Deflated by his reception in Boston and the financial disaster of his first American tour, Gottschalk set sail for Cuba in February 1854 (see the notes for Souvenir de Cuba
and La Gitanella
in CD 4). Within a few days he had befriended three fellow pianists—the reclusive Nicolás Espadero, and two erstwhile pupils of Kalkbrenner, Pablo Desvernine (1823–1910), who would become one of Edward MacDowell’s early teachers, and Fernando Aristi (1828–
1888). Gottschalk recruited Aristi and Desvernine together with violinist Silvano Boudet (1828–63), the guitarist José Prudencio Mungol and a soprano identified only as ‘Señorita D.F. de L’ to participate in his first concert in Havana on 13 March 1854. El Cocoyé
was composed expressly for the occasion. It drove the audience wild and brought Gottschalk a standing ovation and endless curtain calls. The cultured Cubans had never heard anything like it. No wonder they called him ‘the Paganini of the piano’.
El Cocoyé is a virtual vade mecum of Gottschalk’s unique compositional armoury, a synthesis of a popular local tune (a favourite device), the European classical discipline and Afro-Cuban rhythms. The writing is Lisztian in its virtuosity with Gottschalk’s customary passages of flashy rhetoric, rapid repeated notes, idiosyncratic harmonies and much time spent at the top of the keyboard. The melody of El Cocoyé had its origins in the Afro-Cuban carnivals of Santiago de Cuba in the early years of the nineteenth century. By the 1850s it was a popular dance number and several composers had arranged it for piano, among them Desvernine. Doubtless this was how Gottschalk was introduced to the tune. The work, cast in the key of F sharp major with a central section in E flat minor, is dedicated to a certain Monsieur Alphonse Quesada.
from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2001