Scott Joplin • 20 Ragtimes

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

The Chicago World Fair of 1893 established Ragtime music as a national craze in the US, and by the end of the decade, the “King of Ragtime” Scott Joplin (1868-1917) was enjoying immense success as the composer of the genre’s biggest hits, most notably the Maple Leaf Rag, published in 1899.

Joplin died at the age of just 49, by which point he had composed just 53 piano pieces pieces, ten songs, one ragtime ballet, and two operas. Nevertheless, his impact on music was seismic, and a number of his works remain among the best loved in the whole piano repertoire.

It is, of course, for his Ragtime pieces that Joplin is particularly remembered, and a newly reissued publication in the Schott Piano Classics series presents 20 of the best known in a superb performers edition.

These are seminally important works in the solo piano repertoire, the emergence of jazz, and in the broader cultural history of the 20th century. And yet they remain somewhat under-represented in the music catalogue, as they do on exam lists and in concert. So this arrival is happy news indeed…

20 Ragtimes

Ragtime pieces admittedly have a fairly specific character, and one might be forgiven for thinking that 20 such pieces in one collection is overkill. But how wrong that would be.

The track listing for this new collection is a reminder of the immense gift Joplin had for investing variety and artistry into this most popular musical style of his day, and here it is:

  • Original Rags
  • Maple Leaf Rag
  • Peacherine Rag
  • The Easy Winners
  • Elite Syncopations
  • The Entertainer
  • Weeping Willow
  • Palm Leaf Rag
  • The Favourite
  • The Chrysanthemum
  • The Cascades
  • The Ragtime Dance
  • Rose Leaf Rag
  • Pine Apple Rag
  • Paragon Rag
  • Wall Street Rag
  • Country Club
  • Euphoric Sounds
  • Scott Joplin’s New Rag
  • Reflection Rag

While many of these pieces (such as the Maple Leaf Rag, Elite Syncopations and The Ragtime Dance) are dominated by their rhythmic structures and complex syncopations, others (such as The Favourite, The Chrysanthemum and Reflection Rag) offer a more lyrical melodic flow characteristic of the Romantic piano literature.

The excellent four-page introduction to the volume, written by editor Wolfgang Voigt, also includes the composer’s “School of Ragtime”, a set of six exercises designed to help pianists assimilate the Ragtime style and develop appropriate playing technique.

Introducing these, Joplin himself writes that their purpose is,

“To assist amateur players in giving the ‘Joplin Rags’ that weird and intoxicating effect intended by the composer.”

In the new publication, the School of Ragtime appears in small print as a rather academic adjunct to the main music book; it is available in a more accessible format elsewhere, but will nevertheless be welcomed here by players who have not encountered it before, and certainly delivers authentic and useful advice.

Schott’s Piano Classics

My existing reference score for Joplin’s music remains the old Belwin Mills tome including all of Joplin’s Collected Piano Works, a useful source despite being poorly produced (my copy literally fell apart within weeks of purchase, but that was many years ago and I have nevertheless carefully preserved the remains…)

The Schott Piano Classics edition is significantly better in many respects. A sturdily produced, staple-bound publication, I don’t foresee this falling apart any time ever. Within, the luxury cream paper immediately makes the notation easier to read, and legibility is further improved by Schott’s modern, pristine engraving, which is exemplary.

Not only so, but the page turns are far better laid out in this new edition, and useful editorial fingering has been added consistently throughout. In all, these clear practical benefits make this a far more attractive edition for any player wanting to tackle these effusive pieces.

The one drawback, implicit in the title of the book and explicit in the list of pieces given above, is that by limiting the volume to Ragtimes only we miss out on a few peerless gems from the Joplin catalogue.

How disappointing that Solace – A Mexican Serenade and the gorgeous Bethena – A Concert Waltz are absent, as their inclusion would surely have made this the singularly indispensable, dare I say perfect, Joplin compilation.

Closing Thoughts

While the ultimate Joplin album perhaps remains elusive, I must remind readers of Jean Kleeb’s Bärenreither volume reviewed here, which remains a strong recommendation for those wanting slightly simplified versions (suitable around UK Grade 6), and includes versions of both Bethena and Solace.

Meanwhile, for anyone wanting to explore Joplin’s Ragtimes in their original versions (which are around UK Grade 8 level), this new reissue in the Schott Piano Classics library jumps straight to the top of the shopping list.

This really is a must-have reissue, a top-draw publication delivering impeccable scores of Joplin’s greatest solo Ragtime pieces, and one of the year’s unmissable sheet music publications.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.