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August 27, 2010

New silent film 'Louis' brings welcome attention to composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk

For something completely different, consider zipping to Strathmore Saturday night for the presentation of the new, fascinating silent film "Louis" with live musical soundtrack provided by Wynton Marsalis and his jazz ensemble, and classical pianist Cecile Licad.

The movie, directed by Dan Pritzker and shot be legendary cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, offers a fanciful take on the boyhood experiences of Louis Armstrong. It's a wonderful homage to the art of silent film, for starters, and an entertaining story, too. (I confess I found the many brothel scenes -- with all that underwear from what looks like the 1910 edition of a Victoria's Secret catalog -- a little tiresome, but that's just me).

I saw the movie with a pre-recorded soundtrack by Marsalis and friends; the live version is likely to be even more fun. One of the coolest things about the project is the choice of Louis Moreau Gottschalk's music for the scenes where Licad plays, providing an atmospheric counterpoint to the jazz from Marsalis. Gottschalk, a composer with New Orleans roots, was one of America's first classical superstars in the mid-19th century. His music went way out of favor, but enjoyed a revival in the 1970s; a recording by the brilliant pianist Ivan Davis gave Gottschalk a particularly strong boost. Maybe "Louis" will start another renewal of appreciation for this colorful composer.

Here's a taste of Davis playing Gottschalk; I also thought you might like to see the trailer for "Louis":

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:32 AM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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