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|Rags and Pieces by Scott Joplin (1906-1917)|
Scott Joplin - 1906: Some sources suggest this piece to have been named for a street in St. Louis, rather than a woman (both naming methods a common practice) that was some two blocks behind Tom Turpin's Rosebud Cafe according to a 1904 map. However, after some examination of the piece it became evident that the two plants bookending the cover were of the eugenia variety, and since that is consistent with the flora-based names of many other Joplin rags, it is likely the basis for having named this one. Eugenia is one of Joplin's better examples of "coloring outside of the lines." In spite of his use of the common cakewalk/march pattern of a repeated interlude in the C section, this rag transcends many old ideas. The pattern of repeated bass octaves is present throughout the piece, providing continuity. The use of repeated phrases starting on off beats results in more interesting accumulative phrases. The interlude in the C section, while not clearly a full-fledged section itself, is still a complete 16 bars in length, and utilizes classical development techniques in a sophisticated manner. It should be also noted that this was one of the rags not published by John Stark, as it was offered during a period of cooler relations between the two. Will Rossiter of Chicago was likely ecstatic to have such name recognition associated with his company. I have interpreted parts of the highly melodic C section with contrasting dynamics and a bit of rubato in places.
Scott Joplin 1906: While most people who know about Scott Joplin are certainly aware of his magnificent ragtime opera Treemonisha, few are aware that he may have written or sketched out at least one or more earlier attempts. There were mentions in documents of record during the early 1900s that Joplin had been working on an opera called A Guest of Honor, dated around 1902. The disposition of the score has been disputed, including some recent claims that it was in one or another person's posession, or that Joplin had left it in a trunk in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (or was it Pittsburg, Kansas). Music historian Ed Berlin, in his definitive scholarly book on Joplin, King of Ragtime, suggests the possibility that the opera concerned the legendary 1901 visit of Booker T. Washington to the White House to meet and dine with President Theodore Roosevelt, something that left southern whites feeling disenfranchised, and creating quite a regional controversy. Joplin's admiration for Washington's focus of forwarding the black cause through education is strongly reflected as the backbone of Treemonisha as well. Berlin also suggests a plausible possibility that Antoinette was constructed from a portion of A Guest of Honor. It may have been taken from individual themes or a central piece that stayed with the composer until he felt the desire to publish it. The inscription within dedicates it to a Marie Antoinette Williams A 6/8 march, it in no way translates like the military or band marches of the time. When I first heard the Labeque Sisters recording of the piece in 1983, I was uncertain of their interpretation of the piece which is played rather slowly. However after having worked through it at various speeds, I have found that a slightly relaxed tempo seems to favor a better performance and help to sustain the lovely melodic lines more effectively. So please be MY guest of honor as we appreciate this often negelected work together.
King of Ragtime by Edward Berlin, Copyright ©1994 Oxford University Press. Click here to order from Amazon.com
|The Ragtime Dance - Rag|
Scott Joplin - 1906: This version of The Ragtime Dance is due to the efforts of publisher John Stark more than its composer. It started out in 1902 as a staged ragtime folk ballet rather than a piano rag. The dance version was a format that Stark thought would have little sales appeal, a hunch that turned out to be correct when he grudgingly published it. Whether it was to bring out a new Joplin piece at a time when Stark had none, an effort to recoup any losses realized from the original printing, or perhaps both, Stark had the piece reformatted into a viable piano rag. The opening verse and interlude were completely dropped, the transition from the A to B section was recast as the introduction, and the final iteration of the descending thirds E section was excised as well. What remains is fairly tight and balanced, including the innovative (for 1902) stoptime section. This version is played with performance in mind rather than dancing. I suggest that you also listen to the stage version of The Ragtime Dance for contrast.
Arthur Marshall and Scott Joplin - 1907: This is the only other collaboration between Joplin and Marshall after Swipesy in 1900, and is likely to have been written no later than 1905, as both many had gone on to different lives by this time. It is an elegant and regal piece, and Marshall told historian Rudi Blesh that he was responsible for the entire contents, but there are hints that Joplin had a hand in it. It was published in New York City at a time when Marshall was in Chicago, so Joplin was most likely responsible for the submission of the piece. The opening section has very little syncopation, relying on chords to carry the melody. The B section has some Joplin touches, including sustained notes under the melody and the last four measures that tie into the idea of the A strain. There are hints of the idea of the rhythmic break that would be prevalant in the jazz age within the trio. After introducing the trio melody a nice descending treble strain takes that break, but only once in the section, another unusual an innovative move. The final section is clearly Marshall shining through, and it has the feeling of banjos playing a happy strain, reminiscent of how Joplin would handle the last section of Wall Street Rag two years later. The title, which may have been chosen by Marshall, could possibly be a reference to a riverboat, many of which were named something or another Queen during their heyday.
