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Pre-Ragtime Music that Contributed to Ragtime Era Music
Turkey in the Straw
Unknown (Concert Arrangment 1919 by
David W. Guion
) - c. 1830s
Turkey in the Straw
, which many of us grew up with on children's records or tapes, actually started out life as a terribly racist pre-minstrel song called Zip Coon
. It is unknown who actually originated the tune, but there were at least three pre-Civil War blackface performers who were known to have performed it regularly on stage and in minstrel shows, complete with a hoe-down style jig dance. The "Zip Coon" character was represented in the minstrel shows as a free black who was one of the finest dressed men about town in his part of the big city, although education and attitude were not always noted factors in the character. He was opposite of the not-too-bright but affable "Jim Crow" caricature. Of equally mysterious origin is the more popular set of lyrics that make up Turkey in the Straw
, although there are publications as early as the 1880s that apply this tune to that title. It was a favorite of fiddlers, banjo players, and pianists, and commonly included in performances or contests during the Ragtime era. Guion was a gifted musician and arranger who was responsible for capturing a great deal of Americana, most notable Home on the Range
, in published form. The arrangement presented here is not the same one that is contained in the more commonly found Otto Bonnel sheet music covers shown here, which were initially published in 1899 and later as a "Rag-Time Fantasie". It is a more challenging and interesting concert rendition from 1919, based largely on John Philip Sousa's
band arrangement, that is actually more of an ambitious piano fantasy than the arrangement within the Bonnel covers shown here. It includes a number of common pianistic tricks of the era, with some salutes to more traditional and classic styles.
Louis Moreau Gottschalk - 1855
In a time when popular music was not yet a full-fledged reality and the minstrel show was just gaining strength as the start of American theatre, Louis Gottschalk set out to be a phenomenon as a composer and performer. Born and bred in New Orleans, Gottschalk was exposed to multicultural rhythms in his youth, including Creole, Latin, and Black influences. He spent from 12 to 24 years of age studying in Paris, and came back to the United States as a well-known virtuoso concert pianist and composer of unique varietal pieces. The Banjo
is based in part on Stephen Foster's
relatively new composition, The Camptown Races
, along with other banjo rhythms common to the south. There are also hints of Roll Jordan Roll
, an African-American spiritual. Many of the syncopations found in this piece would surface in early cakewalks more than 40 years later. There is gratuitous use of melodic lines interlaced with single repeated notes, and the success of interpretation depends largely on the pianist's use of the well-marked accents throughout. The final pages, which include two printed interpretations of varying difficulty, imitate the increasingly faster strumming of multiple banjos as they lead to the final chords. The cover art is also very clever for its time.
Carlo Mora - 1869
Twenty-five or so years before E.T. Paull
entered the scene with his marches, galops, and other fast pieces and fabulous covers, The Flash
appeared from the well-established firm of Oliver Ditson
in Boston. Ditson, who would eventually be the initial publisher of the first million selling song, After The Ball
had a network of agents in major cities around the country, and a good reputation to boot. Information on the composer was sketchy, so it is unclear if this is one of a string of similar works, or just a lucky hit. Nonetheless, much like his musical peer Louis Moreau Gottschalk
, Mora shows a clear tendency to predict what was coming, as did Johann Strauss
in the 1870s and 1880s with his polkas. As could be surmised by the cover, this is a descriptive galop meant to invoke the sounds of firemen racing to a fire with their horses, probably in a "flash". But a closer look at the drawing shows them represented as caricatures of a somewhat disorganized company of black firemen, a relatively new but popular stereotype that was emerging at this time. Like many of the later marches or galops, this piece has an AABBCC interlude A finale
structure with an elongated (to say the least) ending. I think it stands up very well to the works of both Paull and Harry Lincoln
Hungarian Dance #5
Johannes Brahms - 1872
