Peacherine Rag

Scott Joplin

Peacherine Rag

About this work

Joplin's youth and young manhood were spent playing piano in brothels and clubs in the Southwest amid other itinerant players -- many vastly talented and some of legendary genius -- who were developing the trick of posing syncopated melody against a rhythmically steady bass into what would become known as ragtime. It was Joplin's peculiar genius to hear in this ephemeral, largely improvised, purely non-literate music, already beset by a bewildering array of styles, possibilities for enduring art music. If William H. Krell's 1897 Mississippi Rag was the first ragtime publication, Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag -- composed in the same year but not published until 1899 -- was ragtime's first hit, with sales approaching 75,000 copies in its first six months and eventually topping a million. Its success prompted Joplin's publisher, John Stark, to move his firm from Sedalia, MO, to St. Louis in the summer of 1900, expanding his back room operation to a printing plant to keep up with demand. A prescient royalties agreement (one cent per copy) allowed Joplin to follow, with his new wife Belle Hayden, and settle into a permanent residence where he gave music lessons and composed. By 1901 -- the year in which Peacherine Rag was published -- Scott Joplin was in stride as the "King of Ragtime Writers," a position whose ambivalence he began to experience immediately. For barnstorming bordello pianists the notion of composed ragtime was an oxymoron, while Joplin's mellifluously crooning keyboard manner, highlighting content and substance, was easily upstaged by mere volume and speed. Commercial success, too, proved a limitation as it established a formula from which publishers were loath to depart, while departures (e.g., Joplin's contemporary Ragtime Dance ballet, or his opera, Treemonisha, a decade later) provoked public impatience. Joplin worked an astounding variety of expression -- from the exhilarating to the tragic -- into the basic four-strain ragtime format, earning comparison with the similarly constrained dance music of Schubert, Chopin, and Smetana. Peacherine Rag, for instance, eschews the bounding exuberance of the Maple Leaf to essay a percolating hilarity -- coyly teasing in the first strain, taking giddy lift in the second to become seriously involved with Maple Leaf figuration and ornament in the third, while the final strain wraps all triumphantly with hummable melodic flair. The insouciant wink of Peacherine's first strain set the tone for a number of later rag artists, notably Artie Matthews' slow drag Pastime Rags. Peacherine, in instrumental arrangements, proved one of the hits of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

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