Scott Joplin - 1907: Among Scott Joplin's greatest supporters during his time in St. Louis were the Turpin brothers, Tom and Charles. He spent many evenings at Tom's Rosebud Cafe listening or on rare occasions contributing to the constant stream of ragtime played there for many years. According to the James Haskin biography of the composer, as well as They All Played Ragtime, the brothers owned a stake in the Big Onion mine (type of contents not verified) in Searchlight, Nevada, halfway between modern-day Las Vegas and Loughlin. Both Tom and Charles had worked there from time to time in the 1890s, with Tom eventually settling in St. Louis. But they never seemed to tire of telling stories about their mine to patrons of the Rosebud. So although the direct connection is undetermined, it is probable that this rag was named in honor of the brothers, although the cover illustration does not reflect that. The B section contains nice left hand variations, although not rhythmically. That is saved for the trio where the syncopations are shifted between the hands (or parallel in some places in the repeat for this performance). The final section is one of the first of the Joplin "big finishes" that would become a staple over the next two years, and was redone in variation for Wall Street Rag.
Scott Joplin - 1907: One of Joplin's finest rags, many have compared it in some ways to the Maple Leaf in structure and direction. At one point, even John Stark likened both Gladiolus and Sugar Cane as rewrites of the earlier standard, although to what purpose any denigration of the work was beneficial to him is unclear. The C section of Gladiolus does not reflect this sentiment at all, due to its very complex chord progressions, something also found in his Euphonic Sounds yet to be written. The D section is truly Maple Leaf in nature, and contains the same sub-melody in the thumb below the chords, which I try to bring out here. Note that many composers never or rarely named their rags; others would on occasion. This was also sometimes true for Joplin and many other of the John Stark stable of composers, whose rags were often named by Stark or one of his children.
|Rose Leaf Rag|
Scott Joplin - 1907: Coming at the beginning of Joplin's most productive period, this piece contains well developed experiments that help set his rags aside from more common pieces. It is deceivingly complex to perform properly, yet ultimately simple in construction. The A section is half made up of parallel and contrary motion figures between the hands. This was a pattern usually reserved for an interlude or trio, and starting out a rag with this device showed continuing innovation on the part of Joplin. The B section contains an often used syncopated pattern, but in a refreshing manner. The trio is largely in thirds, a device used sparingly but effectively in his later rags, and with sophisticated harmonies in this case. The D section is typical Joplin of the period; very strong and uplifting.
|The Nonpareil (None to Equal)|
Scott Joplin - 1907: The cover with Uncle Sam holding a flag would possibly indicate that this may be a patriotic march or fast two step. However, it is actually a very pleasant classic rag, and contains the expected Joplin note, "NOTICE: Do not play this piece fast. It is never right to play 'Ragtime' fast." Based on this and the French title, it is possible that publisher John Stark or his daughter named the piece, possibly even based on cover art availability. However, Joplin may have also had a say in the name, since there were various bars and performance venues named Nonpareil present in some of the locations where the composer lived. The A section is well constructed but unremarkable. The B section displays some experimentation with variations on the ragtime format, utilizing a flowing left hand melodic line under chords, alternating with right hand melody. The C section is similar to many of his lush trios of this era, though less complex harmonically. The D section is well syncopated, almost to the point of sounding improvisational, and shares the end of the B section in an expression of unity and continuity. Note that the title term came into the American lexicon in the mid-1880s in association with Irish-born John Edward Kelly, better known as boxer Jack Dempsey - The Non-Pareil (the original, not the 1920s fighter who took the same name), who remained undefeated in 41 bouts from 1883 to 1889. He was mostly victorious in subsequent bouts over the next few years until his early death in 1895 at age 33. While there may be no direct association between Dempsey and the Joplin piece, his extraordinary career and national fame may have certainly kept the word floating around in the public's consciousness for many years after.
