Without doubt, this piece qualifies as Gottschalk’s most familiar title with the least familiar music. It has rarely been recorded—and who has heard it in recital? Yet few who follow the piano do not know that Gottschalk wrote a piece called Morte!!
. It is usually consigned to the Musical Sniggers Department by those who have never heard the work, along with The Maiden’s Prayer
and The Robin’s Return
. It is rather more interesting than these when played sensitively and ‘straight’ (as here). Composed towards the end of his life, Morte!!
quickly became Gottschalk’s most popular work in South America, in the same lachrymose tradition of his The Dying Poet
, The Dying Swan
and his other great weepie The Last Hope
. One contemporary report refers to ‘the vague terror it spills into one’s soul … shocking because of the profound inner turmoil it provokes’. He himself described it, not without pride, as ‘un succès de larmes, as several of my fair listeners wept at listening to that rather sad and disconsolate of my last effusions, which is my favourite now, and which I consider as being neither better nor worse than old Last Hope
’. He dedicated it to his friend ‘Monsieur le Comte Jioannini, Minister of His Majesty the King of Italy’.
With its steady funereal beat and recurring bottom pedal Fs, Morte!! was the last complete work Gottschalk played in public (25 November 1869 in Rio de Janeiro). As he began the next piece, Tremolo, he collapsed over the keyboard and died in agony three weeks later from peritonitis following a ruptured appendix.
Ten months after his death, his body was interred in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery. Until it fell into disrepair, the inscription beneath read: ‘L. M. Gottschalk—Morte’, notwithstanding the translation of the Spanish word: ‘She is dead’.
from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2000