Gottschalk confided in his diary on 1 November 1864 that he was ‘composing five new contraband pieces that are to be published under the aegis of a borrowed paternity’. One of these must have been The Dying Poet
. Of all Gottschalk’s works, none was so popular during his lifetime as The Last Hope
and The Dying Poet
, salon pieces of embarrassing sentimentality but which struck a rich chord, in more than one sense, with the American public of the day. Take a simple, catchy melody—and if nothing else, one must admit Gottschalk’s genius as a tunesmith—dress it up to make it sound effective (but not so much that its difficulties put it out of the reach of the amateur) and, bingo, you have a publishing hit.
Perhaps as a wry admission of its musical worth, the piece (and several others) was published under the nom de plume of ‘Seven Octaves’ (or ‘S. Octaves’ as it appeared above the actual music). Nevertheless, the title page proclaimed that it was ‘performed by GOTTSCHALK at his concerts with immense success’. ‘Seven Octaves’ never fooled anyone. It wasn’t meant to. In any case, as Gottschalk wrote in his diary: ‘What will it matter a thousand years from now?’
from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 1997