Scott Joplin and Louis Chauvin - 1907: This rag contains the only known surviving compositional fragment of Louis Chauvin, who by most contemporary accounts was a very creative, skilled and prolific pianist who knew a multitude of pieces, though he was unschooled and could neither read nor write music. Chauvin lived a hard life as an itinerant pianist and died of complications from syphilis and multiple sclerosis shortly after his 24th birthday. The first two sections of Heliotrope are Chauvin's, which Joplin first heard while visiting Arthur Marshall in Chicago in 1906, and thought enough of them to put them down to paper. The harmonization and last two themes were later completed by Joplin, with some tie-ins to the first two. The A section, utilizing a tango rhythm, is fairly unique in all of ragtime for its structure, rhythm and melody. The B section also contains some unexpected syncopation. The C and D sections are obviously born of Joplin's writing in their nature, but the C section does contain a snippet of Chauvin's melody in the middle. I have also heard this piece interpreted on occasion as a tango or habañera throughout, much like Solace. Check out the movie Scott Joplin starring Billy Dee Williams and Art Carney. The mildly altered story of this rag is part of the movie plot.
|When Your Hair Is Like the Snow Lyrics|
Scott Joplin (M) and Frederick Forrest Berry as Owen Spendthrift (L) - 1907: While Joplin mostly concentrated on the instrumental aspects of composition by 1907, he occasionally provided music for hire to match lyrics. Since little is known of Joplin's relationship with Berry, who had also written and self-published some tunes and other mildly controversial material on his own under both his real and pen names, we can only speculate that the composer's services were likely commissioned for this piece since he did not publish anything else with Berry. The publisher may also have been hoping for name recognition on the cover. It has the feel of an authentic sentimental pre-ragtime era song, and there is no syncopation in it, which is partly a necessity due to the syllabic content of the busy lyrics. It is a weeper with a sentiment similar to other greater hits of the era, such as Silver Threads Among The Gold and the later Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet, but a bit grimmer concerning the issue of aging. The piece is relatively rare, and perhaps little more than a vanity publication, which indicates that Joplin's involvement likely had little effect on its immediate future. It is included here for historical context and a further glimpse into Joplin's versatility. Berry was best known for the book The Torch of Reason or Humanity's God, published variously from 1910 to 1912 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
|Fig Leaf Rag|
Scott Joplin - 1908: Joplin was fairly well-established in New York City when he sent this rag to John Stark for publication. He was also very focused and on a continuing mission to increase the respectability of the genre. Fig Leaf Rag makes a good case towards justifying his passions. It is as classic, even classical, as any of his finest rags, including the Gladiolus Rag from the previous year. The A section is melodically based on chords, with only passing chromaticism, but very effectively divided into two measure phrases. The B section uses a pattern similar to that in many other rags, and is unremarkable except for the sudden interruption in measures 7 and 8, which raises the quality a notch. The C section is thoroughly engaging in its beauty, deeply ensconced in a chordal melody that soars across several octaves. The first time I heard it at a young age, on Joshua Rifkin's Nonesuch recording of Joplin works Volume One, may be the moment that instilled in me the necessity to learn and understand Joplin rags. The D section uses a common pattern with an uncommon chord progression. Considering the times it was published in, I wonder how provocative the buying public found the cover to be, and whether it actually helped sales along! It is also unusual given Stark's rather staunch moral stand, but it still may have given him a chuckle, if not induce a shrug. There is a possibility, since he was in New York City and his plant was in St. Louis, that one of his children running the show there had more to do with commissioning the cover image than he did.
|Sugar Cane Rag|
Scott Joplin - 1908: It was evident to many when this rag was first published that it was based on the format of Joplin's first big hit, Maple Leaf Rag. But it still rings with originality in spite of the detractors. One of those was his now-estranged publisher John Stark who derided Joplin's efforts of the time in personal notes. He postulated that Joplin's "spring of inspiration had run dry," and seemed to show little outward compassion for the composer that had helped build his classic ragtime empire. Just the same, Joplin rags sold no matter who published them. The A section is stylistically, and almost harmonically identical to its famous predecessor. The end of the B strain uses a similar pattern, and is repeated verbatim in the D section. As usual, the trio provides that smooth contrast that made Joplin rags so effective, and even forced the hand of the performer to some extent in terms of how it could be played. Note how the melody moves down in the third and fourth measures, etc., underneath a repeated pattern, a device favored by Joe Lamb as well, and with variations by James Scott. In spite of the heritage and derivation of this rag, there is really nothing to raise cane about!
