Friday, August 22, 2008

Scott Joplin: Classical Composition As Well As “ragtime and boogie-woogie piano playing”

[Piano Rags; Roy Eaton, piano; Sony SBK 833 (1995); Scott Joplin's Treemonisha; Original Cast Recording; Polygram 435709 (1992)]
Michael Hoinski August 22, 2008 Books & the Culture
“Music has proved a wand of empowerment for the vast array of Texans who have wielded it.” “This between-the-lines conclusion—that music enables transcendence—grows out of Hartman’s thesis: that Texas’ ethnic diversity has engendered a musical cross-pollination that forms the backbone of American music. The manifestation of that notion is The History of Texas Music, a concise primer on the state’s music, examined in social, political, and economic contexts.” “Hartman takes one step backward to Scott Joplin of Texarkana, whose ragtime and boogie-woogie piano playing, learned under the tutelage of a German-Texan named Julius Weiss, foreshadowed two jazz geniuses...” [Charlie Christian and Ornette Coleman]

Scott Joplin (1868-1917), who is profiled at, was more than a pianist of "ragtime and boogie-woogie". He attempted to establish himself as a composer of larger-scale works, with a folk ballet called The Ragtime Dance in 1902 and a 1903 opera A Guest of Honor. In 1911 he published the opera Treemonisha. The work was said to contain some of his best music. One theater agreed to produce it, but later reneged. Treemonisha was first staged in January, 1972 in a concert performance in Atlanta, Georgia by the Afro-American Music Workshop of Morehouse College and the Atlanta Symphony under Robert Shaw, conductor.

On January 30, 1972 The New York Times published a review by Harold C. Schonberg: “In writing 'Treemonisha' - the libretto was his own – Joplin clearly intended to author a social as well as musical document. He set up the forces of ignorance and superstition against liberalism and education represented by a young lady named Treemonisha.” “Morehouse College, aided by a Rockefeller grant, gave 'Treemonisha' an ambitious performance.” The opera concludes with “A Real Slow Drag.” Schonberg writes: “This slow drag is amazing. Harmonically enchanting, full of the tensions of an entire race, rhythmically catching, it refuses to leave the mind.”

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