Brahms? One of the three Bs? In a ragtime page? Actually, some of the material he wrote translated to or in some cases was a precursor of syncopated styles that would appear within a half century of this piece. Even some of the ragtime era waltzes like Scott Joplin's Bethena
had some elements of Brahms' famed waltzes in them. The Hungarian Dances
were a set of 21 pieces calling on existing Hungarian folk strains and published for piano 4 hands, later followed by the first 10 of arranged them for solo piano. They were quite popular in their day and provided a decent continuing income for Brahms during his lifetime. This particular one has long endured as the most popular and recognizable of the dances, used in popular media like cartoons, movies, and even video games during the past century, often to suggest an Eastern European setting. Anton Dvořák orchestrated this dance as well. Translation into ragtime just requires a little massaging and infusing a few syncopations. This particular rendition was inspired by Lou Busch
from his album Joe "Fingers" Carr Plays the Classics
in 1954, and is an expansion of his take on the piece that actually follows the original dance more closely than his track. Unlike other classically-based rags like Russian Rag
and Hungarian Rag
, this amounts to more of an arrangement than a new composition, but is in the Contemporary section due to the unique nature of the arrangement. There are many familiar novelty patterns throughout, and some Zez Confrey
style bass in the third section, padded with a couple of extra measures to even things out. The introduction and transitions are added for separation of ideas, and the ending flourish also calls on Busch for flashy purposes only. When performing this at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
I asked if there were any Hungarian dancers in the audience. Surprise! There were - and from Europe at that. But no dancing was forthcoming. You are, of course, allowed to strut your stuff at home in front of the computer. Just make sure your webcam is not broadcasing live!
Euphemia Allen (as Arthur de Lulli) - 1877
(sometimes known as The Celebrated Chop Waltz
) is one of those pieces that every child who has access to a piano in this world has learned. And learned by rote mind you, not from the music (have you ever even seen the music??? Did you even know that it was published???) So simple, so annoying at times, yet so ubiquitous for any number of reasons is this waltz. So now the mystery (what there is of it) can be unraveled at last. If it sounds like it was written by a child, well, it was. A 16-year young British lass by the name of Euphemia Allen
composed the waltz as a simple exercise in the mid-1870s. It was, in fact, the nature of the exercise that contributed to the name Chop Sticks
, which describes the chopping action of the right hand as it plays the relentlessly repetitive opening theme. In reality, she should be applauded because both of her themes are repeated in the score as variations, a sign of creativity. Why it was published under the pseudonym Arthur de Lulli
(spelled on some covers as de Zulli
) is unclear, as is why there were no follow-up pieces. However, many biases of the time may have made it easier for her to get published as a male rather than a female. As you may have suspected, I include my own take on this timeless tune after I work my way through the original arrangement. Perhaps in the future: Heart and Soul
! (Please no!)
Dance of the Demon (Dãmonen Tanz)
Eduard Holst - 1888
The "Grand Galop de Concert" was quite popular from the 1870s through 1900 or so. It provided an opportunity for a pianist to flex his musical muscles on stage without having to resort to difficult pieces by composers such as Franz Liszt
or Johannes Brahms
. The German born Holst wrote a great number of pieces intended largely for exhibition playing, and they were popular with many students looking for concert material. He even arranged some pieces for so-called "Monster Concerts", with ensembles of 2 pianos 8 hands and more, and this one was readily available for four hands. The A section starts out with a common descending figure, broken up by ascending chords. Section B is somewhat polka-like in nature in the right hand. Note the lack of "oom-pah" bass in both sections, favoring a single bass note per measure, which was more conducive to the dances of that time period. The only truly demonic sounding section is the C section interlude in F minor, consisting of a bass melody under chords, a device later used extensively by E.T. Paull
. I must say that it is the devil to play!
