Black History Month - Art of the Rag

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Scott Joplin – Maple Leaf Rag
James Reese Europe – Castle House Rag
Eubie Blake – Charleston Rag
Jelly Roll Morton – Black Bottom Stomp
Scott Joplin – The Entertainer


English Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Kenneth Woods

About this Concert

We mark Black History Month in the United Kingdom with this electrifying programme celebrating the emergence and evolution of Ragtime, a musical revolution that still reverberates today.

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About the Music - JOPLIN/Arr. SCHULLER Maple Leaf Rag (1899)

It may sound like hyperbole, but Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag may well be the most influential piece of music written or recorded in the last 150 years. The success of this piece opened the ears of the world to the rhythmic intricacies and syncopations of African and African-American music, and from Ragtime would grow Dixieland, Jazz, Swing, Rock, Funk, Disco and even Hip-Hop. Perhaps no other composer has so profoundly shaped the listening of so many people around the world. The Maple Leaf Rag was the most successful piece of sheet music ever published in its time, but Joplin saw little financial benefit from it. In 1903, the score of his first opera, A Guest of Honor, was confiscated along with most of his belongings by debt collectors. His second opera, Treemonisha, remained unperformed at the time of his death in 1916 and was not produced until 1976.

About the Music - EUROPE/Arr. SCHULLER Castle House Rag (1914)

The importance of the life and work of James Reese Europe to the future of 20th C. music is, like that of Scott Joplin, hard to overstate. In 1910, Europe established the Clef Club, the first musical venue and fraternal organisation in the USA for Black musicians. The Clef Club Orchestra was the first all-Black orchestra in the United States and, at its peak, numbered over 125 musicians. In 1912, Europe conduct the Clef Club Orchestra in a historic concert at Carnegie Hall. That program was notable for featuring only music by black composers, including Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Harry T. Burleigh (the man who had first introduced Dvorak to African-American music a generation earlier). It was also the first time that an ensemble performed proto-Jazz at Carnegie Hall, and the impact of the concert was enormous. Europe came to even wider fame as the bandleader for dance superstars Vernon and Irene Castle, but it was during World War One that he made some of his most lasting contributions, conducting the band  of the Harlem Hellfighters in hundreds of concerts across war-torn France. Throughout his career, he remained committed to the idea of the importance, independence and equality of African-American music , saying “”We have developed a kind of symphony music that, no matter what else you think, is different and distinctive…. We colored people have our own music that is part of us. It’s the product of our souls; it’s been created by the sufferings and miseries of our race.”

About the Music - BLAKE/Arr. SCHULLER Charleston Rag (1917)

Blake was one of American music’s most enduring figures, contributing to the Ragtime revolution and the emergence of Jazz, his performing career spanned almost the entire 20th C.. Credited with coining the expression shortly after his 100th birthday “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself” his Charleston Rag remains one of the cornerstones of American music. Charleston Rag was a huge hit in its time, but was also a musically significant work, bringing bitonality and classical piano virtuosity into the world of Ragtime.

About the Music - MORTON Black Bottom Stomp 1925

The self-proclaimed “inventor of jazz’, New Orleans-born Jelly Roll Morton was a pianist of rare ability, a performer of supreme charisma, and a composer and arranger of Genius. His 1925 composition “Black Bottom Stomp” was a response to the “Black Bottom” dance craze that swept America in the roaring 20’s, given a bit of spice via Morton’s trademark “Spanish tinge.”

About the Music - JOPLIN/Arr. SCHULLER The Entertainer

The Entertainer” is a 1902 classic piano rag written by Scott Joplin. It was sold first as sheet music, and in the 1910s as piano rolls that would play on player pianos. The first recording was by blues and ragtime musicians the Blue Boys in 1928, played on mandolin and guitar.

As one of the classics of ragtime, it returned to international prominence as part of the ragtime revival in the 1970s, when it was used as the theme music for the 1973 Oscar-winning film The Sting. Composer and pianist Marvin Hamlisch’s adaptation reached #3 on the Billboard pop chart and spent a week at #1 on the easy listening chart in 1974.The Sting was set in the 1930s, a full generation after the end of ragtime’s mainstream popularity, thus giving the inaccurate impression that ragtime music was popular at that time. Although the popularity of Hamlisch’s score did much to reawaken the interests of millions of listeners in Ragtime, Gunther Shuller, founder of the New England Ragtime Ensemble, was always concerned that audiences know that Scott Joplin was the hero of the story, not Hamlisch and not Schuller. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he used to say before performances of this work, “”The Entertainer,” by Scott Joplin…… Not “The Sting” by Marvin Hamlisch!”

Production Information

Recorded at Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, on 10th November 2020

Producer: Phil Rowlands
Videographer: Tim Burton
Orchestra Manager: Simon Brittlebank / The Music Agency
Stage Manager: Ed Hayes / The Music Agency