Here is Gottschalk in the garbs of fierce Republican and virtuoso pianist. ‘Battle Cry of Freedom’, the work’s subtitle, is among Gottschalk’s more testing pieces and cast, for the most part, in the key of F sharp major. It is based on the American Civil War song by George Frederick Root (1820–1895), a friend of Gottschalk’s from his days in Paris. Root was famous for the words and music of such songs as The vacant chair
, Just before the battle, Mother
and Tramp, tramp, tramp—the boys are marching
. But his biggest hit was Let’s rally round the flag, boys!
, now known in American folklore as The Battle Cry of Freedom
. It was penned in response to Lincoln’s first call for volunteers. Gottschalk’s treatment may have sprung from an impromptu performance during a dinner in New York with friends in March 1863. Having talked fervidly of his friend’s song (one ‘that would soon resound on the battlefield and sustain the army in the toughest fight’), he then sprang to the piano and played the tune with such gusto that one guest recalled: ‘I never heard anything like it, and never will again … The effect was earthquakian almost. [My fellow guests] were enthusiastic; and they were frantic. The uproar could have been heard a mile. Gottschalk was nearly killed with embraces.’
Le cri de délivrance was dedicated ‘à mon ami Geo. F. Root Esq.’ and was, with The Union, de rigueur at every Gottschalk recital during the course of the Civil War.
from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2004