|Pine Apple Rag Lyrics|
Scott Joplin - 1908: The Pine Apple Rag will be familiar to any who have seen the movie The Sting. It is one of the best rags Joplin wrote in the midst of an extremely productive and creative period. It was also one of the few Joplin rags turned into a song. It is based on folk themes that are cleverly handled in this context. I use the A section as a demonstration of the power of syncopation, since removing the syncopation turns it into a simple march tune, while adding it back in creates a dramatic contrast. The B section is wonderfully bright and cheery in spite of a simple repeated pattern. It is in the C section that Joplin shows true foresight. The bass pattern predicts Boogie, piano which would become popular some fifteen years later, and he actually uses a flat seventh, a "blue" note, in the right hand. Whether it is intended to reflect what would ultimately become THE Blues which would be everywhere within a few years, or just a stab at innovative composition, such as would be practiced by George Gershwin, is a matter of conjecture. I play part of the repeat an octave higher for even further variation. The D section is equally innovative, with another variation of what would become an important boogie bass pattern, and a chord pattern that clearly signals the end of this exuberant piece. The end result is obviously the "fruit" of his labor. :)
|Wall Street Rag|
Scott Joplin - 1909: A precursor of the adventurous and experimental rags yet to come, Wall Street was an attempt to create music that suggested certain emotions in a specific venue. In this case, that venue was the stock market brokerages along burgeoning Wall Street in New York City. Not since Great Crush Collision had Joplin specifically included descriptive text for descriptive music. The A section, titled "Panic in Wall Street, Brokers Feeling Melancholy.", is actually very placid in nature, and hardly evokes images of jumpers or the like. The virtually non-syncopated B section is title "Good Times Coming." and is chorded in a much happier vein. The C section, "Good Times Have Come.", is rife with syncopation and a melodic line that is played below the right hand harmonies. The D section, "Listening to the Strains of Genuine Negro Ragtime, Brokers Forget Their Cares.", is probably the most aptly described, and actually harkens back to folk patterns of earlier ragtime. In spite of the questionable success of the conveyance of these descriptions, it is a generally happy piece and not too demanding on either the listener or the performer. In this day of Bull Markets and Day Trading, perhaps a little ragtime would help ease the tension.
A Mexican Serenade
Scott Joplin - 1909: This is, perhaps the most delicate and poignant piece that the "King of Ragtime" ever wrote. The Tango was becoming quite popular as both a dance and a music form during this time, and many composers and publishers fell in line with the public's desire for it. They ultimately created a volume of "Spanish Tinge" pieces that were not quite authentic tangos, closer to the more African-based habañera, but had the same feel. Solace is essentially a habañera in ragtime form, and is relatively authentic considering a non-Latin black composer from Missouri composed it, although a well educated one. Those who know Solace only from Marvin Hamlisch's truncated arrangement used in the George Roy Hill film, The Sting, have only heard the second half of the piece. I have surprised many listeners by introducing them to Solace in its entirety. The habañera rhythm is used consistently throughout the A and B sections. The harmonic structure of the B section give the impression of a possible key change, not establishing that we are still in the key of C until fourteen measures in. The C section includes fermatas (deliberate pauses) at the beginning of each phrase, a technique often used in the tango or habañera (such as the famous Habañera from the opera Carmen) to accentuate a certain facet of the dance. It also breaks away from the primary rhythm briefly into more of a habañera with passing tones. The rhythm resumes in the final section, with a delicate close to the section that is in contrast to the expansive playing in the previous twelve measures. I feel that Solace was aptly named, and am sure it brought the same feeling to its composer.
Scott Joplin - 1909: Waltzes were certainly not dead by this time. The catalog of E.T. Paull certainly featured many contemporary waltzes, and other publishers who eschewed ragtime and popular works focused largely on waltzes and intermezzos. But they were losing favor with the public who were more interested in the latest dance crazes from the Turkey Trot to the One Step. This was not completely lost on Joplin, who made a concerted effort to produce one last waltz in ragtime style. It actually could be construed as a piano rag structured into 3/4 time. The trio is particularly well handled in this composition, deftly displaying Joplin's gift for contrast while retaining continuity.
