I had composed a few pieces, one of them of a melancholy character with which was connected a touching episode of my journey to Santiago, Cuba, and seemed to me to unite the conditions requisite for popularity. A publisher bought it from me for fifty dollars …
So recorded Gottschalk in his journal of 15 February 1862. Later, he writes that another publisher, Hall of New York:
… wished to possess my works written before those he had just published, and having faith in my talent as a composer, he addressed the publisher of the melancholy piece I have already spoken of, for the purpose of buying it. ‘Willingly’, was the reply. ‘It does not sell at all; pay me the fifty dollars it cost me, and it is yours.’ This little piece was Last Hope, of which more than thirty-five thousand copies have been published in America, and which still produces yearly to its publisher, after a run of more than twelve years, twenty times the amount that it cost him.
This revised version of The Last Hope was published in 1855. The piece followed Gottschalk around in the same way that Rachmaninov’s C sharp minor Prelude dogged its composer half a century later. ‘Invariably,’ wrote Gottschalk, ‘at every concert a small, scribbled, note requests me to play Last Hope. The other day I received one composed as follows: “Would Mr. G. kindly please 36 young girls by playing The Last Hope, which they all play”.’
As to the ‘touching episode’ alluded to that inspired this, the composer’s most popular work, it is related in full in the 1884 edition of the score. Gottschalk was staying with a certain Madame S— who had been struck down by an incurable malady:
One evening, while suffering still more than usual she requested: “In pity, my dear Moreau, one little melody, one last hope!” And Gottschalk commenced to improvise an air at once plaintive and pleasing … On the morrow, the traveller-artist was obliged to leave his friend, to fulfil an engagement in a neighbouring city. When he returned, two days afterwards, the bells of the church of Santiago were sounding a slow and solemn peal.
It was the funeral procession for Madame S—.
from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 1997
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