People & Events|
Scott Joplin and Ragtime
One critic called it "a national calamity," and declared that its fans had "sold themselves body and soul to the musical Satan." The renowned composer Antonin Dvorak, on the other hand, after touring the United States came to the conclusion that what he called its "beautiful and varied themes" presented the future of American music. The genre of music in debate was called ragtime and its most accomplished performer was Scott Joplin. The exact origins of ragtime were not known. The rhythmically complex music was the product of Baptist hymns and European classics. Joplin himself had gained his musical instruction from his father, an accomplished violinist and former slave. He was also influenced musically by the syncopated style of plantation songs and dances he learned from his mother. In the late 1890's Joplin was living in the small Missouri town of Sedalia when he composed his first hit, "The Maple Leaf Rag." Unlike some critics, Joplin viewed ragtime as a serious musical form that drew upon a variety of styles and ethnic influences. Many of those who criticized it as a crude entertainment did so because it emanated from African American culture. Critic E.R. Kroeger complained, "Is it true that we must accept the music of another race as being that which is American? Have not the white Americans sufficient individuality to develop a characteristic style of composition?" The music buying public while unable to define ragtime, was certain of one thing, they loved it. In 1900, "The Maple Leaf Rag" was flying off the shelves of music stores everywhere. In Sedalia alone, music seller John Stark sold 75,000 copies. The composition would reach sales of over 1 million copies.