Monday 20 February 2023

Gladiolus Rag by Scott Joplin (performed by Joshua Rifkin)

It is difficult to choose; but Gladiolus Rag may be my favourite of all Scott Joplin's pieces - and this performance by Rifkin is just wonderful.

If you really want to appreciate Joplin, and his unique mood combinations of wistfulness with joy, you need to listen with attention

Gladiolus follows the usual structure of Joplin's rags; which is that there are four themes - each of them repeated. The first theme also returns once (without a repeat) after the second theme and repeat. So we get: AABBACCDD. 

Joplin's best work always has an integrated and overarching mood structure. In this case, Gladiolus has a generally sweet, quiet, lyrical mood; and the bass line tends to wander unusually, compared with the typically solid bass-chord alternations of most ragtime. 

(The usual syncopation of ragtime is between a marching 4/4 in the bass throughout, against the 'ragged' syncopated triplets in the treble - like Maple Leaf Rag, or The Entertainer. But here the solid and typical ragtime marching feel is held-back until the end.) 

The emotional climax of Gladiolus comes in the third theme, which becomes complex in terms of harmony and syncopations, building up-and-up over an (it seems) endlessly descending bass... 

And then the piece ends with a simple forthright theme, as simple in essence as Maple Leaf Rag - yet, in its context, and with its subtly lyrical colourations of the harmony; there is a kind of bursting happiness that is, somehow, also aware of its own fragility. 

Such is the genius of Joplin.


Bruce B. said...

So glad to hear you enjoy Scott Joplin. So do I. I also like Art Tatum.

Dr. Mabuse said...

I've got the complete piano works of Scott Joplin, one big book of all his compositions. The rags are so difficult to play (all those octave chords in the left hand) but his waltzes are easier, so I play those when I want something gentle and melodious. 'Bethena' is my favourite, but 'Bink's Waltz' is charming too.

a_probst said...

The Chopin of ragtime.

Bruce Charlton said...

@DM - Having watched a couple of pianist friends tackling Joplin rags, I realize they are challenging to play.

@ap Good comparison.

Joplin wrote an opera as well as piano music - if he hadn't got sick and died, he probably would have gone further.