Sunday, October 21, 2012

Magnetic Rag

From the creative mind of Scott Joplin:
Today, Joplin is fondly remembered for his brilliant ragtime compositions. A fervent believer in (and example of) education as a path to progress, what he would have preferred to be known for was opera! He wrote several and went broke staging an early one (when one of the players absconded with the box-office receipts,* stranding cast, crew and composer -- the opera had been making money); his last opera was written racing against time while he was slowly dying.  (Unlike his generally-upbeat opera and popular music, his own life was as wrenching as Greek tragedy).   In his lifetime, he was well-known but only his earliest published ragtime work, Maple Leaf Rag, was a huge success, bringing in a small but steady income.

     For an example of Mr. Joplin away from ragtime, at this link you'll find The Great Crush Collision March, a kind of musical description of William Crush's staged wreck of a pair of (uncrewed) steam trains in September 1896.   A better score for a silent film of such an event would be hard to imagine -- but this was  written to stand alone; the first public screening of a projected film in the United States was in April of that year.

     (Tam points out Joplin would not be nearly so well known today were it not for the film The Sting.  'Strewth but I would have anyway; my parents record collection include a sampling of ragtime with no few Joplin tunes among them and I remember being delighted to find out there was a movie filled with that kind of music.)
* Possibly the score as well -- there's not a scrap left of Guest of Honor.




karrde said...

...ahh, that's the classic Joplin sound.

I was only familiar with Joplin as the author of the ice-cream-truck-song (more commonly known as the "The Entertainer").

Until I decided to learn Maple Leaf Rag, as distraction from Bach/Chopin/Pachelbel on the piano.

It's a fun song, and not exactly easy. But is is memorable. And I can still play most of it.

(I was somewhat familiar with rag-time, and its musical cousins in jazz/big-band-swing, before I saw The Sting. But I still enjoyed them greatly in that film.)

Roberta X said...

I was interested in "Perfesser Bill's" comments on the challenges of various ragtime pieces on the site where I linked to The Great Crush Collision March. And I admire anyone who can play any of it.

(Sidenote: there was some tension between ragtime composers and pianists over tempo -- players would hotfoot through these tricky pieces as fast as they could push it, while composers wanted a more danceable tempo. Why? I dunno; but given that a lot of the music was played in brothels and that an STD with serious hand-control consequences took many of the players and composers to an early grave, one possibility is advertising: if the piano player could rip through rags that fast, the hookers must be safe, right? ...Never mind that the guy running the joy joint doesn't mind a new keyboardist at frequent intervals. The late 19th/early 20th Century: not quite a Golden Age for the folks who made it glitter.)

BTW, thank very much for the mention of I Work On A Starship some time back at Charles Stross's website. He's a fine writer who I very much admire.

karrde said...

Roberta, I had never that little bit about tempo.

The video you posted is definitely on the relaxed-tempo side of things. But I've got a CD of Joplin's ragtime on piano somewhere, and it is fairly high-tempo.

And you're welcome. I had almost forgotten the one thread where Stross asked for examples of interesting sci-fi. Then he asked for examples of female authors.

I figured it wouldn't hurt to toss your name out, but I didn't think anyone would actually notice.

karrde said...

...Correction, I had never heard that little bit about tempo.

Sometimes I type too fast.