Biography of Modern Music Composer Scott Joplin Part 2
About the famous ragtime composer Scott Joplin, biography and history.
Scott Joplin (1868-1917).
With the profits from his music, Joplin moved to St. Louis, retired from the ragtime performing circuit, and bought a large house in which to devote himself to composing. Joplin had developed a vision of ragtime that transcended the limits of popular music: He saw it as a unique and serious art form, as America's answer to the achievements of European composers. In 1902 he completed a fascinating ragtime ballet (The Ragtime Dance) and then a ragtime opera called The Guest of Honor. When the music for the ballet was published it proved a dismal failure, and the opera, which never even found its way into print, has since disappeared. Joplin's wife had little sympathy for such grandiose projects, especially as their money began to run out. After the tragic death of a baby daughter, the couple separated and Joplin hit the road once again, playing the piano at familiar saloons and nightclubs.
In 1907 Joplin moved to New York where he remarried and eventually settled in Harlem. By 1910, ragtime had begun to decline in popularity, yet Joplin was hard at work writing still another ragtime opera. Joplin considered this work, Treemonisha, about a black woman who leads her people to freedom, to be his masterpiece. When he was unable to find a publisher he dug deep into his savings and had the vocal score printed at his own expense. Though this venture brought him no encouragement, Joplin refused to abandon the project. He worked for 3 years to orchestrate Treemonisha, then put together a performance to test public reaction and attract financial backing. This presentation, once again paid for out of Joplin's own pocket, took place in 1915, without orchestra or scenery. It was considered a laughable failure. The public was ready to accept a black musician as the piano player in a bawdy house, but not as a serious composer of operatic music.
During the preparations for the Treemonisha debacle, Joplin was under serious strain. His behavior became moody and erratic, with strong schizophrenic tendencies. After the opera disaster he suffered a total breakdown. His wife and friends were unable to help him, and he was committed to Manhattan State Hospital in the fall of 1916. Joplin never left the hospital and died there on April 1, 1917.
In recent years, Scott Joplin's music has been enjoying an astonishing revival. His rags are played frequently in concerts and recitals, and several recordings of his music have reached best-seller status. Even the long-forgotten Treemonisha has been performed publicly and has finally received the serious attention it deserves. For those who would like to hear the haunting, evocative sound of Joplin's music, a fine performance of some of his piano rags is available at a budget price. ("Scott Joplin Piano Rags" performed by Joshua Rifkin; Nonesuch Records H-71248.)
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