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Rags and Pieces by Scott Joplin (1895-1905)
This song was a worthy first effort, and the first known Scott Joplin piece published. During this period Joplin had been traveling with his Texas Medley Quartette, actually an octet, in which Scott played piano, conducted and acted as a soloist, and his brothers Robert Joplin
and Will Joplin
sang baritone and tenor respectively. Having been well represented by a credible booking agency, they traveled throughout the Midwest and Eastern United States. At some point the group likely had an extended stay in Syracuse, New York, where this and one other Joplin piece were first published. Actually Mr. Mantell, who purchased the song, was a jeweler by trade, but many different merchants dabbled in publishing in this time when vanity publications were becoming good business. There is little extraordinary about the song, which reflects the current style of maudlin ballads that were a part of the "gay nineties," but it shows that Joplin was already an accomplished musical talent. The lyrical content reflects male attitudes of the time, with a man begging his intended love to take him back because the tryst he engaged in was the other girl's fault. Try that one on in this age of personal accountability!
In 1896, William George Crush
, an agent of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas
line (the Katy
), noted how many spectators showed up at train wrecks. He convinced the line to stage a collision with him as the promoter. After months of hype on posters spread throughout northern Texas, the event came to pass on September 15, 1896. There were about 40,000 spectators who came by Katy excursion trains for a nice picnic lunch. It took hired law enforcement several hours to push the onlookers back far enough from the planned point of collision. The trains, painted red and green and towing cars filled with railroad ties, touched noses. Then each backed up a mile or so, and the crew jumped out after setting the trains at full throttle. The 90 mph collision (each train was traveling at least 45 mph), of which the point of impact is shown in the accompanying photograph, was spectacular as promised. In spite of precautions that were taken, including Crush interviewing many mechanics about possibility of boiler explosions, both boilers exploded and three spectators were killed while many more were injured from the debris. The photographer, Joe Deane
lost an eye from a flying bolt. Crush was fired that evening as a result of the calamity, but quietly rehired the following day. It has been suggested by some that Joplin may have witnessed this event (unconfirmed). In any case, the march came out a couple of months later. As with the popular E.T. Paull
marches of the time, it includes descriptions of activity to explain what is happening in the music, including the spectacular collision. However, the score suggests that the collision be performed again in a repeat of the interlude, something that diminishes the impact of the moment. In this performance, I simply insert a near miss in the first iteration of the interlude. When you finally hear the wreck coming on my rendition, back away from the speakers. You have been warned. You don't want to put an ear out!
Joplin's second published march was nowhere near as ambitious as his first instrumental opus, The Great Crush Collision
, but it demonstrated his ability to assemble well-structured themes and is not all that far off from the ragtime he would be writing in short order. He had been traveling with his Texas Medley Quartette
(actually double that since there were eight members) and secured publication in Temple, Texas during their tour. The context of the title is unclear, whether Joplin is referring to a combination of styles or ideas, or the group with which he was playing. While standard piano fare for that time, there are some noteworthy attributes. These include unusual unrepeated minor section between the A and B strains, which sounds somewhat like a trio interlude, followed by an interesting interplay between the treble and bass clefs. The B strain is further emphasized through the effective use of highly contrasting dynamics. The trio is not unlike some trios that Joplin would later write during his first few years of rag composition, save for syncopation. The final section is so characteristically Joplin that is cries out for syncopation, something that is inserted in this performance on the repeat.
Waltzes were both ubiquitous and plentiful in the 1890s, and while other music forms were in flux, the waltz was still a reliable staple. To modern ears, however, they seem to go on forever, and they often do. In fact, many compositions would use the term waltzes instead of waltz, given the number of sections in a piece. Joplin also proved himself to be a capable waltz writer in this early effort. His forceful 2/4 introduction leads into a gentle waltz that grows in complexity and intensity through second section, taking a breather in a nice minor strain. There is some nice development in the D section and a hint of syncopation in the E section with the right hand chords. Another gentle strain and another development eventually leads us back to the A and B sections. There are no prominent indicators of his ragtime propensities here since they were not yet fully realized. Joplin's sense of harmonic patterns and completion of phrases is very evident, however, as is his judicious use of either 16 or 32 bars as necessary to complete a musical idea. The piece was published in his native home of Texas, but it is unclear if "Harmony Club" refers to a place of business or one of the groups he performed with.
