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Scott Joplin was christened "King of Ragtime Writers" by John Stark, the publisher who dedicated his working life to promoting that intoxicating music. The epithet first appeared on the second edition of the "Maple Leaf Rag," the first publication Stark printed on his new press in St. Louis, Missouri. In becoming the first ragtime composition to sell a million copies of sheet music, the "Maple Leaf Rag" established this new non-singing, non-dancing musical genre as part of the history of popular American music, and St. Louis as the "cradle" of ragtime.
Scott Joplin was born in Bowie County, Texas, on November 24, 1868. One of six children, he was raised by his mother, as his father had left home by the time young Scott was taking piano lessons. He made his way to St. Louis by 1885, where he worked for a time at "Honest John" Turpin's Silver Dollar Saloon playing piano. The facts of his life over the next eight years are obscure. He attended the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and there heard the latest music, including John Philip Sousa playing daily with his concert band. He eventually found his way south again to Sedalia, Missouri, two hundred miles from St. Louis but only ninety miles from Kansas City. There his musical education developed along more formal lines. He enrolled at the George R. Smith College, where he took classes in music theory, harmony, and composition. He became second cornetist in their Queen City Concert Band, organized the Texas Medley Quartette—which sang its way to Syracuse, New York, and back—and played piano at the Williams Brothers' Saloon. The bar's social organization on the second floor was called the Maple Leaf Club; it was here, in 1897, that Joplin wrote the four-themed syncopated composition that he named after the club (where he was known as "The Entertainer"). It wasn't until after the 1899 publication of this work, which was to influence his entire generation of ragtime composers, that he followed his publisher to St. Louis, where—thanks to Stark's generosity, which gave him a royalty on each copy sold—he was able to give up performing and concentrate on teaching and writing music.
Joplin's next rag to be published was the "Peacherine Rag," an entirely different kind of rag which demonstrated his versatility and creative imagination. "The Easy Winners" and "Elite Syncopations" received due recognition during the first ragtime revival of the 1940s, while it took 72 years for "The Entertainer" to become known worldwide. Featured in the motion picture The Sting (1972), it achieved a sale of over two million in a soundtrack recording and was instrumental in creating new interest in ragtime. "The Cascades" was inspired by the water display that became the symbol of the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904. It is instructive to see Joplin's development as a composer in the way he reworked material from the "Maple Leaf Rag" in the subsequent "Leola," "Gladiolus Rag," and "Sugar Cane."
In June 1907 Joplin came to settle in New York City, where he opened a studio at 128 West 29th Street as a composer and ragtime arranger. It was an especially good year for him to come to New York. The famous banjo performer Vess L. Ossman, accompanied by Prince's Band, had recorded the "Maple Leaf Rag" for Columbia in March of that year. The U.S. Marine Band's first recording of it in October 1906 on the Victor label was selling so well that the band had to rerecord it in 1909. There eventually existed over forty different versions on piano rolls (including two played by the composer, in his last years), making the rag the most-recorded composition of all time on piano rolls. Joplin's musical maturity becomes evident with the publication of the New York rags, especially "Fig Leaf Rag," a masterpiece. In "Pine Apple Rag," "Wall Street Rag," "Stoptime Rag," and "Scott Joplin's New Rag," he experimented more boldly with harmonies without sacrificing the essential gaiety of the ragtime genre.
Joplin met and married Lottie Stokes in 1909 and moved to 252 West 47th Street, where she ran a boardinghouse. It was here that he wrote his opera Treemonisha, which he published himself in 1911. His last published piece, "Silver Swan Rag," was composed and issued as a piano roll in 1914 (though not printed as sheet music until 1971).
Scott Joplin died in New York on April 1, 1917.
Although Joplin wrote in other musical forms—waltzes, marches, intermezzi, tangos, and songs—it was as a composer of rags that he won his fame and immortality. That he was a genius and a great inspiration for the majority of ragtime composers will become thoroughly apparent to the student of this album, the first in which all of his 38 rags, including his six collaborations, have appeared by themselves. It is a remarkable body of work. (In our book Rags and Ragtime: A Musical History, Trebor Tichenor and I discuss each rag at length.) In 1975 he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and in 1983 the U.S. Postal Service issued the Scott Joplin commemorative stamp.
This folio contains ragtime masterpieces which, when learned, will provide unlimited joy for pianists everywhere.
DAVID A. JASEN
Excerpted from Complete Piano Rags by Scott Joplin. Copyright © 1988 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Posted September 22, 2000
Before you purchase, note the title - The Complete Piano RAGS of Scott Joplin. It may seem a bit purist to exclude his other pieces, but many of them, including his marches and songs, are rather commonplace for their time period. Two unfortunate omissions are Solace, which is actually a Tango, although it is in rag format, and Chrysanthemum, which is an intermezzo, although many in rag circles think it qualifies as a Joplin rag. Aside from these, this is a good substitute for the hard to find Complete Works of Scott Joplin from the New York Public Library. Also included are the original covers and some information on Joplin and the pieces.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.