Ragtime and Scott Joplin - an overview

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Ragtime rhythms came to light in 1894. The piano style of the day had developed a bouncing, thump-pah bass and an ornate, syncopated melodic line. Because it sounded as ragged as a torn cloth, it was called 'ragged time', then 'ragtime'. Its effect was intoxicating, and it spread rapidly into theatres, dance halls and - via sheet music and piano rolls - homes throughout the country.

In the hands of authentic practitioners like Joplin, Ragtime was a disciplined form capable of astonishing variety and subtlety. Usually it had four 16-measure themes, and like a rondo, it habitually reprised its first theme immediately after the introduction of each succeeding one. Joplin did for the rag what Chopin did for the mazurka. His style ranged from tones of torment to stunning serenades that incorporated the bolero and tango. Ragtime collapsed of overexposure and the rise of jazz. It began to stir again fitfully around 1950. Ragtime Clubs sprang up and some of the old-time rag artists regained some of their old fame.

Scott Joplin was born in Texarkana, Texas on November 24, 1868. He grew up in a musical environment since most of his family played an instrument or sang and consequently young Scott became fascinated with the piano. He taight himself to play with considerable proficienct so that by the age of 11 his prowess had reached the white community and particularly aroused the inteserest of an old German music teacher, who took him as a pupil.

Joplin left home in his early teens hoping to find his fortune through his talent of music. He lived in St. Louis from 1885 to 1893 playing piano in local honky-tonks. Chicago was his next stop, being one of a number of musicians who sought work among the clubs, bars, and honky-tonks that sprang up around the World's Columbian Exposition. For a brief period following, he settled in Sedalia, Missouri where he played second cornet in the Queen City Concert Band. The next two years he spent touring with a vocal group he had formed. It was during this phase that Joplin began to write his own…


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