Scott Joplin had already been published by 1899, including a handful of songs, marches, and a waltz. This was his first published rag, although many questions remain concerning the content. It is obviously made up of folk melodies, but it lacks the continuity between sections found in most of his rags, starting with the Maple Leaf Rag
published a few months later. Then there is the notation on the cover, "arranged by Charles N. Daniels
". At a time when it was still somewhat difficult for black composers to get published, this might infer that Daniels, employed by publisher Carl Hoffman
, arranged for that firm to publish the piece, which according to his son is true. Daniel's grandniece, Nan Bostick, noted that Charlie's son was told that his only role was notating it based on Joplin's playing (which could technically constitute arranging), but apparently did not alter it. The notion was that based on a recent hit of his, Daniel's was a known quantity (even at 21) while Joplin did not yet have the reputation with the public. The A and B sections are thin, and more in a cakewalk style. The C section, in a different key but appearing before the reiteration of A, has clear indications of Joplin's hand. Ed Berlin has logically suggested the possibility that Daniels was responsible for the D section, as it bears similarity to a tune previously published by Hoffman called A Virginny Frolic
. But whether Daniels or Joplin adapted this is unclear and it contradicts Daniel's own statement. The final section is, again, clearly Joplin, and marked the beginning of a remarkable career in ragtime composition. It is interesting to note that some accounts which cannot be reliably confirmed say that Hoffman was also offered Maple Leaf Rag
, but he chose the one that was simpler to play, knowing that his best customers were the young women interested in the new ragtime music that they could execute without too much effort. What a turn down that might have been!
Although it was hardly the first rag written or published, Maple Leaf Rag
did become the first instrumental piece to sell over one million copies. The Charles K. Harris
song After The Ball
from 1888 was the first million selling piece of sheet music, but Maple Leaf did it in a shorter amount of time, reportedly in less than a decade. Joplin named the rag in honor of the venue in which it was allegedly first heard by publisher John Stark
, the Maple Leaf Club
in Sedalia, Missouri. Actually, it was more likely demonstrated in his office, which was down the street from the short-lived club. There are many stories about how Joplin and Stark became associated as a result of this rag. One possible version suggest that when Joplin first played it for Stark, he had a little black child with him who danced to the salacious syncopations, a move that may have helped sell it. However, a more likely story, researched by Ed Berlin, says that a young lawyer who was a friend of Stark's son, who was running the Sedalia store, offered to help Joplin present the piece to the firm as well as draw up the paperwork, some of which was altered at the time of signing as indicated on the original copy which still exists. Stark had already acquired a catalog of songs from the music store he had bought out, but was printing little or nothing at that time. When he finally heard the piece he was impressed enough not only to take on Maple Leaf Rag
, but to offer Joplin an unheard of royalty agreement as well (.01¢ per copy). Sales of Maple Leaf
and subsequent rags earned Joplin his "King of Ragtime" reputation, and enabled Stark to open a music store and printing shop in St. Louis, then later New York. Note that the original cover, now extremely rare as there were only 400 printed, featured a rough mirror image rendition of a tinted picture commissioned by the American Tobacco Company. It shows the famous vaudeville team of Williams and Walker with two lady dancers, soon to become their wives, doing the cakewalk. This edition was printed in St. Louis but displayed the Sedalia address, since Stark had not yet established his music store in the larger city. For the second printing, with the St. Louis address, he started issuing the piece with the better known Leaf cover made explicitly for his best seller.
