George William Warren’s friendship with “the highly gifted Gottschalk”

George William Warren

At St. Paul’s, we remember George William Warren as our organist and choirmaster for 13 years, and certainly as our best known church musician during the 19th century. But during his years as an active musician in Albany (1843 – 1860), George William Warren was busy and creative on a wide scale outside the church: he organized concerts, participated in trials of new organs around the region, published many compositions, both religious and secular, taught private music lessons, organized singing classes and launched the careers of several opera singers, including Lucy Eastcott, Henry Squires and Isabella Hinckley.

This is not a bad record for a young man – Warren was only 32 years old when he left Albany – who has been described as a “self-taught musician.”[1] You might think that Warren was something of a big fish in a small pond, isolated from the larger currents of musical and artistic life in the United States. But it is mistake to think of mid-19th century Albany as an artistic backwater, or of Warren as isolated. This city was the home of or host to several major artists, with frequent connections to the larger artistic world, particularly in New York City. Musicians and artists frequently visited here from New York, and news arrived daily in newspapers and journals carried on Hudson steamers and the railroad. George William Warren was part of that busy exchange.

Erastus Dow Palmer (credit: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

During his years in Albany, Warren developed close friendships with two nationally known figures. In Albany, he met sculptor Erastus Dow Palmer. Palmer’s daughter remembered that Warren was “an intimate friend and frequent guest in our house.”[2] In an 1884 letter of introduction, Palmer wrote “Mr. Warren has been and is one of my dearest friends for thirty years.”[3] And Warren’s 1857 composition “Song of the Robin” was “[d]edicated to his distinguished friend, E.D. Palmer of Albany.”

 

 

 

 

Frederic Edwin Church (credit: Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, Allen County Public Library)

By the mid-1850s, Warren had also become close to New York City artist Frederic Edwin Church[4], then at the peak of his career as a landscape painter.[5] In a lively correspondence in 1856 – 1857, Church addressed one of his letters to “My dear friend Warren,” and another “To my amiable George.”[6] And Warren’s 1857 composition “Cobweb Tarantella” was “[d]edicated to his eminent friend, Frederick E. Church of New York.”

Louis Moreau Gottschalk (credit: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

This creative trio of American artists expanded in October 1855 when Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the internationally known piano virtuoso and composer, arrived for a concert in Albany. Palmer and Warren both attended the concert[7], and Warren subsequently provided Church with a letter of introduction to Gottschalk.[8] An “enduring close friendship”[9] developed among the artists, enhancing the creative efforts of all four.

 

George William Warren met Gottschalk two days before the concert, when the two met in private. In a contribution to a local newspaper, signed only with his initials, Warren described his initial reaction:

Gottschalk’s Concert – For the first time I have heard Gottschalk! He was so kind as to play for me on Saturday morning for more than an hour but I can but attempt to describe the effect he produces. I can only say that the great expectations I have formed of his wonder[f]ul ability were more than twice realized. All the extravagant praises which we have seen of his European triumphs are no ideal words, and he comes up to them all, and sets adjectives in despair.

Let every music student, and, in fact, why will not every person who owns a piano, go to his Concert this evening, and hear what a glorious instrument it becomes under the matchless fingers of this greatest of players yet heard in this country? Yes! You may have heard [Maurice] Strakosch, and [Marie] Jaell and [William] Mason, but there is something in Gottschalk which places him at the head of this most brilliant art; and what we say does not make us like Strakosch, Jaell or Mason the less, only the highly gifted Gottschalk the more.

Go then, one and all, and see if this is not the truth.

G.W.W.[10]

Years later, Warren described the effect of that first hearing, and of the power of Gottschalk’s  personality:

Gottschalk came to Albany (where I was then living) in October, 1855. I then heard him for the first time, and succumbed at once. It was love at first sight, – love for the man, his genius, his most extraordinary playing, and the utter (inner) simplicity of character, which I discovered at a glance; although many, who were never willing to do him justice, saw only the outside man in evening dress, decorated with medals, and doing his utmost to please a promiscuous audience. They knew not Gottschalk in private life, at the piano (he was always there), with a few warm friends listening, — the tender-hearted, sensitive artist and loyal friend, ready with extended arm to help any poor struggling wight of the key-board, — ready with a good word and resistless smile to reward the efforts of his confrères of the profession.[11]

And, writing under the pseudonym “Jem Baggs”[12], Warren described Gottschalk’s effect on him:

