeld, The Centennial Catalog of the Published and Unpublished Compositions of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (New York: Stereo Review, 1970), 14.

I am indebted to the following: Sandra Markham, Chief Librarian, McKinney Library, Albany Institute of History and Art, for her enthusiastic help and her generous hospitality; Karen Zukowski, Curator, Olana State Historic Site, and her Curatorial Assistant, Ida Brier, both of whom provided assistance at Olana and, like Sandra Markham, have generously responded by electronic mail to my subsequent inquiries; Professor Peter Dickinson, Institute of United States Studies, University of London, UK, for whom no expression of gratitude can ever be adequate.

Return to the Sonneck Society Bulletin Index

Return to the American Music Network Home Page

Updated 12/12/99