John McWhorter on Scott Joplin


August 10, 2016 by AK

It all began with ragtime. With Scott Joplin, then. John McWhorter has a long piece on the composer in The American Interest. McWhorter is a generalist so every claim and conclusion in the article needs to be triple-checked. But even if his claims are all dubious, I trust the author to have gotten right his facts about the old master. McWhorter’s focus is on Joplin’s doomed enterprise, transforming ragtime into something not merely bigger but higher:

Certainly, his being black in an America most of whose citizens saw black people as barely human didn’t help. Yet a white Scott Joplin would have had little more success. Almost obsessed with fashioning ragtime as high art, Joplin was bested by two obstacles. First, high art is always a limited taste; second, even at its finest ragtime is an art of limited parameters, the musical equivalent of the miniature and the madeleine, incompatible with larger scale.

Incidentally, Charles Ives was only six years the junior of Scott Joplin.

1 comment »

  1. […] While we’re at it, the cakewalk – ragtime’s close relative – makes an appearance in a relatively well-known poem by Nikolai Zabolotsky, The Signs of the Zodiac Are Fadingfirst published in 1929: […]

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