Sunday, June 25, 2017

Texas Public Radio: William Appling's Final Recordings: A More Authentic Rag

Scott Joplin: The Complete Rags, Waltzes & Marches
William Appling, Piano
WASO 2008-4 (2017)

Scott Joplin (c.1867-1917) is profiled at, which features a Bibliography and comprehensive Works List by Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma,


Jun 20, 2017 
If you want to start a fight at a ragtime concert, start mucking with the tempo of the music. YouTube videos are full of comments about how fast or slow the pianist is playing any particular piece. The King of Ragtime, Scott Joplin, himself wrote “it is never right to play Ragtime fast.” But how fast is fast? There are piano roll recordings of Joplin himself clocking in the “Maple Leaf Rag” at around 100 beats per minute. That feels about right for a style of music that was based in equal parts on African syncopation and European harmony, dressed up as a lively march.

Now there’s a new release of William Appling’s final recordings of Scott Joplin’s complete piano works, and they’re presented at measured tempi that allow the ear to better hear Joplin’s inventive harmonies, but I confess that with few exceptions, the heart wants what it wants, and for the most part I want my rags to pop when I hear ‘em.

Nevertheless, this new set offers plenty of riches and rare performances, from the three-quarter time, parlor-room elegance of “The Augustan Club Waltzes” and “Harmony Club Waltz” to the lilting “Solace,” and even a composition based on the largely forgotten real-life “Crash at Crush,” when an MKT railroad agent cooked up a publicity stunt to smash two steam engines into one another in East Texas. The collision killed two (maybe three) spectators, injured several others, and led Joplin to write the “Great Crush Collision” march, complete with pianistic flourishes meant to imitate the sound of a locomotive.

Appling’s performance of these rags is welcome for lovers of the genre, which to this day still falls somewhere between the world of jazz and classical, never quite getting its due. His interpretations, while not supplanting the now classic recordings of Joshua Rifikin, are illuminating, and the four-disc set also includes a lengthy booklet detailing the historical context of Scott Joplin's life and the development of ragtime.  

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