Maple Leaf Rag

THURSDAY, November 12, 2020 – 10:59 AM

(I posted this more than a year ago, but it’s so interesting to compare a modern recording with what Joplin actually played, which is just so much more interesting.)

What was most popular in 1899?

Answer: Ragtime and one famous Ragtime piece of music: The Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin. As is true with everything else I’ve put in Spotlight, this was popular music of it’s time.

The modern view…

Here is just one recording that, unfortunately, does not even show who is playing. This is typical of the way people today think the music should be played.

The real deal…

It turns out Joplin recorded on it Pianola Roll. This recording was apparently found in the wrong box on Ebay, and it turns out to be a long-lost Joplin recording. Although there is an official version of this, published and played year in and year out, Joplin not only added notes but used swing instead of an even, straight rhythm.

10 thoughts on “Maple Leaf Rag

  1. I can hear the difference between the first and second. I never knew what swing did different in music. From this though, I can clearly hear the difference in rhythm between the two maple leaf rags.

    1. It’s a principle. Any music can be played straight or with swing. In traditional music usually the notation is pretty clear about which to use, but not always. The important thing is that when you listen to composers play their own music, they don’t always follow the music exactly. Why? Because they are creators, not obedient robots, and creative people like to play around with everything.

  2. I have this CD.. 2 CDs, actually. Some by joplin himself (this is one) and some by others playing his music.

    It greatly amuses me that he marked his music “Never play ragtime fast!” and many variatons on that theme — and then you set the pianola to the right settings, start the roll, and joplin himself rips right through it, quite fast indeed.

    I love this music. He stands alone at the top of the ragtime pile. Music of such melancholy and joy.

    1. He had a tough life. When you hear this music, it sounds so fresh and innocent. There is none of the over-the-top drama of earlier composers, and even some later ones. In defense of his instructions, I’ve heard other people play much faster, and his use of swing – not indicated in the music – makes it sound faster than it is. I am also interested in places he changes octaves and a few places where he adds notes. There is a misconception that things written down are meant to be played exactly as written, with no changes. Yet we know that Chopin, for example, often changed his own music in lessons. The idea that some or most music is sacred exactly as it is set down is a rather recent idea.

      One other note: I don’t know if he wrote down his own music, or if someone else notated it (in the manner of Dave Brubek.) If the music we have was written by him, his notation is very “correct” in that it uses very traditional rules. In other words, if it his writing, he was very strictly taught.

  3. The real deal is great. I’d like to be able to play that way.
    “The Entertainer” is another of Joplin’s pieces. It was featured in the movie, “The Sting”.

    1. There is at least one other Joplin piece in that movie. The Entertainer became a “pop tune” for a few years for that reason. When the movie came out, everyone wanted to learn “The Entertainer”.

    1. The biggest difference is that he uses swing. I have long wondered if it would sound better that way. Everyone today plays it even. I think it has more life with swing.

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