Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Music (MM)

Degree Level





Martin Nedbal

Committee Member

Robert Mueller

Second Committee Member

Elizabeth Markham


Communication and the arts, Social sciences, Bamboula, Creole, Gottschalk, Musical exoticism


Louis Moreau Gottschalk was a nineteenth-century American piano virtuoso and composer. In 1841, at the age of twelve, Gottschalk left his native New Orleans to pursue a formal musical education in Paris. During his sojourn, Gottschalk gained fame for his piano music, in which he claimed to portray creole culture, more specifically the songs, dances, and rituals of Louisiana slaves. Nineteenth-century music critics were all too eager to crown Gottschalk as the first great American composer. In the present era, his music is still a source of national pride. I propose that Gottschalk's music is not necessarily an accurate representation of American musical idioms. Instead, it should be understood as a semi-authentic attempt by Gottschalk to market himself to the Parisian audiences and their craze for exotic cultures. To illustrate this argument, I look extensively at Gottschalk's creole compositions written while in Paris. In Chapter One, I focus on Gottschalk's Bamboula: danse des nègres, his first creole piece, which fueled the success of his early career. In Chapter Two, I discuss three prominent piano virtuosos performing in Paris during the 1840s. I show that Gottschalk modeled much of his career on the music of Frederic Chopin and that he was rather critical of Franz Liszt and Sigismond Thalberg. Gottschalk's compositions then reflect Chopin above the other Parisian virtuosos. In Chapter Three I examine the pieces Gottschalk composed after his return to the United States in 1853. This includes The Banjo, arguably his most famous work. My argument here is that the pieces composed during this period provide a more accurate picture of nineteenth-century American music than Gottschalk's earlier creole compositions. Gottschalk spent many years of his life traveling throughout France, Spain, the United States, and the Caribbean, and each of these locations influenced the composer in different ways. His music should not then be understood as specific to the United States, instead it should be seen as parallel to the cosmopolitan tendencies of other nineteenth-century exotic composers.