Program 166
"Variations on Scott Joplin Rags"


MUSIC: Scott Joplin: The Cascades performed by the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble conducted by Gunther Schuller [EMI/Angel/Musical Heritage Society 5185857, excerpted from track 1] [under the following]

Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman. Stay with me for the next hour and we’ll listen to “Variations on Scott Joplin Rags” together.

MUSIC: fades out

The black American composer Scott Joplin was born into the first post-slavery generation near Texarkana, Texas, sometime between July 1867 and January 1868. He achieved fame for his unique ragtime piano pieces and was dubbed the “King of Ragtime” during his brief career. He wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas.

One of his first pieces, the Maple Leaf Rag, became that genre’s first hit, and it remained one for a century.

After studying piano with several local teachers, his talent was noticed by a German immigrant music teacher who gave the 11-year-old lessons free of charge. He was taught music theory, keyboard technique, and an appreciation of various European music styles, including folk music and opera. As an adult, Joplin also studied at an historically black college in Missouri.

"He composed music unlike any ever before written," according to Joplin biographer Edward Berlin. Eventually, "the piano-playing public clamored for his music; newspapers and magazines proclaimed his genius; [and] musicians examined his scores with open admiration."

Ragtime historian Susan Curtis noted that "when Joplin syncopated his way into the hearts of millions of Americans at the turn of the century, he helped revolutionize American music and culture."

Joplin's music was rediscovered and returned to popularity in the early 1970s with the release of a million-selling album of Joplin's rags recorded by Joshua Rifkin, followed by the Academy award–winning movie The Sting, which featured several of his compositions. In 1976 Joplin was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

He died on April 1, 1917, the very day that the United States entered World War 1.

Now with that background in mind, let’s get to this happy music. We’re only going to hear four of his most famous pieces, but each of those we’ll hear in different versions with different instrumentation, often at different speeds. The four pieces are The Maple Leaf Rag, The Easy Winners, The Rag Time Dance, and The Entertainer.

We’ll start with The Maple Leaf Rag as performed by Scott Joplin himself from a piano roll. Right after that we’ll hear the same piece performed by a modern pianist, Richard Glazier. Then we’ll hear the same piece one final time, this version performed by the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble conducted by Gunther Schuller.

MUSIC: Scott Joplin: The Maple Leaf Rag, performed by Scott Joplini [Biograph BCD 101, track 1] [3:14]

MUSIC: Scott Joplin: The Maple Leaf Rag, performed by Richard Glazier [Centaur CRC 2403, track 5]
[2:53]

MUSIC: Scott Joplin: The Maple Leaf Rag, performed by The New England COnservatory Ragtime Ensemble conducted by Gunther Schuller [EMI/Angel/Musical Heritage 5185857, track 8]
[4:14]

Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag performed first by the composer from a piano roll, then by pianist Richard Glazier, and finally from Scott Joplin’s “The Red Back Book” with the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble conducted by Gunther Schuller on an EMI/Angel/Musical Heritage Society compact disc.

The Maple Leaf Rag was published in St. Louis in 1899 and enjoyed a phenomenal, worldwide success, fulfilling Joplin’s own 1897 prophecy that the piece would make him a, quote, “King of Ragtime Composers.”

Although ragtime was essentially written for piano, instrumentations of the rags were created for dancing, singing, marching, and listening to. A legendary collection known by its New Orleans nickname, “The Red Back Book,” was created under the official title, “Fifteen Standard High Class Rags. These arrangements were for a combination of 11 instruments, equally suitable for the dance floor, theater pit, or park bandstand.

These arrangements hibernated for a half-century until, in May 1972, Gunther Schuller and his talented young New England Conservatory musicians performed four of the Joplin rags from the “Red Back Book” at the New England Conservatory’s annual Festival of Americana in Boston. In February 1973 they performed these pieces again at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and the recordings followed.

Next we’ll listen to four interpretations of Scott Jopin’s The Easy Winners. First we’ll hear Scott Joplin’s own piano roll recording, then the famous recording by Joshua Rifkin, who started the revival of interest in this music, then we’ll listen to the same piece in a very different version for violin and piano with Itzhak Perlman and André Previn, and finally the “Red Back Book” version with the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble conducted by Gunther Schuller.

