The Banjo, Op. 15

Louis Moreau Gottschalk wrote this piece in 1853 as a fantasy imitating the american banjo. It was published in 1854.

 

The banjo has 5 strings, with 4 main strings being tuned similar to a guitar, and a shorter string higher in pitch. It differs in the guitar because of the placement of this string – a guitarist may expect the strings to go in order of pitch from lowest to highest, but the banjo begins with the highest (short) string, then goes from lowest, next lowest, middle, second highest:

banjo.png

 

Because of this order of strings, characteristics of the banjo include up-picking, in which the highest pitch string is frequently played interpolated in a melody, and downstroking, where the banjo picker strokes the string the way opposite of a guitar, but still is able to voice out the top.

 Gottschalk employs these techniques with striking accuracy in his piece, and for this reason it has been transcribed to banjo, and is a popular encore performance among pianists. Here is an example of up-picking in the piece, you can see the right hand leap up to a high F# (on the banjo it would be a G) frequently:

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 8.57.49 AM.png

 

Publishers of Gottschalk’s music include:

  • Schott Music
  • Schirmer

Notable performers with recordings of this piece include:

  • Cyprien Katsaris
  • Cecile Licad

Captain Thaddius’ Hot Take:

This is a really fun piece. It is perfect for an encore, especially perhaps if one is a foreigner playing a concert in the USA, or if an american pianist is playing a concert in a foreign nation. The “boom-chuck” accompaniment is perhaps the trickiest part of the piece.

 

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