Faces to Make One Miss Notes


New Orleans-born pianist and composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk toured the northern states during the Civil War. As he traveled through New York State he was occasionally able to forget about the war and concentrate on the two great loves of his life–music and women. In May 1864 he wrote in his journal:

“At Rochester I have seen some of the most charming types of women that have ever crossed the dreams of an old bachelor! Outside of my exceptional position of pianist and old bachelor, this is the element I dread the most in my concerts–it makes me absent-minded–the quick result being a wrong note! Suppose I have to reach a black key at the extremity of my keyboard. I take my measure well, but my finger is not well assured because my eyes are on my audience and D-sharp is ignominiously propelled into the depths of E natural. Much to the joy of those who sniff out defects and are hostile toward accomplishments.

“They always sing the same song. ‘He does not play classical music.’ And when mere mortals applaud, he shrugs his shoulders. But, wretched man, be prudent then!

“I know an ass who, having devoted his pen for ten years to proving to the artistic world that my compositions were detestable, was advised, miserable wretch, to publish in an unlucky day, one of the offsprings of his pen and of his gall-filled brain.

“I had thought myself killed by his attacks, but after having read this one, I consoled myself by borrowing from Voltaire: ‘Sir, I pardon your criticisms because nobody reads them. But I shall never pardon your compositions because I have been obliged to read them, and they are too bad for me ever to forget them.’”

Louis Moreau Gottschalk contemplating young ladies and critics in his journal in May 1864.

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