MUSIC: Scott Joplin: The Easy Winners, performed by Scott Joplini [Biograph BCD 101, track 5] [3:35]

MUSIC: Scott Joplin: The Easy Winners, performed by Joshua Rifkin [EMI/Angel 7243 4 76980 2 6, track 3] [4:11]

MUSIC: Scott Joplin: The Easy Winners, performed by Itzhak Perlman and André Previn [Musical Heritage Society 513995K, track 2] [3:11]

MUSIC: Scott Joplin: The Easy WInners, performed by The New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble conducted by Gunther Schuller [EMI/Angel/Musical Heritage 5185857, track 8] [3:58]

Scott Joplin’s The Easy Winners, performed first by Scott Joplin from a piano roll on a Biograph compact disc, then by pianist Joshua Rifkin on an EMI/Angel CD, then by Itzhak Perlman and André Previn on a Musical Heritage Society recording, and finally by The New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble conducted by Gunther Schuller on an EMI/Angel/Musical Heritage Society CD.

You are listening to “Variations on Scott Joplin Rags” on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in the total timing of the program]


MUSIC: Scott Joplin: The Rag-Time Dance, performed by pianist Benjamin Loeb [Naxos 8.559277, track 1] [3:05]

MUSIC: Scott Joplin: The Rag-Time Dance, performed by violinist Itzhak Perlman and André Previn at the piano [Musical Heritage Society 513995K, track 1] [3:07]

MUSIC: Scott Joplin: The Rag-Time Dance, performed by The New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble conducted by Gunther Schuller [EMI/Angel/Musical Heritage 5185857, track 4] [4:02]

Scott Joplin’s Rag-Time Dance, performed first by pianist Benjamin Loeb on a Naxos compact disc, then by violinist Itzhak Perlman and André Previn at the piano on a Musical Heritage Society CD, and finally by The New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble conducted by Gunther Schuller on an EMI/Angel/Musical Heritage CD.

Our final set of versions of Scott Joplin pieces are from The Entertainer. First we’ll listen to the piece as played on the piano by John Arpin, then we’ll hear again from Itzhak Perlman and André Previn, and we’ll conclude with the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble conducted by Gunther Schuller.

MUSIC: Scott Joplin: The Entertainer, performed by pianist John Arpin [Pro-Arte Fanfare CDD 397, track 4] [3:28]

MUSIC: Scott Joplin: The Entertainer, performed by violinist Itzhak Perlman with André Previn at the piano [Musical Heritage Society 513995K, track 6] [4:05]

MUSIC: Scott Joplin: The Entertainer, performed by The New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble conducted by Gunther Schuller [EMI/Angel/Musical Heritage 5185857, track 7] [4:18]

Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer, performed first by pianist John Arpin, then by violinist Itzhak Perlman with André Previn at the piano, and finally by The New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble conducted by Gunther Schuller.

I can’t help wondering whether Scott Joplin ever imagined that his piano pieces would be still be loved more than a century after he wrote them. Not only that, but that they would be enjoyed by the same people who love the music of Chopin, Liszt and Schubert. This would have been difficult during his own short life, given the prejudices of that period.

Well this brings to an end this Compact DIscoveries hour devoted to “Variations on Scott Joplin Rags.” I hope you enjoyed the music. This is Fred Flaxman thanking you for listening and reminding you to visit the Compact Discoveries website at CompactDiscoveries.com, where you can find links to stream this program and all Compact DIscoveries programs on demand. This is program number 166. You’ll also find scripts for each program there with complete information on every recording we use. And if you have any comments, questions or suggestions concerning Compact DIscoveries, please write me at fred@compactdiscoveries.com.

MUSIC [fades in]: Scott Joplin: The Cascades performed by the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble conducted by Gunther Schuller [EMI/Angel/Musical Heritage Society 5185857, excerpted from track 1]

ANNOUNCER (Steve Jencks): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by Story Book Publishers and their latest offering, a tongue-in-cheek memoir by Compact Discoveries host Fred Flaxman called “Sixty Slices of Life ... on Wry: The Private Life of a Public Broadcaster.” Information and ordering at sixtyslices.com.

And by the financial support of the Puffin Foundation, Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, Barry and Florence Friedberg, and an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida. And by contributions to local public radio stations by listeners like you. Thank you.

Total Program Timing: 58:00

 
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