Scott Joplin

Scott Joplin


1868 - 1917


In the music of Scott Joplin a deep understanding of classical music can be heard. A deep understanding of the syncopations and parallel harmonies of African-American music can also be heard. While the evolution of "jazz" combined these two separate but different parts, Scott Joplin brought both of these influences together in a way that very few individual composers ever attempted.

According to one source Scott Joplin was born 11-24-1868 in Bowie County, Texas near the town of Texarkana. Joplin was the most celebrated composer of the piano genre known as "ragtime". Although his family was poor, his father (a former slave) and mother saw that the young Joplin studied classical piano as a child. In his late teens Joplin worked as a dance musician, and itinerant pianist traveling throughout the Midwest.

In 1893 Joplin performed at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In 1894 he first arrived in Sedalia, Missouri. Sedalia was the home of the Williams Brothers' saloon. Joplin spent the last of his teenage years entertaining the patrons of the "private" club on the second floor of the saloon that was named the "Maple Leaf Club". In 1895 he studied at the George R. Smith College for Negroes. In that same year, with the help of a local Sedalia merchant, he published his first composition, the song "Please Say You Will".

In 1899 the Maple Leaf Club contributed it's name to Joplin's most commercially successful composition the "Maple Leaf Rag" (it was the first sheet of music to sell over a million copies). Other sentimental songs and marches followed. His "Maple Leaf Rag" became the most popular piano rag of the period, securing for Joplin a modest lifetime income from royalties and the title "King of Ragtime." Around 1899 Joplin's first opera "A Guest of Honor" (the first ragtime opera) was performed in St. Louis.

In 1907 Scott migrated to New York City. One of the major reasons that he moved to New York was to find a publisher for his opera "Treemonisha". Another good reason for Joplin to migrate to the "big apple" was that it would be much easier for him to impress the right people with his skills as a composer and thus find a comfortable income.

Altogether Joplin published some 60 compositions of which 41 are piano "rags". The balance consists of songs, marches, a ballet, and two operas: "A Guest Of Honor (c1899)" and "Treemonisha" (1911). "Treemonihsa" was produced unsuccessfully in concert form in 1915 but was revived successfully 57 years later. In 1911 Joplin suffered a nervous breakdown that he never fully recovered from. In 1916 he was "admitted" to a mental hospital that he would never leave. 

Scott Joplin died 4-1-1917, from "pneumonia". He most probably died from complications brought on by the advancement of syphilis (which he was known to have had).

In Scott's 49 years of life he was never acknowledged as the serious composer that he really was. During his lifetime there were no opportunities for black musicians to have their music heard by anyone in the "serious" musical world. Even though his music was commercially successful, like everyone else in "tin-pan alley" during his time, he was looked upon as just a "tune-writer".

Recognition came posthumously, however, with the republication (1972) of his music, a Pulitzer Prize (1976), and acclaim from both the popular and the scholarly communities.

Here is a collection of "midi" files that Victoria borrowed from the web.






Up Web Operas Ferd Morton Scott Joplin Old Time Music