The original Maple Leaf Club
was actually a social club that met in a saloon run by the Williams brothers of Sedalia. While the status of black rights in Canada and their trek up there during the American Civil War has been suggested as the source of the name, it is more likely that they followed the trend of naming organizations after trees in the area, and Sedalia has no shortage of Maple trees along its streets. The run of the club was essentially from November of 1898 to January of 1900, when it was dissolved due to a number of legal disputes and alleged errant behavior during a couple of events. The building no longer stands, replaced in recent years by a picturesque concert pavilion backed up to the railroad tracks, but the musical memories created there certainly remain. Dick Zimmerman
resurrected the name in 1967 when he helped to found the new Maple Leaf Club
in the Los Angeles area, which still meets in the 21st century. It's hard to try and reinterpret a piece that has been interpreted by pretty much every rag player that has existed, so I'm sure you will hear some familiar elements of other performances in here. I often perform this piece blindfolded just to add a measure of originality!
The only published output with Joplin's name on it in 1900 was this piece co-written with a protégé of Joplin, Arthur Marshall. Although it is labeled as a cakewalk, there is more than enough syncopation in it to consider it as a rag. The A section provides contrast in the left hand, with the oom-pah pattern interrupted by repeated chords, a device later used in some Joplin trios. The B section is simple, and more cakewalk-like in nature. The trio is very much Joplin in content, and likely his largest contribution. It has a very well developed melody line and chord progression, echoing elements of Marshall's motifs in earlier sections. The D section reverts back to the original key, and provides a great opportunity for left hand expansion and even a little stride piano. The title was possibly contributed by publisher John Stark
, who said that the boy pictured on the cover "looked like he just swiped something." His daughter suggested that it may have also been the result of an altercation between two young black boys taking a swipe at each other outside the music store as they were thinking on a name. The Swipesy Stomp version is an extended take that has more of a "Jelly Roll" Morton
vibe to it, showing how malleable the original work was.
Joplin's first solo rag released after the benchmark Maple Leaf Rag
from 18 months prior, Peacherine Rag
displays the compositional variety that he would strive for and improve upon from year to year. Not to say he was not composing, because there is evidence that he had already premiered his mini-ballet, The Ragtime Dance
, as early as 1900 in Sedalia. This was just the next piece published. Peacherine
is a happy rag with a definitive bounce to it from the start, it contains some Sedalia influences as well, and possibly even a little bit of Arthur Marshall
here and there. The smoother trio has some elements in it that foreshadow blues playing a decade or more later, including a neat little triplet figure and near-walking bass line. It was so engaging that Percy Wenrich
effectively lifted the entire section for his trio in The Smiler
. The bounce returns in the elegantly simple final section. Incidentally (yes, I have been asked this!), the word peacherine
was contrived for the rag title, and is not
a cross between a peach and a tangerine or nectarine.
Hayden's first collaboration with Joplin was published just short of his 19th birthday. Whether Joplin's interest in him was due to the fact that he was courting Hayden's widowed sister-in-law, or because of his inherent musical abilities, the result was most certainly a providential one. In fact, Sunflower Slow Drag
was nearly as popular when it appeared as the Maple Leaf Rag
had continued to be. Publisher John Stark
lavished praise on it, and pushed it in his catalog for many years. There is evidence to suggest that it was presented at the same time as Maple Leaf
as well, but not published for an additional two years. Most of the rag was known to have been composed by Hayden, particularly the difficult A and D sections, while Joplin contributed the trio and a few other thematic touches. By contemporary reports, Hayden was known to be as capable a player as his contemporary James Scott
, while Joplin preferred composing and teaching over performing. Joplin manages to tie in some of Hayden's patterns in his trio, which is a pleasantly subdued contrast to the rest of the piece. The last iteration of the D section is intentionally slowed here, as it was traditional to do so for the finale of many cakewalks or drags of the time. Incidentally, the Slow Drag (for instructions click here)
was a popular dance of the day for which many ragtime pieces were composed.
