They Barely Understand Me


June 13th, 1865. New Orleans-born pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk was making a concert tour of the American West. Traveling through Nevada he wrote in his journal:

“The first rays of day light up our faces–dirty, dust-covered, our eyes swollen from lack of sleep, etc. We arrive at Dutch Flat, a pretty little town hidden at the bottom of a wooded gorge like a nest in a bush. The neat white houses are covered with splendid rosebushes whose flowers cover the trellises all the way up to the roofs. They are small frame houses, very neat, very small, etc.

“Concert this evening. About one hundred seventy persons. Audience very quiet–very quiet because they do not applaud. It is true that they did not show their discontent in any other way. I greatly suspect that they regretted investing their dollar and a half. “Taken in,” said one of them later, adding to console himself, “It is true that it is just one time.” It will be the concert-givers after me who will experience their resentment.

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“It often crosses my mind when playing to glance at my audience. There are certain passages where I am so accustomed to see their faces light up that in civilized audiences I trend to consider it an inevitable thing like cause and effect. For example, the end of ‘Aeolian Murmurs’ or even ‘Last Hope’ or the finale of ‘Creole Eyes.’ Here I perceive that it is precisely as if I was speaking Chinese. They barely understand it, and curiously watch me exerting myself with that odd and vacant look which other ignoramuses, for instance, cast upon the hands of a telegraph operator.

“ I have been sick for three days. I cannot recall in fifteen years of travels and vicissitudes having passed eleven days so sadly as here. I defy you to find in all of Europe a village where an artist of reputation would find himself as cut off as I have been here.”

Louis Moreau Gottschalk writing in his journal from Dutch Flat, Nevada, in June 13th, 1865.