[Gottschalk] is decidedly the musical Lion of the present. There is something in Gottschalk which pleases me beyond all the pianists I have heard. He has all the technical execution to absolute perfection and more besides, which is just Gottschalk and nothing else. In his inspired moments he sends an electricity through his hearers, indescribable to such as myself who cannot write half I feel or think, but which is irresistible to all; but why attempt what I cannot do, for I am not able to write of him as could wish or he deserves.[13]

The friendship among these four continued for Warren’s remaining years in Albany, although, of necessity, much of Warren’s contact with Church and Gottschalk was by letter.[14] From Warren’s correspondence with Church, however, we know that he visited Church in New York City, and on one occasion was planning a joint trip there with Palmer.[15]

Despite both Warren’s and Gottschalk’s description of an intimate personal and professional friendship, two Gottschalk scholars describe the two as an odd couple. Gottschalk’s biographer, S. Frederick Starr, argues that Gottschalk and Warren represent divergent strands in American Music. In contrast to Gottschalk, who represented an emotional, unrestrained, aesthetic new type of music,

Warren stood in the same solid Yankee tradition as Lowell Mason, even to the point of editing a major Protestant hymnal, Warren’s Hymns and Tunes. Yet while he and Gottschalk stood on opposite sides of many fault lines running through American life, Warren was drawn at once to the composer from New Orleans.[16]

The same theme is struck by Robert Offergeld:

One of the more amusing aspects of the lifelong friendship between Gottschalk and Warren is that Gottschalk, the flagrantly antipuritanical young virtuoso, seldom failed to enchant the most respectable people. Socially Gottschalk was unreservedly liked (doubtless to the extreme irritation of Dwight[17]), by numbers of proper Bostonians, including Mason, the Chickerings, Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, the F.G. Hills, the James Thomas Field. But Gottschalk seemed specially attractive also to the officially most respectable of all musicians – those who composed nineteenth-century America’s hymns, and in the 1850s they were the largest, the most successful, and by far the most solvent composing fraternity in the Western World.[18]

But I think Starr and Offergeld do not fully appreciate George William Warren’s own strain of emotion and enthusiasm. They seem not to be aware that by 1855, Warren had published at least 17 popular pieces including eight lively dance numbers: three schottisches, two polkas, two waltzes, two tarantellas, and a redowa.[19]

Even his religious works could not be described as sober or restrained. A contemporary reviewer opined, “I cannot concede that the style of music usually performed in this church [St Paul’s, Albany] is that of legitimate church music. A great portion of it is of Mr. Warren’s own composition, and is, in most instances, very nicely wedded to the words: yet I am more reminded of the concert room by it than of the church.”[20]

The anonymous reviewer Philomel in describing the celebration of a new Hook organ at St. Paul’s Church, Troy, wrote, “Mr. Geo. Wm. Warren organist of St Paul’s Albany next extemporised in his usual fanciful and somewhat comic style.”[21]

When Warren objected light-heartedly to this characterization, Philomel explained that he intended no disrespect, that he was merely describing Warren’s “off-hand, dashing, sprightly, operatic, and in view of his unmistakably volatile temperament, occasionally comic style. Indeed a man cannot break away from the general current of his thoughts, and Mr. Warren’s musical expressions are the natural outbursts of a heart, (to all outward appearance at least) free from care, and overflowing in its excess of joy.”[22]

All of this sounds very similar to the descriptions of the emotion-driven improvisations that were at the heart of Gottschalk’s compositions.[23] Warren certainly wrote sober, four-square hymn tunes; if he is remembered at all today, it is for “National Hymn,” the tune to which the hymn “God of Our Fathers” is usually sung. But the George William Warren of the late 1850s was far closer to the spirit of Moreau Gottschalk than that of Lowell Mason. No wonder that Gottschalk told his student and friend, Mary Alice Ives Seymour, “Warren’s sympathy for me is perfect – he understands every phase of my nature.”[24]

Louis Moreau Gottschalk and George William Warren, Saratoga Springs 1864 (credit: Gottschalk Collection, New York Public Library)

The intimacy and compatibility of these friends is best exemplified by their collaboration on Warren’s composition “The Andes,” for which Gottschalk helped produce a two-piano version that was the hit of New York concert halls in the spring of 1863. In my next post, I will turn to this work, an homage to “Heart of the Andes,” painted by their mutual friend, Frederic E. Church.

[1] So described in an obituary for G.W. Warren’s son, Richard Henry Warren, cited in Bridget Falconer-Salkeld, “Louis Moreau Gottschalk: Evidence for the Dedication of ‘Adieu funèbre’,” American Music, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Fall, 2007), 357.