Hearts and Flowers (Coeurs et Fleurs)
Theodore Moses-Tobani (M) and Mary D. Brine (L) - 1893/1899/1909
Touted as a "New Flower Song", this is a very beautiful and melodic piece that could be described variously as maudlin or just plain old sappy. Although comedy and adventure stories were the most popular silent films in the 1910s, there were still many dramas dealing with death or loss of some kind. (The media today would label them as "chick flicks", a term I don't endorse under pain of death.) Silent films were usually accompanied by music, played by everything from an orchestra or pianist to automatic instruments such as a multiple-roll orchestrion. Most of the accompanists or orchestrions had a standard stock of pieces to fit the various moods presented in the films. Hearts and Flowers
was present in nearly every library, as it effectively conveyed sorrow and passion so very completely. Mostly classical in nature, it is inclusive of two older pieces, Adoration
and In A Garden of Melody
. The primary theme is written with variations throughout the piece. It becomes more complex in the second theme, where a triplet figure in the right hand is played over a straight rhythm in the left. The middle section has a very nice build to a Chopinesque climax. The lyrics were added in 1899, but the piece was altered substantially to favor them. The version included here is without lyrics. Hearts and Flowers
has been often misunderstood through misuse, and I hope you agree that it is actually stands on its own as a worthy composition of great beauty and pathos.
Cakewalks, Folk Rags and Marches
The Mississippi Rag
For most of the 20th century, The Mississippi Rag
was considered to be, as proclaimed on the cover, the first rag ever published. There are a number of ironies and falsehoods concerning this contention. First, it was a representation of a black music form being openly touted by a white bandleader. Secondly, it was initially released as a band arrangement, and not for the piano. Thirdly, it is not a true rag, but a Cakewalk instead. There is little true syncopation to be found. Lastly, it was preceded in 1895 by a syncopated piano cakewalk title Rastus on Parade
. In spite of all these factors, the only true claim it has is that it was the first instrumental-only piece with "Rag" in the title AND "Rag-time" on the cover. Ragtime had allegedly been heard as early as 1893 at the Chicago World Exposition. It is believed that Scott Joplin
was first exposed to it at that very venue. Krell was the leader of a successful orchestra that performed marches and cakewalks, and therefore had access to this type of music. Mississippi Rag
is truly grounded in common folk themes, although not terribly well handled as later black ragtime proved. This piece may have very well been "assembled" by Krell from themes he had been exposed to, rather than composed. It represents a tableau of a steamboat coming down the river and approaching a dock, then landing at the dock, unloading and loading activity commences, then there is a celebration and dance before the riverboat sets sail again down the river. The opening theme is in a minor mode, and is used to close the piece as well. Both the A and B sections are a short 8 measures. The C section is the crux of the piece, with the most memorable melody contained within it. The D section makes use of alternating two measure phrases, which would later become a common device. It wraps around an interlude that has two pauses that would later be known as breaks; an opportunity to improvise, as is demonstrated here. After a reiteration of C the boat sets sail again by recapping B then A, diminishing the dynamics to the end. My first exposure to the rag was the Claude Bolling
recording, which was based on the Frank Thomas
rendition from an early The Firehouse Five + 2
recording. Part of my arrangement echoes these recordings.
The cakewalk, a dance made popular following the introduction of printed ragtime via the Mississippi Rag
in 1897, was all the rage (where it was allowed) by the turn of the twentieth century. It was also proudly displayed by capable black dancers in an early Edison
film version of Uncle Tom's Cabin
. In essence, the cakewalk was a mildly syncopated march, and this one is no exception. As noted on the cover, the traditional dress code for public cakewalk outings was indeed formal and attractive. The son of a Michigan farmer, Barnard, who was born in 1857, nearly forty years before cakewalk music emerged, became a bandleader in the 1880s in Chicago. He traveled for a while as a representative of Lyon and Healy instruments, and worked for them as an arranger. In his role as a music representative and leader, Barnard worked to embrace the new popular music forms in a productive manner. While he was responsible for several score of other fine works, Alabama Dream
remains his most popular and well-known tune. It is quite representative of many cakewalks that were popular from 1897 through 1903.