Scott Joplin - 1909: Seemingly simplistic in nature, Country Club is actually a well thought out and stately piece written during the height of Joplin's experimental period. Control is the issue, as it is difficult to play with great control and maintain the proper flow at the stately tempo this piece requires. The B section has a melody that is almost entirely in thirds, something explored on a smaller scale in previous rags. The C section is intricately syncopated, and provides some room for variations on the rhythms. It is in the D section where another device is explored that would one day be used extensively, that of the break. In measures 3-4 and 7-8, Joplin includes a written break, used much in the manner that traditional jazz would later adopt, featuring only a melody line.
Scott Joplin - 1909: Joplin was continually trying to expand his musical horizons and experiment with a variety of methods to create new textures or musical moments. Euphonic Sounds is among his most adventurous attempts. It is virtually devoid of the standard duple ragtime rhythm (bass-chord-bass-chord), and instead utilizes a left hand accompaniment that is nearly as involved in motion as the right hand. It is also one of the only Joplin pieces to retain the same key signature throughout. The A section employs a scale pattern in the left hand part that is similar to one later used in Artie Matthews Pastime Rag #2. The emphasis of motion switches between the hands in measures 1 to 4 and 9 to 12. The B section utilizes a great deal of changing harmony, and wanders around through several keys through the use of diminished chords. One of the most difficult measures is one that requires the right hand to play alternating octaves while undertaking an extreme crescendo/decrescendo from very loud to very soft - in just eight notes. The C section is a more traditional Joplin melody played against repeated chords, mostly in the minor mode. The reiteration of the A section not only balances the piece out, but turns it into an authentic rondo, a salute to a well established classical form.
Scott Joplin - 1909: Paragon Rag was among the last rags written during Joplin's extremely creative and productive time in New York, and the flow of rags would come almost to a halt after this time. He had no less than six pieces published in 1909, and yet only one new piece in 1910, and two more during the ensuing six years. For starters, the Joplin style of "classic" rag was quickly being supplanted by the fast and simple Tin Pan Alley rags, which were generally easier for the general public to play. Also, Joplin was starting in on what would become his obsession while he earnestly wrote and attempted to produce his ragtime opera, Treemonisha. The quality of his work did not diminish though, and Paragon is proof of that. The A section is comprised of simple but well-constructed two-measure phrases based on an octave melody. The B strain forecast Novelty and Stride piano styles with the secondary pattern played in between the melodic phrases. The melody itself was based on a well known tune, The Bucket's Got a Hole in It - Can't Get No Beer, probably picked up during his days as an itinerant piano player. Many blues artists would revive this tune well into the early 1930s. In order to properly play the B section as per the notation, a grand piano with a middle sostentuo pedal is required. This allows the performer to sustain the final melodic chord of each phrase while playing the non-sustained secondary pattern above it. The C section utilizes a repeated chord pattern in the left hand, much like the C section of Euphonic Sounds. The D section is less innovative harmonically than other rags of the same year, but melodically interesting. This rag has special meaning to me as it is the first piece I recorded, many years ago, for track one of my first album, The Two Sides of "Perfessor" Bill Edwards.
Scott Joplin - 1910: Successfully expanding on an experiment originally tried in 1902 in The Ragtime Dance, this piece consists almost entirely of riffs with breaks that are accentuated by the pianist's foot stomping throughout. The header reads, 'To get the desired effect of "Stoptime" the pianist should stamp the heel of one foot heavily upon the floor, wherever the word "Stamp" appears in the music.', which is essentially every beat. The exception to the stoptime pattern is the C section, which provides a break from the breaks and some forward motion as well. Among included anomalies in contrast to his other rags are the tempo indication of "fast or slow," that the piece is entirely in the key of C with only a brief flirtation with relative A minor, and that seven of the eight sections (excluding the C strain) are only eight measures in length instead of the requisite sixteen. With repeats, it is still nearly as long as his other pieces, and certainly just as fascinating.
