“It is an age of exhaustive whoredom groping for its god.” James Joyce, Ulysses (Random House, 1946) p. 204
I ran across this sentence this morning randomly reading James Joyce. It felt like an apt description of our times now. “Exhaustive whoredom” particularly reminds me of the online commodification of everything and the mad hate speech.
I love when my reading becomes serendipitous. The section that I was planning to read in The Black History of the White House turned to be about very early African American composers I had never heard of. Cool.
I immediately pulled out the old laptop and tried to find out more about Francis Johnson. The silly Groves Music Dictionary has him under “Frank Johnson,” but his biographers all refer to hims as “Francis Johnson.”
Johnson lived from 1792 to 1844. Groves says he was an “American violinist, Kent-bugle player, bandmaster, and composer.” In another entry, Groves tells us that the “Kent bugle [was] One of several alternate names for the Keyed bugle , patented in 1810 . The first method book for keyed bugle was dedicated to the Duke of Kent, and early versions of the instrument were labeled “Royal Kent Bugle.”
I am interested how an African American managed to have the kind of prominent career Johnson seems to have had when slavery was thriving in the USA. So far, the information I can get online only hints at what must have been huge obstacles.
I have interlibrary loaned one book about him and have found a collection of his cotillons (cotilions) on IMSLP.
The word, “cotillon” or “cottillion” means “under -petticoat.” Groves says it’s a “…] Social dance of 18th-century French origin, popular in Europe and America throughout the 19th century . Its name was derived from the words of one of the earliest tunes to which it was danced (‘Ma commère, quand je danse/Mon cotillon va-t-il bien?’); the anglicized name of the dance later became the most common form. It was danced in squares, like the quadrille and country dances, involving geometric patterns and figures, and the tempo was similar to that of the Quadrille , a dance often described as a ‘cotillion’”
This looks like my kind of music. If you look closely, you can see dance instruction at the bottom of the page above.
Groves also says this about this dude: “A summary of Johnson’s musical achievements as America’s premier bandsman was such that he is easily labeled the Sousa of the period. His publications resulted in other black musicians finding music publishers. Johnson’s novelty was to turn a current melody into a danceable form. He often used tunes from current operas.”
A man who likes dance music. I relate.