Scott Joplin


Scott Joplin (1868-1917), American composer and pianist, one of the most important developers of ragtime music. Born in Texarkana, Texas, Joplin taught himself piano as a child, learning classical music from a German neighbor. In his teens he became an itinerant pianist in the low-life districts that provided the chief employment for black musicians.

He settled in St. Louis in 1885. In 1893 he played at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and in 1894 he moved to Sedalia, Missouri. There he published (1899) his "Original Rags" and "Maple Leaf Rag" and opened a teaching studio. He moved to New York City in 1907. In 1911, at his own expense, he published his ragtime opera Treemonisha, a work intended to go beyond ragtime to create an indigenous black American opera. In June 1911, a full-page review of the score of "Treemonisha" appeared in the magazine "American Musician and Art Journal." The writer praises Joplin's opera and says it is far more American in character than Horatio Parker's "Mona," which had just won a $10,000 prize for American opera from the Metropolitan Opera Company.


Thereafter, most of Joplin's energies were devoted to arranging a performance of his opera. There were several scheduled productions, but none were realized. Staged only once - in a concert version in 1915 - the failure to have this opera produced left the composer's spirit permanently broken. He composed other music (rags, songs, and longer works), but few were published. (His unpublished manuscripts were noted in court records as late as 1961, but have since disappeared.) He suffered from tertiary syhilis the last years of his life, and his health deteriorated quickly. He was hospitalized in January 1917, transferred to a mental institution, and died April 1.

Joplin's Piano

Joplin's music underwent a great revival after some of his compositions, including "The Entertainer" (1902), were used as the background music in the film The Sting (1973), and Treemonisha was staged with great success in 1975 by the Houston Grand Opera. Other Joplin compositions include "Peacherine Rag" (1901), "Palm Leaf Rag - A Slow Drag" (1903), "Euphonic Sounds" (1909), The School of Ragtime: Six Exercises for Piano (1909), a work that contains his explanation of ragtime style, and "Magnetic Rag" (1914).

Overture - From Treemonisha (Midi files)

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