Monday, November 12, 2012

Onward and up--well, not this time, actually...

I felt like just having a little fun today, so if you're in a similar mood, this is for you. It's a bit of Joplin. I've been thinking about having a go at some Jelly Roll Morton, actually, but probably won't get around to it until after Christmas. At the moment, just not being sick and too busy is a good start. So let's have a bit of Joplinesque cheer...

(Click here to make noise come out of your computer!)

The piece is called "The Cascades" and it is exactly halfway through the Joplin catalog. If you don't mind one nerdy observation, since I spent a month in 2009 working my way through the first half of Joplin's rags, I find this one interesting for one particular reason. The ideas are great, the tunes, the rhythms, are catchy, and, by the way, the second part of the piece, a little over a minute and a half in, when the 'trombones' come in in the left hand--that's the trickiest thing Joplin ever wrote, I think--but if you're a composer you know that after a while, cranking out piece after piece, you struggle not to keep doing the same thing. And for Joplin, it wasn't easy to stay fresh, since rags have a pretty set formula. The odd thing here isn't that there are four sections, all of which repeat (and each, conveniently 45 seconds long in the recording!): no, what's odd is that, after the first two parts, it's time to change keys. Nothing new there. But for some reason, Joplin decides not to go where ragtime composers nearly always go, which is four steps up; instead he decides to go one step DOWN. What made him do that, I wonder?

Here's what I mean. I'll play you about four seconds of the first part, and fade into a little bit of part three....
It's not that much lower, so don't worry too much if you can't hear it.

The Cascades was actually a sort of man-made waterfall at year-young world's exhibition in 1904. It was built right outside the festival hall, and apparently Joplin, whose music was played there, wrote the music as a kind of tie-in. Did he conceive the strange modulation in response to the idea of falling water?

Kind of far-fetched, isn't it? Maybe, after 21 rags he was just trying to find something different. And, since, as far as I know, he didn't do it again, maybe he figured it was the kind of eccentricity you only did once.

But you know, if you listen to it all the way through, you probably won't even notice it. That's how smoothly he constructs this little transition passage.

Boy, you never know when a composer is doing something truly strange and making it sound like no big deal at all. You just can't trust these folks, can you? wink, wink, nudge, nudge...

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