Bunch o' Blackberries
Even though early ragtime music and cakewalks originated with black musicians, it was often white musicians like Holzmann who capitalized on this music. It is also with some irony that a couple of his pieces featured black children on the cover, which in this case seemed to fit the title. Just the same, it was largely through the efforts of white publishers and composers between 1896 and 1902 that cakewalks and piano rags got the initial exposure that they did, which paved the way for black composers to contribute to the pool as well over the two decades of ragtime's popularity. This early work is a traditional cakewalk, also listed as a two step, so the syncopation is rather sparse and predictable. Some of the melodic notes or passing tones occasionally clash with the left hand harmonies in awkward moments, but it is still a passable number. The trio begs for a little bit more rag than the score presents, which I infuse on the repeat. On the final iteration the tempo is slowed even a bit more, as was traditional during cakewalks in order to dance the grand promenade to the end.
Grace Walls Linn - 1899
The history of practical automobiles only goes back to the 1880s globally, and really the early 1890s in the United States where this work was composed. By 1899, Henry Ford
had already been tinkering with cars successfully, but would not yet have his own company, and was nearly a decade off from the introduction of the Model T. Given the scant number of cars in the United States in 1899, and even less, passable roads for them to drive on, this is possibly the first piece written specifically for or about an automobile. However, as the composer lived in Indianapolis, where many early cars were manufactured, she may have seen more of them than the average American by that time. The spin in this case could refer either to a popular dance music style, or to the notion of taking the auto out "for a spin." It is a pleasant little gavotte with some latent European influence, and predates the rhythmic "jalopy" feel of later automobile instrumentals, yet there are clearly some early 20th century elements within it as well. There are a couple of forceful minor interludes that add variety and enforce good dynamics in this charming dance tune.
Fresh out of the Spanish-American war, folks everywhere were praising Teddy Roosevelt
, and fascinated with his charge up San Juan Hill. At the same time, there was similar imagery of the cavalry as they protected the wilder parts of the west. In general, men in uniform sold copies of anything. Except for the lack of glasses, the rider on the cover could easily be Teddy, his gun blazing as artillery explodes around him. This march quickly became popular with bands such as John Philip Sousa's
and with circus bands as well. The C section and interlude of this piece are particularly well crafted both melodically and dynamically. The truth about the charge? This is one possible account. Evidently the enemy had, for the most part, surrendered by the time Roosevelt arrived. Once the area was secured, it was Teddy's good friend, future secretary of war and President William Howard Taft
, currently a civil administrator under President William McKinley
who helped to claim San Juan Hill. However, since the over 300 pound Taft couldn't make it up the steep hillside under his own power, he was transported to the top on a carriage house door carried by six infantry members. Even if this story could have been substantiated back in 1898, who would have wanted to draw the cover to go along with it?
Touted as a "March and Two Step", this is a simple cakewalk by a 17-year-old female composer from Kansas City, Missouri, and it leans at times more towards being a rag, save for its cadences. Ms. Bolen wrote at least four compositions, of which this is the best known. Smoky Topaz
starts with an eight bar introduction, unusual for any piece of the era, even a march. There is little syncopation across the middle of measures in the A section, another distinction that separates this from true ragtime. The B section, however, shines as a fine example of good syncopated writing, and has an interesting progression of descending triplets near the end. The trio sounds as if it were lifted directly from nearly any other march of the day, and is almost devoid of offbeat rhythms. It is punctuated by a typical cakewalk interlude before the obligatory recap. It was the last known published piece by Grace, who went on to two short-lived marriages before moving to Chicago and finding true love, but no more music composition.
