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Obscure Music Monday: Wiggins' Water in the Moonlight

Thomas "Blind Tom" Wiggins (May 25, 1849 - June 14, 1908) was an African-American musical prodigy on the piano. Born on a plantation in Georgia, he was sold, along with his parents, in to slavery. Because he was blind, his owner, James Bethune, originally wanted to kill him, as he couldn't do much of the work he demanded slaves do, but eventually decided to let him play and explore the plantation he was on. 

Wiggins became interested in piano after hearing Bethune's daughters playing the instrument; at age four he gained piano playing skills by ear, and by five had composed his first piece. Bethune recognized Wiggins' talent, and allowed him to stay in a room attached to the house that was equipped with a piano; it's rumored that Wiggins would play up to 12 hours a day if he could. He was hired out from the age of eight to play concert across the country; his talent was exploited by Bethune, who kept most of the income Wiggins made as a soloist.

Water in the Moonlight is a short but evocative work. Its beginning is calm and modest, with a simple melody. Slowly but surely, each section in the work gets a bit more bold; the chords at the halfway point of the piece are robust and strong, which contrasts nicely with the grace-note like adornments in the right hand. The work subsides in dynamic towards end, with the last few chords played boldly, like a last hurrah.

Here is a recording of this wonderful work for you to enjoy!

John Davis

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