Louis Moreau Gottschalk

Le Banjo, esquisse américaine for piano, Op. 15, D. 15 (RO 22)

    Description by Uncle Dave Lewis

    Louis Moreau Gottschalk embarked upon a chaotic tour of the eastern United States in the spring and early summer of 1853. Exhausted, with no ground gained, Gottschalk retreated to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York. During the summer Gottschalk relaxed and undertook numerous compositions, among them the first version of The Banjo. After taking the piece through a major overhaul. Gottschalk submitted it for publication in 1854 as his Opus 15. First reaction to The Banjo was split, with the public taking to the piece immediately while Gottschalk's colleagues in the concert field felt at pains to make excuses for what they thought surely must be a momentary lapse of taste and reason on the composer's part.

    Gottschalk was intimately familiar with banjo technique. In his native New Orleans, banjo playing by street musicians was a familiar sight. On one occasion, under his pseudonym "Seven Octaves," Gottschalk published a review of a concert performance by banjoist George Swaine Buckley in the New York Morning Times. Banjoists quickly recognized that Gottschalk's piano piece lay within the technical resources of their instrument with only minor adaptation, and incorporated it into their repertoires. Banjo instruction books of the nineteenth century sometimes credit Gottschalk for helping to establish the banjo as a "real" musical instrument.

    Beginning with a variant of the main melody stated in octaves, the first strain of The Banjo takes the form of a long introduction made up of several periods, played in the middle range of the piano. The main melody is stated in the treble, and hardly gets off the ground before it is answered by a fiendishly tough passage in sixteenths with the emphasis always on the downbeat, sometimes held there by a discreetly inserted tie. Thundering octaves take us back to the beginning of the introduction, and the whole thing is heard again. Gottschalk closes with a brilliant pair of variations on a melody strongly resembling that of Stephen Foster's Camptown Races. (The piece also contains echoes of the spiritual "Roll, Jordan, Roll.") In these last passages Gottschalk successfully suggests the "frailing" style of banjo playing on the keyboard.

    After Gottschalk's death in 1869, the composer's original version of The Banjo was published as his Op. 82 under the erroneous title of The Banjo No. 2. In its own time, the Op. 15 version was greatly popular, but no match for Gottschalk's omnipresent masterpiece of Victorian sentiment, The Last Hope. One and a half centuries later, The Last Hope is but a faded memory from a past era, and The Banjo stands as Louis Moreau Gottschalk's most famous and enduring composition, in addition to a favorite encore of piano virtuosi the world around.

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2017
    Leaf Music
    RLCD 01
    2015
    Naxos
    8559693
    2014
    Musical Concepts
    MC 133
    2013
    Albany Music Distribution
    TROY 1414
    2012
    FC Records
    FCRCD 9745
    2012
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099967901
    2011
    EMI Classics
    5099908293220
    2011
    Various Artists
    W.W. Norton
    2010
    Avi-Music / CAvi-music
    8553199
    2010
    Dal Segno
    052
    2010
    Time/Life Music
    26086
    2009
    ABC Classics / ABC Music
    3442
    2007
    Apex
    2006
    Warner Music
    49576
    2006
    Vanguard
    1906
    2005
    Artemis Records
    1191
    2005
    Crystonyx Productions
    1002
    2005
    ABC Classics
    4767743
    2005
    Artemis Classics
    1529
    2004
    Vanguard
    ATMCD1181
    2004
    MSR Classics
    1092
    2003
    Doremi Records
    71135
    2003
    Naxos
    8559145
    2002
    Centaur Records
    2584
    2001
    Helen Beedle
    beedle
    2000
    Capstone Records
    8671
    2000
    Pavane
    7396
    1999
    JRB
    9004
    1998
    Nimbus
    8815
    1997
    Centaur Records
    2549
    1997
    Nimbus
    5014
    1997
    Helen Beedle
    1995
    Vox
    3033
    1995
    Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
    40803
    1995
    Koch Schwann
    360352
    1995
    Centaur Records
    2250
    1995
    Town Hall
    THCD-35
    1993
    Pro-Arte Records
    515
    1993
    Vanguard
    4050
    1992
    EMI Music Distribution
    64667
    1991
    Hyperion
    66459
    Viridiana Prod.
    2005
    Erato
    Vanguard
    91447
    Fone
    9007
    London
    436108
    Norton
    7593
    Norton
    7586