Ragtime

Ragtime – also spelled rag-time or rag time[1] – is a musical style that enjoyed its peak popularity between 1895 and 1919.[2] Its cardinal trait is its syncopated or "ragged" rhythm.[2]

History

Scott Joplin achieved fame for his ragtime compositions and was dubbed the "King of Ragtime".

Origins of Ragtime music

The style has its origins in African-American communities in cities such as St. Louis.[3][4]

Ben Harney, a Kentucky native, has often been credited with introducing the music to the mainstream public. His first ragtime composition, "You've Been a Good Old Wagon But You Done Broke Down", helped popularize the style. The composition was published in 1896, a few months after Hogan's "La Pas Ma La".[5][6]

Ragtime was also a modification of the march style popularized by John Philip Sousa, with additional polyrhythms coming from African music.[7] Ragtime composer Scott Joplin (ca. 1868–1917) became famous through the publication of the "Maple Leaf Rag" (1899) and a string of ragtime hits such as "The Entertainer" (1902), although he was later forgotten by all but a small, dedicated community of ragtime aficionados until the major ragtime revival in the early 1970s.[8][9] For at least 12 years after its publication, "Maple Leaf Rag" heavily influenced subsequent ragtime composers with its melody lines, harmonic progressions or metric patterns.[10]

The heyday of Ragtime

Ragtime quickly established itself as a distinctly American form of popular music. Ragtime became the first African-American music to have an impact on mainstream popular culture. Piano "professors" such as Jelly Roll Morton played ragtime in the "sporting houses" (bordellos) of New Orleans; Polite society embraced Ragtime as disseminated by brass bands and "society" dance bands. Bands led by W. C. Handy and James R. Europe were among the first to crash the color bar in American music. The new rhythms of Ragtime changed the world of dance bands and led to new dance steps, popularized by the show-dancers Vernon and Irene Castle during the 1910s. The growth of dance orchestras in popular entertainment was an outgrowth of Ragtime and continued into the 1920s. Ragtime also made its way to Europe. Shipboard orchestras on transatlantic lines included Ragtime music in their repertoire. James R. Europe's 369th Regiment band generated great enthusiasm during its 1918 tour of France.[11]

Ragtime was an influence on early jazz; the influence of Jelly Roll Morton continued in the Harlem stride piano style of players such as James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. Dance orchestras started evolving away from Ragtime towards the big band sounds that predominated in the 1920s and 1930s when they adopted smoother rhythmic styles.

Revivals

There have been numerous revivals since newer styles supplanted ragtime in the 1920s. First in the early 1940s, many jazz bands began to include ragtime in their repertoire and put out ragtime recordings on 78 rpm records. A more significant revival occurred in the 1950s as a wider variety of ragtime genres of the past were made available on records, and new rags were composed, published, and recorded. In 1971 Joshua Rifkin brought out a compilation of Joplin's work which was nominated for a Grammy Award.[12]

In 1973 The New England Ragtime Ensemble (then a student group called The New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble) recorded The Red Back Book, a compilation of some of Joplin's rags in period orchestrations edited by conservatory president Gunther Schuller. This also won a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance of the year and was named Top Classical Album of 1974 by Billboard magazine. The movie The Sting (1973) brought ragtime to a wide audience with its soundtrack of Joplin tunes. The film's rendering of "The Entertainer", adapted and orchestrated by Marvin Hamlisch, was a Top 5 hit in 1975.

Ragtime – with Joplin's work at the forefront – has been cited as an American equivalent of the minuets of Mozart, the mazurkas of Chopin, or the waltzes of Brahms.[13] Ragtime also influenced classical composers including Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, and Igor Stravinsky.[14][15]

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