The claim in Warren’s obituary that his “musical education was received at Racine College, Wis.” is surely mistaken. Racine College was founded in 1852, at least four years after Warren says he began his career as a professional musician. “Dr. George W. Warren Dies from Apoplexy,” New York Times, 17 Mar 1902. Warren received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Racine College in 1883. “Religious News and Comment,” The Brooklyn Union 4 Aug 1883.

[2] Letter of Frances Palmer, Frances Palmer Gavit Papers, Albany Institute of History and Art, quoted in Falconer-Salkeld, 357.

[3] E. D. Palmer’s 21 Apr 1884 letter of introduction for Warren to John Quincy Adams Ward, quoted in J. Carson Webster, Erastus D. Palmer (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1983), 312.

[4] Church did not move to The Farm (later the site of Olana) until 1861. Olana Partnership, “Frederic Church and Olana Timeline,” https://www.olana.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/SLDP-Timeline-Susan-Turner.pdf accessed 6 Jul 2020.

[5] Falconer-Salkeld, 356.

[6] Four letters from Church to Warren, dated Apr 1856 – Jun 1857, quoted at length in Falconer-Salkeld, 359-360.

[7] A month after the concert, Gottschalk sent Warren “my regards to our eminent, amiable, and sympathetic friend, Palmer.” 10 Nov 1855 letter from Gottschalk to Warren, transcribed in Octavia Hensel (pseudonym of Mary Alice Ives Seymour), Life and Letters of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (Boston: Oliver Ditson and Company, 1870), 71-72.

[8] A digital copy of Church’s 24 Apr 1856 letter thanking Warren for writing “a note of introduction to Mr. Gottschalk” is available at New York Public Library Digital Collections https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/be606a96-8ea9-19e1-e040-e00a18066e03 accessed 9 Jul 2020.

Church probably met Gottschalk when he attended a Gottschalk concert in New York City later that winter. S. Frederick Starr, Bamboula!: The Life and Times of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 215.

[9] Falconer-Salkeld, 356.

[10] “City News,” Albany Evening Journal, 22 Oct 1855, page 2.

[11] 20 Apr 1870 letter from Warren to Octavia Hensel, transcribed in Hensel, 208.

[12] I find five “Jem Baggs” posts in the “Musical Correspondence” column of Dwight’s Journal of Music, all but one datelined Brooklyn: I Dec 1860, 285-286, dated 14 Nov; 19 Jan 1861, 343, dated 14 Jan 1861; 27 Jul 1861, 134-135, dated 22 Jul; 7 Sep 1861, 181-182, “Aurora, Cayuga Lake, N.Y.”, dated 26 Aug; 22 Feb 1862, 374, dated 18 Feb.

Thomas Nelson identifies “Jem Baggs” as a Warren pseudonym. Thomas Nelson, George Wm. Warren: Bridging the Sacred and Secular in Nineteenth-Century American Music (Albany: Albany Institute of History & Art, 2010), 22-24.

[13] “Musical Correspondence,” Dwight’s Journal of Music, 22 Feb 1862, 374. Dateline: Brooklyn, 18 Feb.

[14] Falconer-Salkeld, 357.

[15] Each of the four letters from Church to Warren, dated Apr 1856 – Jun 1857 (and quoted at length in Falconer-Salkeld, 359-360) mentions planned visits by Palmer and Warren to New York City. Warren also mentions having been “with him [Church] many times when he painted the ‘Andes’,” which would have been at Church’s New York City studio in 1858 or early 1859. [Letter from Warren to Church’s daughter Isabel Charlotte Church in the Olana State Historic Site Archives, quoted in Thomas Nelson, George Wm. Warren: Bridging the Sacred and Secular in Nineteenth-Century American Music, 26.]

[16] Starr, 215.

[17] John Sullivan Dwight, editor of Dwight’s Journal of Music, and a venomous critic of Gottschalk and his music.

[18] Robert Offergeld, liner notes for The Wind Demon, Ivan Davis, piano, New World Records compact disc 80257-2, 8.

[19] Nelson, 36-37.

[20] Musical World and Times, New York, volume vii, number 161(?) (3 Dec 1853), 107.

[21] “The World of Music,” Musical World, volume 10, number 9 (28 Oct 1854), 102.

[22] “Musical Correspondence, “Musical World, volume 10, number 17 (23 Dec 1854), 206. For a later description of Warren’s skill at improvisation, see “New York’s Church Organists. Some of the Great Musicians Who Direct the Choirs in This City” New York Herald, issue 110 (20 Apr 1890), 25.

[23] Starr, 233-234.

[24] Hensel, 207.

1 thought on “George William Warren’s friendship with “the highly gifted Gottschalk”

  1. Pingback: What’s Up in the Neighborhood, August 8 2020 – Chuck The Writer

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