Scott Hayden and Scott Joplin - 1911: Among the practices of savvy publishers, something that has since carried over to the recording industry, was to avoid diluting sales by having too many potential hit pieces out at one time by a single composer or artist. So when publishers such as John Stark purchased more than piece at a time by a composer, they would pick the one they most felt would garner immediate interest and store the others for later publication when output from that composer was at a lull. That is the case with Felicity Rag and the later Kismet Rag, both of which were likely written around 1903. It was around that time that Hayden's wife Nora had died during childbirth, and Hayden left the Joplin household in St. Louis where he had been staying to pursue a career as a pianist in Chicago. The A section is unrelenting in its intensity, and certainly challenging to all but the most skilled player. It is followed by a relatively simple second strain which drives right into the Joplin composed trio. The trio provides a delicate contrast to the other two sections, which is made clear by the return, after a brief fanfare, to the ambitious opening strain. The word felicity is defined as either a state of happiness or something that causes it. In that regard, this rag is aptly titled.
|Scott Joplin's New Rag|
Scott Joplin - 1912: Written near the end of his composing career, possibly to help raise funds for his presentation of Treemonisha, this piece is unusually fast for a Joplin rag. He was possibly giving in to the fact that the faster ragtime that was constantly vomited out of the offices of Tin Pan Alley in New York was selling better than his earlier stately pieces. The B section is innovative in its use of the relative minor and scale passages. The C section is an early precursor of stride piano, and contains patterns that would later be emulated by James P. Johnson and Thomas "Fats" Waller. The D section is deftly unusual in its construction, and begs to be played in rubato as a contrast to the rest of the piece.
Scott Hayden and Scott Joplin - 1913: By the time publisher John Stark had retreated back to St. Louis from his nerve-wracking tenure in New York City, and pulled this by now decade old rag from the archives for publication, Scott Hayden had been in Chicago for pretty much that entire decade and Scott Joplin was hard at work pursuing his heartbreaking attempts at staging his ragtime opera Treemonisha. Hayden originally moved to Chicago around 1903 to gain work as a ragtime pianist, but either his style never caught on or he was thwarted in his attempts by possible racial factors. He worked as an elevator operator in the Cook County Hospital (where the T.V. series E.R. takes place) for 12 years until shortly before his death in 1915 of pulmonary tuberculosis. So this rag clearly harkens from a much more optimistic time in the lives of both composers. As with other Hayden rags, the opening strain is bouncy and quite pianistic. The B section follows the unusual modulation up a fifth for contrast, and is much lighter in nature. This same modulation was used in Joplin's The Strenuous Life written about the same time, indicating part of his role in this collaboration. The trio is directly tied to the B section through a similar melodic pattern in measures 5 through 8, and is likely Joplin's. The D section is based on an old folk strain used in many other rags of the time, including the B and D sections of Harry Kelly's Peaceful Henry. Being that kismet is defined as fate, it is clear through the Joplin/Hayden collaborations that kismet was a key word. It is enticing to speculate what more could have come from their combined talents had they not gone their separate ways. But that in itself was kismet.
|Silver Swan Rag|
Scott Joplin - c. 1914: Silver Swan is the only known Joplin composition that was released but not printed (there are many that were never released in any form), as it appeared solely on a piano roll arrangement from both QRS and National in 1914. When the first edition of The Collected Works of Scott Joplin was being compiled in 1970, collector Albert Huerta found the National version of the roll in his garage and brought it to the attention of noted ragtime authority Richard Zimmerman of the Maple Leaf Club. Dick then sought the opinions of other scholars as to the authenticity of this undocumented and unaccredited piece, and most all concurred that it was a Joplin composition. With the help of Donna McCluer, Zimmerman transcribed the composition for the Joplin collection, editing out the flourishes and devices that were common on rolls of the period and leaving the essential Joplin framework. A QRS edition of the roll found later actually credited Joplin, helping to codify the parentage of this lovely work. It is probable that either Joplin or one of his publishers sold a manuscript to one of the roll companies when efforts to put it in print were put aside. Presented in rondo format (A B A C A), it begins and ends with the same strain, just as do Scott Joplin's New Rag and Magnetic Rag from the same time period. The primary theme is very stately and simple, much as Country Club, and a nice wraparound for the well developed B strain. The section is an interesting combination of varying ideas, which may have changed somewhat from Joplin's original intent during the roll arrangement process. Even though it was near the end of his fabulous output, I would not quite call it his "swan song."