The issuance of this rag marked the beginning of what would become a continually strained relationship between Joplin and his biggest advocate in most respects, publisher John Stark
. Possibly due to a dispute concerning Joplin's desire to publish his extended stage dance piece, The Ragtime Dance
, Joplin took his next rag to Shattinger Music
in St. Louis to help him publish The Easy Winners
under his own name. This may have been a ploy by Joplin to leverage Stark by demonstrating that he could be independent if need be. Stark eventually purchased the plates and distributed the piece, but the footer still credited Joplin as the publisher. The A section follows a well-known folk pattern that was used in many black-composed pieces throughout the era. It is followed by his most intricate syncopated melodic line to date in the B section. The trio (C section) consists of a simple pattern that is carried through to the end, and the last four measures of it also end the D section, which is largely a call and response type of phrase. This piece was quite appropriately used (look at the horse racing depicted on the cover) and adapted by composer Marvin Hamlisch
in the movie 1974 movie The Sting
The year 1902 would prove to be a truly prolific one for Joplin given his scant solo output since the publication of Maple Leaf Rag
three years prior. Perhaps now that he had fully settled in St. Louis the combination of ragtime influences in that town along with more time to pursue composition spurred this surge. Although most of his output for 1902 would be piano rags, one early entry for the year was this interesting march. It was surprisingly not published by John Stark
. Whether this was a display of independence or Stark's reluctance to publish a non-ragtime piece is debatable. The opening strain is clearly a strict march. The B section shows probable tendencies towards syncopation, which can easily be brought out with a little experimentation. The trio returns to the strict march while the final strain, sparse in places, again shows some flexibility in terms of rhythmic patterns. Ultimately Cleopha
never enjoyed the widespread distribution of some of his other pieces of this time period, in part because Stark would soon add New York to his publishing base while Cleopha's
publisher Simon would remain in the central Midwest.
Coming just three years after the Maple Leaf Rag
, this marvelous display of pianistic prowess displays the composer's potential for innovation and development. Although the heading simply states "Not fast.", fast in this instance must be seen as a relative term. It is likely that many of the brothel and barrelhouse pianists were ragging any tune they could, and playing it at breakneck speeds to show off their skill. It has been widely agreed that Joplin's intention was that his pieces not be played at outlandish speeds, but in a controlled manner appropriate for the content
. "Not Fast" did not necessarily mean "Slow." That said, this piece both suggests and requires some motion to work properly. The A section uses a common device of the hands chasing each other around a pattern, used here in a sophisticated manner. The B section provides intentional contrast, but allows for improvisation. The trio is as busy as the other sections, but single-note melody line flows better, providing a more placid feel. The D section is one of the most rip-roaring that Joplin ever wrote. It makes the case for "Not Slow Either."
I first learned this piece in 1971, right after the initial release of the Vera Brodsky Lawrence
edition of The Collected Works of Scott Joplin
. This was two years before George Roy Hill
, who had heard this and other pieces on his son's recording of Joshua Rifkin
playing Joplin Rags, engaged Marvin Hamlisch
to arrange them for his upcoming motion picture, The Sting
. Actually, Hamlisch, for the most part, ended up using a great many ideas originally found in The Red Back Book
, which was the musicians name for the John Stark
publication containing Joplin rag orchestrations. Others were culled from the fine arranging work of Gunther Schuller
, who was recording and touring these pieces at that time with the New England Conservatory of Ragtime
. Got all of that! Somebody else's idea; somebody else's music; somebody else's arrangements; and the Oscar goes to... Actually, I humbly give Hamlisch his due, since it was a daunting task to marry the music to the story, which he did exceedingly well. And frankly, the movie was a success. Marv picked up yet another Oscar (on the heels of The Way We Were
), and The Entertainer
was inadvertently renamed THE STING
for about twenty years, maybe longer! I have long since gotten over the constant irritation brought on by people asking for that Marvin Hamlisch thing from the Sting. The use of it did promote ragtime well, so my complaints are few. Actually, this is a very simple and stately number, albeit intended as a moderately paced dance tune. It may have been played with mandolins at one time, since the dedication inside is to James Brown and his Mandolin Club. There are two versions here - one receiving my normal classic rag treatment, and the other with a bit of a wry smile here and there. I try not to overdo it with clichés, but there are still some "Perfessor" Bill touches within. In the "Fun" version, listen for a tribute to another very structured and melodic composer who sonata
contemporary of Joplin!
