Saturday, April 26, 2014

Joshua Rifkin – Piano Rags by Scott Joplin

   Amidst different elements building many currents of popular music in the last decades of the nineteenth century, piano music was particularly notable trend. It was present in many public places, mainly for wide range of sound possibilities, by also for economic reasons, since there was cheaper to pay for one musician than four or more. So in 19th century's public places piano music had started replacing various ensembles. Repertoire for such performances was taken mainly from popular songs, opera and even symphonic melodies, but a noticeable part was composed by pianists themselves. Some compositions of such kind were published for sale. Artistic level of this production was varied, wages were just discreditable but it was always a chance to earn a little bit more than just by live performances.
   Scott Joplin (1868-1917) was one of the greatest ragtime players and composer of most famous rags. He was playing ragtime in honky tonk bars in St. Louis and its outskirts. In 1899 this 31 year old pianist achieved great success composing Maple Leaf Rag, and this single composition gave him place in history. There was even a legend about 1 million copies sold in 3 months, but according to research by Joplin’s biographer Edward A. Berlin, first print of 400 copies needed a year to be sold. After his death most of his works were almost forgotten even if Maple Leaf Rag was recorded few times as a standard in 1930’s and later. The Great War dramatically changed the popular culture and ragtime was abruptly out of fashion as well as many other dances and forms of 19th century popular music.

Joshua Rifkin - Piano Rags by Scott Joplin (1970)

   In 1970 Nonesuch published first collection of Scott Joplin’s Rags. Eight carefully chosen rags were mostly Joplin’s best sellers on A side, from opening Maple Leaf Rag, through The Entertainer and The Ragtime Dance, to Gladiolus Rag. Second side opens with Fig Leaf Rag, then shows some examples of composer’s harmonic advancements in Scott Joplin’s New Rag and Euphonic Sound, and is crowned by Joplin’s latest composition Magnetic Rag, which Joshua Rifkin in linear notes called „valedictory work”. Pianist and musicologist pointing development of this last composition, sees it as the synthesis of various influences and Joplin’s imagination driven both by Afro-American culture and Middle-European dance music, which can be read as tribute to his teacher Julius Weiss. These eight ragtimes recorded by young pianist Joshua Rifkin perfectly fitted the revival of traditional jazz and popular music in early seventies. It is the publication that in fact changed the history. 

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