Charles C. Sweeley (also
Harry J. Lincoln
—disputed) - 1901/1905
Reportedly the second-most played march in history, behind The Stars and Stripes Forever, the origin of Repasz Band is the center of a controversy that exists over a century later. Sweeley was a trombonist and a member of the famed Repasz Band, a Williamsport, Pennsylvania, community group that dates back to 1831, renamed after long-time director Daniel Repasz in 1859, and which still performs into the 21st century. Lincoln's side of the troublesome story is that he had written a 6/8 march piece honoring the band as early as 1896 or 1897, but had trouble selling it to a variety of publishers. After the success of his Midnight Fire Alarm in 1900, plus in need of money, he was able to sell Repasz Band to Mr. Sweeley who subsequently published it under his own banner and composition credit. Having not marketed the piece very well, Sweeley let it drop. As Lincoln's situation improved he reestablished his publishing company and took back Repasz Band. However, either out of respect for Sweeley or because the parentage had been established through copyright, he left Sweeley's name on the composition. After Lincoln dissolved his small publishing firm in 1903 he was hired on at Vandersloot Music in 1904 after Vandersloot published Heaven's Artillery. Owner Frederick W. Vandersloot also bought the Lincoln copyrights, and wanted to meet the composer of the marvelous Repasz Band march which he had republished in 1904. At this point Lincoln revealed it was his own, but they continued to publish it with Sweeley's name until the mid-1910s. When the copyright was renewed in 1929, Lincoln reclaimed the piece as his own, which was allegedly reinforced by a sworn statement from Sweeley himself, a statement that currently resides in the Library of Congress.
Members of the Sweeley family contest the story, as well as the handwriting on the statement. Sweeley's son had the handwriting analyzed by a professional and it was ascertained to be a potential forgery. The original copyright submission clearly shows Sweeley as the composer and Lincoln as the arranger. Also, there was been some duress in terms of Lincoln's claim over the piece. Lincoln made two attempts to re-copyright it in 1929, the first being rejected. The second attempt had the alleged sworn statement backing it up. There are points to be made for either scenario. Given Lincoln's prolific career and Sweeley's comparatively minimal output, it could seem more likely that Lincoln possibly contributed to a few more Sweeley pieces. Sweeley spent most of his adult life working with Lycoming Rubber, playing with bands on the side, but not as a full-time musician or composer. There is also the fact that Mr. Sweeley continued to have his works published by Vandersloot, which would not make sense if there were any serious contention between him and the company manager, Mr. Lincoln. A modicum of doubt must still be considered in this instance concerning authorship. Those who knew the real story are long gone. The claims of the Sweeley family need to be considered in balance with those of Lincoln, and duly respected as sincere and honest.
At one point when responding to the Sweeley family's claims that were made to me, I did a forensic analysis comparing Repasz Band with similar characteristic pieces by both composers. The most logical and probable conclusion that could be reached was that it was likely Sweeley's melody, but clearly arranged in Lincoln's style for both piano and band. Just as E.T. Paull's arrangement of Midnight Fire Alarm contributed to its major success, Lincoln's likely adjustments (based on other Sweeley works) to Repasz Band likely had an impact on it as well. Both men deserve credit in different ways for making the piece popular, so hopefully there is enough to go around. Coming to an absolute conclusion of full authorship is difficult to achieve when all of the known facts are considered. Hopefully the fact that Marty Mincer and myself are having fun with this duet performance will be obvious.
Under the Double Eagle (Unter Dem Doppeladler)
Josef Franz Wagner - 1902
Most people I have talked to about this piece remember first hearing it on either an automated nickelodeon of some sort, or on a carousel organ. Actually, this popular march by the Austrian composer Wagner was also a favorite of small town brass bands around the world in the early 20th century. Very few of the composer's other works saw any more than negligible distribution in the U.S. The Double Eagle referred to in the title is a symbol of the House of Habsburg
(that of the Austrian Emperors) and the seal of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy before 1918, and not an indication of American patriotism like many have believed over the years. Early films from World War I will yield images of the double eagle (doppeladler) depicted on the cover of the piece. Unlike a large number of other American marches that feature a bass melody in the trio, this one does so in the B section, which is more typical for an Austrian march, and it is also repeated at the end of the piece. The dynamics are notated to extremes, with a range of p
in each section. The date of 1902 is for American publication, but it may date to even a few years earlier in the country of origin.
The Glow Worm (Das Glühwürmchen)
Paul Lincke (M), Heinz Bolten-Backers (German Lyrics) and Lilla Cayley Robinson (English Lyrics) - 1902/1920
I will be the first to say that this piece has never been at the top of or even on
any list of my favorites, even though I (as many of my generation and before) have known it since I was - well, I can't even remember when I didn't know it. However, following a surprising number of requests over the years I finally got up early one day and dug into the worm finding some pleasant surprises. For starters, it is not just a simple little song. First included in the opera Lysistrata
by the German team of Lincke and Bolten-Brackers, the original publication was actually a fairly complex intermezzo or idyl (tone poem), and without the lyrics it is quite classical in nature. It is perhaps the simplicity amidst the complexity that makes this piece so appealing to so many, and why it was recorded and performed so often throughout the 20th century, including schools (like my own Millikan Junior High) around the world. In 1920 it was incorporated into the Broadway show The Girl Behind the Counter
with new English lyrics by Robinson. Since then, favorite versions include those by The Mills Brothers
as arranged by Johnny Mercer
(who retooled the piece with additional new lyrics), Bette Midler
, and the hard-to-avoid Spike Jones and His City Slickers
. In keeping with the intent of the composer and respecting the work that went into the arrangement, the first nearly five minutes of the performance are more or less as represented on the printed page. The recap to the end, however, is more in keeping with stride and ragtime takes of it, including a slight nod to Jo Ann Castle's 1960s single of the piece. Also, just so you know, the little incandescent wigglers are actually bioluminescent insects, not larvae, which come in a variety of hues. The females glow in order to attract males, and the males glow in order to detract predators. As the worm turns, I came away from recording this piece with a glowing feeling for sure.
William C. Polla
as W.C. Powell (M) and Harry H. Williams (L) - 1903/1904
With the increase in education and knowledge about other parts of the world growing exponentially in the earlier 20th century, came an increase in songs echoing a desire to either visit these places or have them brought to us in a way. The latter actually did happen for a time as a Southern California real estate investor, in an attempt to cash in on this thinking, tried to recreate the "essence" of Venice, Italy along a section of beach just south of Santa Monica. This included fresco style architecture and a gondola infested canal infrastructure that led to the Pacific Ocean. The effect was novel at best, and most of the canals were eventually paved over or left in disrepair. Few of them remain today. However, at its peak the development generated a good deal of publicity and curiosity. Gondolas and Venetian canals were also popular attractions at early amusement parks, including Dreamland and Luna Park on Coney Island. The gondoliers themselves represent the most romantic and identifiable aspects of that perpetually sinking city on Italy's east coast. Many pieces have been composed that either mention them or display a picture of the canals on the cover. This one was the most well-known of the bunch, successful even more as an intermezzo than a song. It may well have been part of a bevy of pieces associated with the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition
in St. Louis, Missouri, where both the international population and cultural displays of the fair were frequently highlighted. While there is nothing overtly Italian about the music, it retains a delicate structure that is elegant in form, and easier to play than it perhaps sounds. Of note is the unusual twelve-bar introduction which sets up the main theme with Polla's characteristic grace. Similar intermezzo/song combinations of this type soon proliferated throughout the country, but most were ultimately oriented towards Native Americans rather than Europeans. In any event, enjoy this very pleasant ride.
St. Louis Exposition March & Two-Step
Fred L. Ryder - 1904
The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition
, also known as the World's Fair, provided plenty of opportunities for musicians to not only play but to write something of lasting value for people to remember the fair by. Publishers were also clamoring to some extent to be represented at the fair by one or more compositions. Ragtime, however, was kept at bay for the most part, consigned to the amusement area known as the pike, but thriving mainly in the public venues around the fairgrounds. Since the nefarious "coon songs" had syncopation in them, and ragtime was also syncopated (more intricately, of course), it was an unfortunate misplaced association between the two by rhythmic guilt that tainted the latter. Marches still reigned for the dignified masses, in spite of popular opinion to the contrary by most of a rag-crazed country. While this march does not stand up to John Philip Sousa
or Harry Lincoln
in any way, it is still a nice memento of the fair. There is a persistent bugle call motif throughout. The B section uses the largely bass octave melody, such as E.T. Paull
publications of the day. After the B section, the bugle calls make way to a collection of international and American melodies, including the Marseillaise
, Dixie's Land
, Watch on the Rhine
, Yankee Doodle
, and God Save The King/Queen
. Although lacking continuity, this idea was occasionally used effectively in later rags and marches.
St. Louis Souvenir March
Alfonso Hart - 1904
There were great many wonders to behold at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition
in St. Louis. Among them were the fabulous festival hall and the cascades that poured out from it. Others were enamored by the huge palaces that housed the themed exhibits from several nations. Even more visitors spent days just wandering the mile-long pike and taking in all the amusements it had to offer. But most seem to agree that the use of electric lights, as well as electricity driven attractions, was truly awesome. The power plant built for the fair was the third largest in the country, barely surpassed by the two generating facilities that powered the growing New York Subway system. It also helped to put fair construction behind schedule by nearly a year. The cover picture
for this piece was taken some weeks before construction was completed on the extensive canals and dozens of plaster of Paris statues placed throughout the facility, and was likely published in anticipation of the April 30, 1904 opening. It is curious that the publisher used this rather than one of the many available drawings. This is a simple march, far removed from the complexities of ragtime or cakewalks, but with some echoes of John Philip Sousa
contained within. The cover actually provides a better souvenir of the fair than the march does, but there is still some charm to be found in this memory of an exciting era.
The Chicago Express
Early in his career, the Missouri-born Wenrich was composing more marches and parlor pieces than ragtime or songs, even though the latter is how he made his reputation. He acquired the nickname "The Joplin Kid" while working in a music store and saloons in the southwest Missouri town. His career would take off with The Smiler
, a rag written in 1907. However, this simple but well-constructed march is reminiscent of some of the works composed by Harry Lincoln
(Midnight Fire Alarm
, etc.) or something from the E.T. Paull
catalog. This comparison is summarily evident in the trio which carries the melody in bass octaves in the Austrian march manner. The B section that proceeds is perhaps the best developed one of the march. Note that even though the melody in the D section is relatively static, the rhythm carries it forward very well. Even at this stage of his writing, the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) was clearly kept in mind, and would eventually contribute to his success as a composer as well as a performing pianist.
Pearl of the Harem
Guy was one of the most celebrated of Detroit's early batch of ragtime composers. A native of Ohio, and for a short time in Texas, he ended up making the future motor city his home for the bulk of his life. Guy, along with fellow composer Fred S. Stone
, was largely responsible for the considerable black musician's union formed in Detroit. He was equally adept at syncopated waltzes such as Echoes of the Snowball Club
, and melodic songs and cakewalks. This unusual work conveys the notion that Americans had at that time about music of the Middle East and Asia, much of that coming from the 1893 World Columbian Exposition
in Chicago on the midway. Even if it is not musically accurate, this tone poem clearly conveys his sense of melodic line and contrast, particularly in the trio. The repeated bass patterns were often interchangeable for a time between music of Asian lands and those of Native Americans, with the harmonies distinguishing between the two. This became a fairly popular intermezzo, and a favorite of noted banjo player Harry Van Epps
. This performance his a little more variety infused into it than the score suggests, and hopefully comes across as a viable piece for a silent film track.