In 1900, war hero and soon to be Vice President Theodore Roosevelt
first published his collection called The Strenuous Life
. In it he advocated that Americans should not be complacent and rest on their well-earned laurels, but that they should always work hard to accomplish more. He clearly detested idleness, thus the title of this collection of essays and speeches starting with an address he had made in 1899. Within a year Roosevelt would be testing the very life that he advocated when President William McKinley
was assassinated, putting the former Rough Rider in charge of the country. In 1902 Roosevelt looked to black leader Booker T. Washington
as an advisor for appointments of black personnel in his government. But it was the fact that Roosevelt actually sat down with Washington for a White House lunch that outraged many parts of the country, yet fortified others. Joplin was inspired by this show of strength, and named his latest rag The Strenuous Life
in honor of Roosevelt. It has many march-like qualities in the A and D sections. The B section, raised to the dominant key, is smoothly syncopated in contrast to the A strain. The trio utilizes a great deal of the |bass|chord|chord|bass| pattern found in other rags, but not often in the trio. It is altogether a pleasant piece, but I try to sweat when I play it just the same.
This exuberant dance piece actually exists in two forms, and was a source of one of the first wedges in the relationship between Joplin and publisher John Stark
, his greatest champion. Although Stark supported most of Joplin's efforts in furthering innovation in ragtime, the original concept of this piece as a short folk ballet evidently seemed superfluous and unsalable to the occasionally inflexible publisher. It was reportedly through the efforts of Stark's daughter that the piece was published. It opened as a song with a description of the events of a typical evening at a dance complete with the usual razor blade reference associated with such events. It then continued on as a rag with lyrics peppered with occasional instructions
, finishing as a stoptime dance with somewhat specific dance instructions from the printed page. It is implied in the score that this stoptime section could be repeated ad nauseam in order to allow all of the couples on stage to complete the dance properly. Then the piece closes with a final phrase by the singing interlocutor. Where or in what venue this number would have been performed is somewhat nebulous. What is clear was that John Stark was correct and his fears were validated when the initial publication bombed. I have minimized the aforementioned ad nauseam repeats in this rendition. The Dance version is played slowly enough to allow the steps to be executed. I suggest that you also listen to the rag version of The Ragtime Dance
Shortly after Joplin's first feud with publisher John Stark
over a difference of opinion on the fate of Joplin's Ragtime Dance
stage presentation, Joplin took this collaborative rag to rival publisher Val A. Reis
. Hayden, still more his protégé than his partner, likely had little say in this matter. In contrast to these troubles, this rag certainly reflects high spirits and joy. It is well organized thematically and very melodic throughout. Hayden's opening theme is both cheerful and stately, with some of the left hand rhythms broken up with moving octave patterns. The B section is typical of the best of classic rags at that time. While the bulk of the rag is Hayden's, the trio is likely by Joplin, who also influenced the D section with anticipatory syncopations, or chords played just ahead of and held over the bar line. It provides a nice contrast in both feel and dynamics. The final section is more complex than the rest, but provides for a definitive finale to this sparkling work.
By 1903 the Maple Leaf Rag
was quickly becoming a standard among both professional and amateur pianists, and sales were increasing outside of John Stark's realm in St. Louis as well. Even though the composer was currently in one of his feuds with Stark and not submitting new pieces to him, the publisher owned the rights to the rag and felt it was appropriate for him to also put it out as a song. The lyrics that Sydney Brown
applied to it were somewhat racist in tone, and in spite of Joplin's reference to razor blades in the opening verse of his 1902 Ragtime Dance
, it is unlikely that he would have been appreciative of the tone of this contrived song. They apply only to the A section of the piece, and tell the story of a mildly arrogant Negro who was rescued from a pending fight at a ragtime ball by the ladies who surrounded him. The arrogance is evident in the tag line, "Oh go 'way man I can hypnotize dis nation, I can shake de earth's foundation wid de Maple Leaf Rag." The very nature of the syllabic complexity of the lyrics forces a somewhat subdued performance speed. The B and D sections (the trio was excised) are used merely for a dance, and don't translate with the same vibrancy in the new key of Eb, a fourth lower than the original Ab. Joplin was unlikely to have arranged this version. It was perhaps due to a number of these factors that the song was buried in mediocrity with any number of race-related songs of the time, even though the rag continued to create strong revenue for Stark. Note that when this is recited in rhythm that it easily falls under the guise of modern Rap music, being that Rap is syncopated poetry with attitude, and there is plenty here to go around.
was composed in the midst of a transitional period in Joplin's life. He had recently married Belle Hayden
, the sister of one of his collaborators, Scott Hayden
, and based on his growing reputation, he felt that he was more able to flex his musical muscles and expand the scope of his writing. Joplin's recent tussle with Stark over the publication of The Ragtime Dance
created a level of acrimony between composer and publisher, and when Stark moved to Saint Louis, Joplin opted to remain behind in Sedalia for some time. Thus, Weeping Willow
became the second of many pieces published by a firm other than Stark's since Maple Leaf Rag
. The opening of this rag is very stately and highly melodic. The B section makes good use of alternating patterns creating interesting melodic shifts. The chord progression of the C section was popular in black folk songs, and used prominently in the later hit, Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do
. The D section emphasizes yet another fine melody, and accentuates the variety found between sections. This is one of the few pieces that Joplin cut as a piano roll in a 1916 session.
Mrs. Bristol was a poet living in the Chicago area. How she got hooked up with Joplin is unknown or unverified, but it may have been a recommendation by a publisher or a mutual friend. Speculation may lead one to believe that somebody in the chain though a black composer would do more justice to the lyrical content of the piece, or simply give it some credence. Thus Joplin would have made a very good choice among other composers that were available. His name recognition was likely not a factor since he is not even mentioned on the cover, although he received musical credit inside. This could also cast Joplin more in the role of an arranger for a tune that Mrs. Bristol submitted rather than its sole composer. It is a simple non-syncopated melody that seemed destined for home consumption, and comes across as a lullaby sung by a mammy to her little child. In spite of the use of Afro-dialect (and typical baby talk), the lyrics are a far cry from the offensive coon songs of the time. This song has been a surprising favorite of many who first heard it as I did on Dick Zimmerman's
volume of Joplin works.
Published in Chicago, Illinois, by Victor Kremer
a few months after Weeping Willow
was issued, Palm Leaf Rag
creates a bookend of sorts to its predecessor. It also was the first rag he sold to a Chicago publisher, providing a new distribution base as well as a fresh audience for Joplin's pieces, the most famous of which was listed on the cover, demonstrating that he had already obtained a solid reputation. While it is as graceful and smooth as Weeping Willow
, Palm Leaf
contains more sophisticated syncopation as well as some asymmetry, although not to the same degree as Maple Leaf Rag
. Note that the left hand pattern is set up in the last measure of the thematically separate introduction, an unusual touch for 1903. The B strain is broken up with counter-melodic patterns in the left hand. The trio echoes some works yet to come, and contains a few anticipatory syncopations over bar lines. It is followed by transitional introduction back into the first strain, a device rarely used in ragtime, and infrequently by Joplin as well.
was actually possibly composed in 1899 (as per Brun Campbell
who had reportedly spent time with Joplin that year) and sold to the small publishing house of A.W. Perry
that same year ,even before John Stark's
acquisition of the Maple Leaf Rag
. Why it came out 5 years later is a bit of a mystery, especially given Perry's status as somewhat of a niche publisher, although with a good national reach. However, it can be speculated that Perry might have been reticent to chance release of a rag too quickly, should ragtime turn out to be a fad. Therefore, it was possibly tucked away until Joplin's fame was growing (he had left Sedalia by this time) and someone remembered or rediscovered this acquisition. It is clearly developed beyond the cakewalk writing that was still dominant in even 1900. The A section includes an unusual repeated triplet figure, making it a standout. In the B section, the figure in measures 5 through 8 indicate future possibilities realized in pieces like The Ragtime Dance
(composed shortly thereafter), and even Euphonic Sounds
. In the trio the melody is very sparse, so a bit of added flow has been added to enhance the left hand int his performance. It closes with what is clearly a march movement, tagged with the last four measures of the trio. The wedding of the cover to the title may not be entirely logical, since The Favorite
could just as easily refer to horse racing as in The Easy Winners
, published in 1901.
