‘Banjo 2’, however, deserves some consideration. It was not the first banjo-piano piece—others had been inspired (if that’s the word) by the banjo craze of the 1840s and ’50s—but it was the most effective and sophisticated in its fusion of two distinct musical cultures. Here was a classical pianist-composer imbued with the mazurkas and operatic fantasies of the Paris salons, personally acquainted with their composers, assimilating the pentatonic chords and African-American style of banjo plucking into a piano piece firmly prescribed by traditional Western musical language. But the piece is more than this. It is not merely a piano-aping-banjo exercise, but a tone picture of the banjo player himself, strutting his stuff on the stage. Not until Debussy’s Minstrels and Golliwogg’s Cakewalk would the world of Stephen Foster and Edwin P Christy’s black-faced minstrels be so piquantly portrayed by a European composer.
Gottschalk first introduced the (2ème) Banjo at a concert in the Mechanics’ Hall, New Orleans, on 1 February 1854. It caused a sensation. There is a review of him playing the piece a few years later. In the Review and Gazette of 29 December 1855, Theodore Hagen wrote that Gottschalk’s ‘nervous touch, his dashing, daring playing, his restless melodic phrasing … created really interesting pictures … of Southern life and Negro enjoyments [rooted in] the soil and, at last, the traditions of its people’.
from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2004