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Document Type

Article - Merrimack Access Only

Publication Title

Journal of the Society for American Music

Publication Date

5-2017

Abstract/ Summary

This article reconsiders the cultural significance and historical impact of the well-known virtuosic piano composition The Banjo by Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Throughout the early nineteenth century, the banjo and the piano inhabited very specific and highly contrasting performance circumstances: black folk entertainment and minstrel shows for the former, white middle- and upper-class parlors and concert halls for the latter. In The Banjo, Louis Moreau Gottschalk lifted the banjo out of its familiar contexts and placed it in the spaces usually privileged for the piano. Taking its inspiration from both African American and minstrel banjo playing techniques, Gottschalk's composition relaxed and muddled the boundaries among performance spaces, racial and class divisions, and two conspicuously different musical instruments in an egalitarian effort to demonstrate that, contrary to the opinions of some mid-nineteenth-century musical critics and tastemakers, both the piano and the banjo have a place in the shaping of American music culture.

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