Although ragtime for the most part was not overtly encouraged on the main grounds of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition
, and most participating ragtime pianists were employed in venues on the amusement oriented Pike, some exceptions were made. Joplin's Cascades
is the most notable of these exceptions. This was one of the first times since World Expositions began that venues dedicated to liberal arts were specifically constructed. This included the enormous Festival Hall, seen in most surviving pictures of the fair. It seated 3,500 people, and the stage could accommodate well over 100 performers at one time. Out of the back of the Festival Hall is where the actual Cascades originated, a beautifully constructed water tier that was colorfully lit at night. Several noted musicians were given ample opportunity to perform during the yearlong event, including John Philip Sousa
and his band. The Cascades
was available for sale at that time, and was performed at or around the fair by many bands and musicians, both black and white. The A section has a lovely flowing melody that is interrupted by arpeggios, and follows the structure of the A section of his Maple Leaf Rag
. The B and C sections contain patterns that could be compared to a cascade or cataract of sorts. The transition from the B section, in the key of C, and the trio, in the key of Bb, was done in a clever way in order to ease the unusual modulation. It is the trio that is one of the most challenging in all of ragtime, with its grand moving octave bass patterns, alternating with similar patterns in the right hand. The movement suggests that Joplin had band instruments in mind, such as tuba or trombone. A relatively sedate ending that makes a nice bookend to this masterpiece composition follows it up.
This lovely composition appeared in the middle of a very productive yet tragic year for Joplin. As discovered through diligent research by Edward Berlin, the inscription on the original cover to "Miss Freddie Alexander, Little Rock, Arkansas" referred to a young lady of 19 that Joplin would marry during the summer. He then toured between Little Rock and Sedalia, where he had once again temporarily settled, but once he arrived there, Freddie was confined to her bed due to a severe cold that would escalate into pneumonia. Just over twelve weeks after they were married, Freddie died in Sedalia. This would mark the start of a period of compositional malaise for Joplin, who had potentially been inspired to write The Chrysanthemum
by Freddie. Advertising for the piece claimed that the piece was inspired by a dream that Joplin had after having read Alice in Wonderland
of all things. Given Freddie's age, she may have been the reason for his reading the somewhat psychedelic tome. In any case, it was this piece that helped lead Doctor Berlin to the existence of Freddie and her marriage to Joplin.
While The Chrysanthemum is syncopated, it is technically not a piano rag, although many artists and scholars have differing opinions on this point. It indeed contains four sections, a common trait of classic ragtime, the fourth of which is a full-length repeated interlude. It also follows the harmonic and modulation structure of many well-known rags. However, there are no syncopated patterns that extend over a bar line, and the only recurring syncopated (ms. 2,4, etc of section A and ms. 3-4, etc. of section B) is at the middle of a pattern and within one bar line. Even Joplin concurs, having presented it as An Afro-American Intermezzo (the American was deleted from the cover of later editions along with the dedication), an intermezzo being defined as a short or light instrumental composition for piano. That said, it is a gently raggy intermezzo! The melody line in the opening strain implies many possible harmonic directions, some of which are explored in the repeats with counter-lines. The B section provides relief from the moving line along with stark dynamic contrast. The trio is in line with other Joplin trios of that period, stated largely in thirds and marked dolce, or "sweetly". The D repeated section serves as an interlude before a final repeat of C, and successfully draws on the relative minor to great effect. A lovely piece indeed. Now if I could only pronounce it when I play it in concert!
