Monthly Archives: August 2009

a fall in the fickle field of fancy

May 31, 1890: “New York City News,” “On Sunday last, there was buried from 194 Bleeker street, a man whose name once was the synonym for skill upon the banjo, Horace Weston. His career is a striking example of of the rise and fall of natural genius in the fickle field of fancy. Years ago he stood without a peer, and in clever measure, thumbed his melodies of the day before the crowned heads and rulers of the world. From troupe to troupe he drifted and through loose and careless habits gradually fell from grace, and saw the championship drift away from him.”

From Out of sight: the rise of African American popular music, 1889-1895 By Lynn Abbott, Doug Seroff

Other posts in this series on Horace Weston:

Champion Banjoist of the World

Egyptian Fandango

Egyptian Fandango

Speaking of Horace Weston, Champion Banjoist of the World, I have done a recording/video of his superawesome 1882 song “Egyptian Fandango.”

MP3: Lucas Gonze channelling Horace Weston via “Egyptian Fandango”

Also: AIF, FLAC, and Ogg Vorbis.

Fandango means “A lively Spanish dance in triple time performed with castanets or tambourines. The dance begins slowly and tenderly, the rhythm marked by the clack of castanets, snapping of fingers, and stomping of feet. The speed gradually increases to a whirl of exhilaration.”

It’s a great little composition with a lot of spooky flavor. Very Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Weston was a sophisticated musician.

The harmony dips into both blues and classical. I hear Paganini *and* Rev. Gary Davis. As an example of classical harmony, at the center of the piece is a dissonant chord in A minor spelled b-f#-g-d; notice the f# and g right next to each other, without even an octave between them to help them get along. As an example of blues harmony, he uses V minor (E minor) and V dominant (E7) interchangeably, without modulating, which makes the third a blue note.

Rhythmically it plays a subtle game with a strong offbeat and weak downbeat: 1 *2* 3 *4*. This was ten years ahead of ragtime and thirty ahead of jazz, and it’s clearly an antecedent.

A wonderful and special thing about Weston is that as a gifted and educated free black man in a time of poverty and intense ghettoization he was able to write his own story and document his times for himself. Very few black people were empowered to do that. And what do you find? The advanced rhythmic techniques that characterize all African-American genres _and_ mastery of European music theory.

Here’s the sheet music I worked from, which I got from the Library of Congress:

sheet music for Egyptian Fandango by Horace Weston

In terms of my own playing here, I feel good about how it came out. I like the way the time ebbs and flows, and I like the brightness of the tone. There are no bad spots or mistakes. Also, I feel like I succeeded in bringing out the weird and awesome combo of blues and classical. But the recording is too short to really succeed. I feel like I needed to get at least two minutes out it to have something that people would listen to for its own sake.

The one good thing about the shortness is that this would be a natural soundtrack for a Flickr video, since Flickr videos can’t be longer than a minute and a half.

Anyhow, you’re welcome to remix my recording here, as well as download it, upload it, and tattoo it on your behind. It’s in the public domain.


To the extent possible under law, Lucas Gonze
has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to
Egyptian Fandango.
This work is published from
United States.

Frufru banjo by Brits

Jan Wien

Two recordings on zither banjo by a turn of the century British virtuoso named Jan Wien, courtesy of the zither-banjo web site:

Valse Gaiete

Hungarian Rhapsody

Joseph Bull

And more by an opera banjo player named Joseph Bull:

Handy Jack

Intermezzo from “Cavalieria Rusticanain”

And while you are enjoying the music, here is something whacky.

W. G. Underwood plays banjo with his teeth

W.G. Underwood, a sailor on board H.M.S. Calypso has adopted a new style of playing the banjo aloft while hanging by his teeth. He tells me (editor Emile Grimshaw) that the tune he was playing when this photograph was taken was “Lenton Waltz”. He also says that “although a simple tune, it always goes down well when played in this manner at a height of twenty feet.

state of public domain sheet music searcher

I have kept using and improving my custom search engine for public domain sheet music for about a year now. It’s really useful, and all I have to do to maintain it is add new sites as I come across them. The reason this search engine is necessary is that sheet music vendors and malware sites have successfully gamed the search engines, so you can’t find free (as in freedom) sheet music unless you whitelist providers. If you know of new sites, let me know.

Sites currently in the whitelist: