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Gottschalk Bit His Nails

By R. A. Di Dio

Louis MOREAU GOTTSCHALK was not only the first American piano virtuoso, but also was something of a character as well. In Some Musical Recollections of Fifty Years, Richard Hoffman has this to say about the composer of The Last Hope and The Dying Poet.

“At his second concert in New York, after his return from Paris he (Gottschalk) chose to play Weber’s Concertstück, rather a strange choice, as it was physically impossible for him toexecute the octave glissando passage as marked, from a habit of biting his nails to such an extent that his fingers were almost devoid of them, and a glissando under those circumstances was out of the question. He substituted an octave passage, played from the wrist with alternate hands, very cleverly to be sure, but missing a good deal of the desired effect. He was so persistent in the habit of biting his nails that I have known the keys to be covered with blood when he had finished playing.

“It was the fashion at that time always to wear white gloves with evening dress, and his manner of taking them off, after seating himself at the piano, was often a very amusing episode. His deliberation, his perfect indifference to the waiting audience was thoroughly manifest as he slowly drew them off one finger at a time, bowing and smiling meanwhile to the familiar faces in the front rows. Finally disposing of them, he would manipulate his hands until they were quite limber, then preludize until his mood prompted him to begin the selections on his program… .
“I have often seen him arrive at a concert in no mood for playing, and declare that he would not appear; that an excuse might be made but that he would not play; but a little coaxing and a final push would drive him onto the stage, and in a few minutes he would play with all the brilliancy that was peculiarly his own.”

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