After semi-formal training in his youth, Joplin was formally trained in a music school, and going back even to his earliest days in Texarkana, he was likely educated in some of the classics, such as pieces by Brahms, Mozart, Schubert, and Chopin. Some of his earliest published pieces are waltzes, a staple of the 1890s. Bethena
comes close to the richly textured waltz style found in many of Johannes Brahms
works, along with many of the intricate yet moving harmonic lines indicative of the writing of Frederic Chopin
. Almost traceless here is any influence of "waltz king" of the day, Johann Strauss
. As a result, and largely because of the tempo changes and pauses, Bethena
is more of a listening piece than one that can be danced to. Particularly stirring is the D theme in B minor, which I have romanticized a bit by adding some elements found in some of Brahm's Lieberslieder Waltzes
accompaniments. The interpretation possibilities in Bethena
provide for the widest variety of tempos and dynamic expression found in any of the Joplin waltzes. Who Bethena
is remains a mystery. Is she the girl pictured on the cover? An intriguing possibility put forward by historian Ed Berlin, which he admits is purely speculative, is that it is a picture of Freddie Alexander, Joplin's young but short-lived second wife who's death may have inspired the tone of the waltz.
One of Joplin's great friends in St. Louis was Tom Turpin
, the first published black ragtime composer (Harlem Rag
in 1897), and proprietor of the Rosebud Café
among other concerns. Turpin's establishment bordered the red light district of St. Louis, and included a bar, a restaurant, an upstairs brothel, and an area for performers to strut their stuff. Pianists visiting St. Louis all gravitated towards the Rosebud to participate in cutting contests, or just to listen and absorb different styles of ragtime playing to integrate with their own. Although Joplin was extremely unlikely to be found in a cutting contest, he did frequent the Rosebud and occasionally graced the room with his compositions. So as he had a few years before with the Maple Leaf Rag
, Joplin honored this establishment with piece composed for it and dedicated to its owner. It is a jaunty 6/8 march that is very carefully constructed. The trio stands up against the best of John Philip Sousa's
6/8 trios, and allows for great contrast. Had Joplin added an interlude after the trio, this would have made an effective band march.
was the only Joplin rag published in 1905. However, it was the first to carry his unambiguous admonition: Notice! Don't play this piece fast. It is never right to play "rag-time" fast. Author.
It was first registered, oddly enough, in London rather than at the U.S. Library of Congress, and it saw poor distribution through its St. Louis Publisher, American Music Syndicate, making it among the most rare of Joplin rags if not piano rags in general. In Leola
, Joplin went back to his Maple Leaf Rag
formula with only some minor variations. The harmonic content is definitely more sophisticated, but the basic structure is the same. This includes a return to the original key after the lush trio. In the score, pedaling is marked for the B and D sections, but strangely enough not for the rest of the piece. The choice of cover art, likely commissioned for the piece, was also somewhat odd. While sheet music cover art depicting people dancing was becoming more common, the European garb and hairstyles shown here were a radical departure for a ragtime cover. Leola was possibly the name of a female acquaintance of Joplin.
In 1905 Joplin produced not just one but two waltzes, both published by piano broker T. Bahnsen of St. Louis. But unlike Bethena
, Binks' Waltz
was reportedly a commissioned work. It was either requested by or offered to William A. Morgens
, a St. Louis dry cleaner for his young son Jay
(actually nicknamed Bing
, not Bink or Binks). This waltz also differs from Bethena
in its more light-hearted feel, helped in part by a simple main theme played in alternating staccato and legato. Unlike many of his previous works printed by John Stark
and others, Binks' Waltz
is very clearly marked as to the composer's intention for performance. There are lots of rubatos, traditional instructions in Italian text, contrasting dynamics, and clear pedaling marked throughout. While it lacks the thematic depth of Bethena
, it is still lyrical, and the third section is quite sweeping very much in the manner of a grand waltz reminiscent of the Romantic era. It should further be noted that Bahnsen was in the practice of issuing more serious pieces than ragtime solos, a factor that may have influenced Joplin's decision to publish with him, albeit there may have been some other intervention on the composer's behalf.
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