Copyright ©1971 Trust of (the late) Lottie Joplin Thomas.
|A Real Slow Drag from Treemonisha Libretto|
Scott Joplin 1911/1913: In a likely effort to help finance a production of his ragtime opera Treemonisha (the name derived from the main character Monisha who was found under the magic tree), he published three excerpts through one other publisher and a vanity press so the public could obtain and hear some of the better elements of the production. A Real Slow Drag is the finale of the opera, and even in the excerpt Joplin is clear about the staging of the piece since it includes specific instructions on dancing the Slow Drag at the top, and additional instructions interspersed throughout the score. It is a very majestic piece, but the version here may not be quite the same as the original manuscript from 1911, thanks in part to Irving Berlin. In a story that was long speculated on and more recently given some credence by music historian Ed Berlin, Joplin may have crossed paths with Berlin at Ted Snyder's publishing house where the novice composer was working as an arranger, lyricist and sometimes composer. Joplin did shop the opera and some of the excerpts around on an ultimately unsucessful quest to get it published by an established name. Therefore there is a chance that Berlin came in contact with the opera, and this piece in particular as part of his normal duties through listening or reviewing, before the publisher handed it back. It was not long after such a rumored (and undocumented or unsubstantiated) encounter that Berlin's first major hit was released, Alexander's Ragtime Band. The song is based largely on Old Folks at Home (Swanee River) and some bugle call licks. Due to the similarities of the verse to the "Marching onward" chorus of Slow Drag, Joplin reportedly felt that Berlin had plagiarized his theme, according to accounts by his widow Lottie Joplin. There was also a mention in a couple of magazines of the time that Joplin wanted an audience with Berlin to confront him about something. The similarities are slight, with the repeated four-note motive being the most evident, but the succeeding phrases vary somewhat more. This could be, according to Lottie, because Joplin altered his overall melody to remove the similarities. As for Berlin, it was more likely a subconscious decision or a simple coincidence that led to his choices for his verse, rather than overt plagiarism. In either case, it is clear that no matter the relationship between the two songs, both are quite different in makeup and content, with the jaunty Alexander's contrasting greatly with the regal Slow Drag. So print out the libretto directions and give it a try on your own dance floor.
Scott Joplin - 1914: This is the last rag considered to be completely composed by Joplin (speculation still exists on Silver Swan and Reflection), probably around 1912-13. It is a very fine and unique piece, likely composed to help raise funds for his initial production of his Ragtime opera, Treemonisha. Self-published, it was distributed by a division of Waterson, Berlin & Snyder, Crown Music, who had also published two of the Treemonisha pieces. In spite of the notoriety of the composer, Crown was unsuccessful in generating decent sales. In 1923, Jack Mills Music purchased the copyright and successfully distributed the rag in a folio of Novelty piano pieces, his company's specialty. Each section is carefully crafted, and the C section is longer than most in ragtime, 24 bars in a 14 + 10 pattern. The D section is unusual in that it does not go to the relative minor or the subdominant key, but shifts directly to the tonic minor (Bb to Bbm). I particularly like some of the effects that can be had here with the classical sextuplets in the repeat. The end contains a full iteration of the A section which is followed by a rare Joplin coda, befitting of the final rag of an astonishing career.
Scott Joplin - 1917: Scott Joplin died April 1, 1917. Some say it was of a broken heart because of the difficulties he had encountered with the presentation of his Ragtime Opera Treemonisha. The official report cited "dementia" as the cause. The actual cause had to do with the lifestyle led by many of the pianist/composers of the era, "The sportin' life", which gave Joplin syphilis, the eventual cause of his dementia and death. His widow, Lottie Stokes Joplin, long regretted that she did not fulfill one of his final requests; that the Maple Leaf Rag be played at his funeral. Shortly after his death, publisher John Stark dug into his archives to pull out one final Joplin rag for publication. It is not entirely certain if this is a complete rag as originally written, or perhaps a fusion of themes from two or more pieces. Still, it is generally believed that the major content of Reflection was written about 1907 to 1908, and Joplin submitted no more pieces to Stark after 1909. It is unusual in that there are five repeated sections played in order, and no reiteration of any of them. This adds to the speculation of Reflection having been "assembled" rather than composed as a single rag. Even more cryptic is the promise of two more Joplin rags to be released in the future, a promise which never materialized. The manuscripts for these were likely destroyed or lost at some point after Stark's death. The cover picture had been previously used by Stark on Joseph Lamb's Cleopatra Rag and James Scott's Sunburst Rag.
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