Scott Joplin
Piano Rags



by kildare USER (19 Reviews)
February 12th, 2024 | 6 replies

Release Date: 1987 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Not just danceable music, but music that actually seems to dance

Everything on this record is perfect if you like this kind of thing. It would be perfect for me too, but with one exception: His most famous work of all, The Entertainer. Even though it was composed after the Antebellum Era, for some reason I associate that song -- and only that song -- with the cruelty of that period, and the violently enforced class system that Joplin in his own time had to struggle through to compose his pioneering music. I don’t even know the details; I’m just totally 100% confident that growing up Black in late 19th century Arkansas meant that he grew up with all kinds of bad sh*t. The Entertainer seems to say to me, in effect, “ignore the glaring unfairness all around you. Everyone is happy, folks. Just keep moving: nothing to see here.” It renders the song false to my biased ears.

Anyway, The Entertainer is depressing for me in a way the rest of the album is not. The highlights are three tracks: The opener, the finisher, and the Stoptime Rag.

Magnetic Rag

The Magnetic Rag starts with a relaxed cheerfulness that feels similar in tone to The Entertainer. But it plunges into little minor-key sections of sudden profundity wholly absent in The Entertainer; for example, at the first break that occurs at 0:58 of the following:

Stoptime Rag

On my first several listens the Stoptime Rag was the most annoying on the record. “Click, click, click, click, click, click….” Ok, ok, enough already, stop with the clicking. Please stop. Stop! Goddamn it, STOP!! WHAT’S UP WITH THE F*CKING METRONOME!!!?

The answer seems to be that keeping time with a percussive beat during performances of ragtime pieces was a cultural thing back in the day, the percussion provided either by the performer tapping their foot, or by the audience clapping along; Joplin himself published instructions for the audience to stomp their feet to a beat.

However, while the theory of this public time-keeping is more complicated than I fully understand, it is not used to help guide the music -- as it would be in a Classical piece, beholden as it is to the meter. Rather, it is used to emphasize the strong notes of the musical beats that fall between the percussive beats of the metronome, drawing our attention to places where strong beats “shouldn’t” be falling. That is, the metronome or the audience keep time to emphasize the syncopations in the music. You don’t need any theory to hear this, though, just try to focus on where the music stops and starts: Sometimes it starts on a click, other times it does not, and when “not” then that beat works as a sort-of disorienting surprise that draws you back and forth between the metronome clicks and the beats played by the piano. This sort of confuses your ear as to where the time “should” be, and makes listening to the music almost a variety of game, or maybe a variety of dance, as opposed to the background for meditation or relaxation.

I hated this piece at first, but it really grew on me. And philosophically it emphasizes as well as any in existence the revolutionary quality of this music, which helped lay the groundwork for the rhythmic complexities of the Blues, Jazz and Rock masterpieces that were to come.

(Incidentally, stop-time theory is still used in R&B, soul music and, according to Wikipedia, “led to the development of the break in hip hop.” But don’t ask me to elaborate unless you’re just doing it to emphasize my ignorance. Happily, “Stop Time” has its own article on the site:

Criticism of the record

The interpretations on this record by Joshua Rifkin have been criticized for their strict adherence to time signature, without any “emotional” expression. Outside of Joplin, Rifkin is also known for his Bach interpretations, where a mechanical obedience to the meter is paramount for many performers (I personally agree and think rubato in Baroque music almost always sounds terrible).

Critics say Joplin should not be played in the spirit of Bach, but in the spirit of, say, Joplin’s contemporary Debussy: Slow it down in places. Relax. Feel it. But I like Bach better than Debussy, or anything Romantic for that matter, so Rifkin’s Joplin is the one for me.

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Comments:Add a Comment 
February 12th 2024


Album Rating: 5.0

Well, this is it for me on Sputnik for at LEAST a month, but maybe months if I break the habit. The scrappy post-it notes for this review have been sitting in my drawer for almost a year, and it was either toss them or glue them together in this unsatisfactory review.

My “to-do” list is turning into a to-do-“stop what you’re doing right this fucking minute and fix this problem that you’ve procrastinated about for months or else deal with a REAL problem later” list. Stuff like patching a hole to keep mice out of the basement, getting a handle on my prescription drug problem (it’s not what you think), replacing the kitchen light fixture, cleaning up the visibly growing mold on the bottom of the fridge. That kind of thing. The only way to break the Sputnik habit at the moment is the way I did cigarettes: Cold turkey.

February 12th 2024


Album Rating: 5.0

If anyone happens to notice that 2025 has rolled around and I’m STILL missing, it’s probably because I’m dead, because Sputnikmusic is the best place on digital Earth in my opinion and I’ll definitely return as a regular reader. Music is almost the best thing on Earth outside of love, and Sputnikmusic seems to be the only place where the best music on earth can be written about properly. I mean, can a fan of a classic band like “Cannibal Corpse” seriously write a suitable review on Rate Your Music? I’ve never tried, but I assume the place is too regulated to offer the freedom a band like that would require. And all that busy muck? That’s typical and normal these days for most sites, but I spend time with Sputnik to explore new music. Trying to get into new-music mode while viewing pages over there is like trying to drive while looking through a fucking kaleidoscope – interesting in small doses, but for long-stretches? The last time I went there I didn’t spend time with music at all; I spent time with a bunch of distracting content. Spending the whole day on that site, paying close attention to everything on a given page, would be a little like what middle school teachers go through for hours a day: Trying to pay very close attention to dozens of fuck’n whacked out, hormonally charged 13-year-olds. It’s only fun for a select few teachers. And even for them it’s exhausting. That site has everything to do with harvesting revenue and pretty much nothing to do with art.

February 12th 2024


Album Rating: 5.0

If I do disappear by 2025, and am therefore either ashes or worm-food, could someone do me a favour and review Faure’s Requiem? budgie rec’d it to me last December and I still haven’t spent time with it. It sounds gorgeous though.

(Alternatively, if you’re interested in requiems, it turns out that Antonio Salieri’s Requiem is quite beautiful and dramatic and passionate, contrary to his depiction as a pathetic miscreant in Amadeus. And it would provide excellent thematic material for an essay-review: Salieri is famously – and falsely – implicated in Mozart’s murder, and again his depiction in the film is also considered grossly unfair by fans of late 18th century music. I know the main core of Sputniks aren’t huge into this stuff, but I bet there’s a couple out there).

February 12th 2024


Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks to anyone who reads any of my manic, garrulous blather, and to everyone who’s commented on my stuff before, and especially to DadKungFu for taking the time to read my reviews and comment when no one else does. Because I treat it as a variety of therapy, I’d probably continue writing even if the sound of chirping crickets was my only reward. But I have to admit that non-zero comments are better than zero.

Finally, if you hate me – I KNOW you’re out there – and you’ve been meaning to troll me all this time, you’re out of luck for now, ‘cuz I’m going to force myself to not even check on this review until at least April, but maybe as late as Halloween. Maybe never, if the reaper comes for me. (Sheesh, how’s that for melodrama?)

Lots of love to anyone who cares.

I’m out.

Staff Reviewer
February 12th 2024


Thanks for some great reads man, hope we keep seeing you around here sooner rather than later.

July 10th 2024


Hey man I thought the review was good, hope you're good too

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