Long neglected, this composer and teacher helped shape a meaningful literature for guitar.
Over the last couple of years I’ve been working with the Kansas Historical Society, my mission: to bring to life the underappreciated guitar music of Henry Worrall (1825-1902). Recognizing he’s no household name, a brief introduction to the man is in order.
Henry Worrall and his guitar. Picture courtesy of The Kansas Historical Society.
Worrall was born in Liverpool and moved to the U.S. in the 1830s. While living in Cincinnati he taught guitar at the Ohio Female College, and it was here that he first published music for guitar including an instructional book, Worrall’s Guitar School. He would relocate to Topeka, Kansas in 1868 where he would thrive as a multi-talented artist until his death in 1902. In fact, Henry’s work as an artist, illustrator and decorator often overshadows his musical legacy. His visual art was referred to as “journalism in pictures” and often depicted life in Kansas.
Worrall’s Guitar School was among the published guitar works by Henry Worrall. Picture courtesy of The Kansas Historical Society.
A gifted artist, Worrall’s illustrations were published in magazines, newspapers and even used to promote the state of Kansas. Illustration courtesy of The Kansas Historical Society.
Over the years, Worrall’s family has donated many of Henry’s illustrations as well as personal copies of his published music and art to The Kansas Historical Society. While digitizing artefacts for the Kansas Memory website, Michael Church, who works for the site and is a guitar buff, came across some of Worrall’s handwritten manuscripts of his guitar compositions. These include original and alternate versions of published pieces and some unpublished music as well.
This is where my involvement with Henry Worrall began. The Kansas Historical Society was looking for a guitarist who could read and play Worrall’s handwritten manuscripts. If you’ve read earlier Guitar Notes, then you know I not only like to say “Yes,” but also believe people would not ask me to do things they don’t believe I can do. So I offered to take a look at the manuscripts when the Society got in touch by email. Here’s a sample of the scores I began looking at:
Henry Worrall’s handwritten copy of “Sebastopol.” Courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society.
This was a completely unique experience. Here I was, reading the composer’s own handwriting and playing arrangements most likely last performed by him more than a century and a half ago.
In addition to being a guitarist, Henry Worrall was also an organist. This may account for the clean notation and documentation in his guitar scores. After Worrall’s death, North American guitar lapsed into the position of being viewed as a folk instrument. As with other folk instruments, songs were mostly learned by listening to others rather than reading sheet music.
Aside from contributing to the otherwise sparse literature for guitar written in the Americas, Henry Worrall lived during a transitional period for the guitar, making him an especially interesting historical figure. The transition from Spanish and classical guitar to ragtime and parlor guitar traditions that in turn led to rural blues was afoot during his lifetime. I wanted to know more.
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In Part 2 we’ll dive into the manuscripts, talk about Henry’s guitars and look at his influence on early blues guitar in America. In the meantime, check out the Henry Worrall collection at Kansas Memory.
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Brian Baggett is Video Presenter for Musician’s Friend Private Reserve Guitars. He curates the Private Reserve guitar collection on video, visits guitar factories and works closely with luthiers and signature artists to gain insight into the greatest guitars being built today. He is also a professional guitarist playing every Wednesday and Saturday night at The Green Lady Lounge in Kansas City. A former jazz guitar professor, Brian continues to teach guitar lessons and has a book and DVD titled Keys To Unlocking the Fretboard. Find Brian on Facebook and twitter.