King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era

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9780195101089: King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era

In 1974, the academy award-winning film The Sting brought back the music of Scott Joplin, a black ragtime composer who died in 1917. Led by The Entertainer, one of the most popular pieces of the mid-1970s, a revival of his music resulted in events unprecedented in American musical history. Never before had any composer's music been so acclaimed by both the popular and classical music worlds. While reaching a "Top Ten" position in the pop charts, Joplin's music was also being performed in classical recitals and setting new heights for sales of classical records. His opera Treemonisha was performed both in opera houses and on Broadway.
Destined to be the definitive work on the man and his music, King of Ragtime is written by Edward A. Berlin. A renowned authority on Joplin and the author of the acclaimed and widely cited Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History, Berlin redefines the Scott Joplin biography. Using the tools of a trained musicologist, he has uncovered a vast amount of new information about Joplin. His biography truly documents the story of the composer, replacing the myths and unsupported anecdotes of previous histories. He shows how Joplin's opera Treemonisha was a tribute to the woman he loved, a woman other biographers never even mentioned. Berlin also reveals that Joplin was an associate of Irving Berlin, and that he accused Berlin of stealing his music to compose Alexander's Ragtime Band in 1911.
Berlin paints a vivid picture of the ragtime years, placing Scott Joplin's story in its historical context. The composer emerges as a representative of the first post-Civil War generation of African Americans, of the men and women who found in the world of entertainment a way out of poverty and lowly social status. King of Ragtime recreates the excitement of these pioneers, who dreamed of greatness as they sought to expand the limits society placed upon their race.

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About the Author:


Edward A. Berlin, who has a Ph.D. in musicology, is a major speaker and writer in today's ragtime world. His book Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History is the most widely cited study of the subject, and his monograph Reflections and Research on Ragtime (1987) is winner of an ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award.

From Kirkus Reviews:

The second biography of legendary ragtime composer Joplin to appear this year (the first was Susan Curtis's Dancing to a Black Man's Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin, p. 450), written from the perspective of a musicologist. Like Curtis, Berlin (Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History, 1980) is frustrated by the scarcity of evidence--either oral or documentary--that remains about Joplin's life. His whereabouts for entire years are missing, and the reasons for several key decisions that he made regarding the publication and performance of his music are shrouded in mystery. Thus, while Berlin gives a more-or-less straightforward chronological account, he is often reduced to making educated guesses. Given these drawbacks, Berlin has done a dogged job of digging up what little documentary evidence exists; he even proves that Joplin had a second wife, who died shortly after their marriage. He analyzes Joplin's musical compositions at length, in language that graduate students of musicology will enjoy (``[Joplin] had discovered the propulsive power of...goal directed voice-leading''), if not the general reader. Berlin's insights into Joplin's compositional process are enlightening; he reveals that the composer worked on paper, enabling him to create unusually complex harmonic structures. Joplin was only a mediocre pianist himself, and so rarely performed; he even had to learn to play some of his harder pieces. Berlin also goes beyond analyzing the ragtime compositions (``Maple Leaf Rag,'' ``The Entertainer'') that are most closely associated with the composer, giving balanced and generally fair accounts of Joplin's popular songs, parlor piano pieces, and his ill-fated opera, Treemonisha. The book concludes with a brief history of the ragtime revival and a complete list of Joplin's works. Together, Curtis and Berlin give about as much information as we can hope for on this important American composer. For one-stop shoppers, Berlin edges out the competition, thanks to his more thorough knowledge of music. (Illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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