The Whistler and His Dog
Originally a member of the touring band of John Philip Sousa
during the 1890s, Pryor left this unit in 1903 to form his own band and record as well. In that sense, the Pryor band was very prolific, turning out a great number of recordings throughout the first two decades of the 20th century. His band, like Sousa's, also commanded the best talent and the best playing spots, including the larger amusement park pavilions, and even the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition
in St. Louis. For all of the compositions that Pryor produced, this one was the most beloved and remembered by his audiences, and perhaps the most recorded. In his youth Pryor had a bulldog named Roxy
who did not respond very well to verbal commands, but would always come when Pryor whistled, even reportedly when there was a good dogfight or tantalizing tree at stake. The tune was not that hard to remember, and audiences everywhere learned it quickly, whistling along with the band. Given his career as a trombonist, he seems to have approached the melodic line from the standpoint of that instrument. Within the confines of an electronic sample we do our best here with the whistle, and as for the bark - well, modesty prevents me (or culpability). You'll get the idea in any case. And don't blame me if you can't get the tune out of your head. It took me
weeks to do that. You know how it goes - just pucker up... and whistle.
New York Fire Department
Fireman John J. Kenny and Ladder Company No. 5 - 1905
It isn't just in the wake of modern disaster that recognition is given to our local heroes. There have been pieces for many years that were either dedicated to or written specifically for law enforcement or fire protection agencies. This is one of the better ones that may be encountered. Composed by a fireman, who also credits his company for part of the tune, this fine march stands up well against the best Sousa and Paull marches in terms of structure, melody and arrangement. No more pieces by Kenny could be located, which is somewhat of a loss for those who like marches. A fireman writing music? Well, even today we musicians have day jobs to support our passion. It is easy to hear the orchestral potential in this march that may have actually been arranged for a brass band at one time. The B section is only stated once, but it provides a very satisfactory conclusion to the bombastic opening strain. The harmonic changes in the trio display good musical judgment and skill, even if not fully realized. The interlude is every bit as good as those by better-known march kings. It should be noted that the Remick company, publishers of the march, did not engage in vanity publications. So their decision to publish this piece was likely based on the overall quality as well as the sales potential of citizens who proudly supported the boys in red. Throw in a Dalmatian and the scene is complete.
The Teddy Bear's Picnic
John W. Bratton - 1907
This charming piece, the most recognizable of the Teddy Bear craze tunes, has also proven to be the most durable. In fact, many are not aware that it was originally an instrumental. The lyrics (not included here for reasons pertaining to copyright and contextual historical presentation) were added in 1932, creating a children's tune that was an instant hit. Here is the true Teddy Bear story in short form.
In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt, more often known as Teddy, was in Mississippi to help negotiate a disputed border between that state and neighboring Louisiana. His hosts in Mississippi knew that he had a passion for hunting, and arranged many bear hunts for him. However, none of the critters came out to play that day much less over the following eight days. Finally, the advance team found and captured either (the story varies) a sickly bear or a bear cub which they beat and leashed to a tree. When Teddy arrived, he took pity on the creature and refused to shoot at such a helpless and frightened target. (It should be noted that the poor bear had been beat into submission, and was put out of its misery after the President left. His hide is now in the Smithsonian archives.) The story of this incident spread quickly, and on November 16, 1902, highly popular Washington Post cartoonist Clifford Berryman published the cartoon displayed here, cleverly entitled "Drawing the Line in Mississippi," a fitting pun referring to both the border dispute and the hunting incident. It was reprinted virtually everywhere and inspired Russian immigrants Morris and Rose Michtom of Brooklyn, New York, Candy store owners, to display a non-threatening jointed bear in their shop window, a new wrinkle on how bears were viewed in general. It was named "Teddy's Bear" and the word spread quickly. The Michtoms recognized the potential, and arranged to have more of the little bear tykes manufactured by their newly formed Ideal Novelty and Toy Company. So within two years there were Teddy Bears everywhere. Many songs followed, but this jaunty march with the unusual cover seemed to capture the feeling that Teddy Bear lovers everywhere were looking for. The interpretation here starts out with a little pre-march to the picnic area. Within the well-stated trio is an interlude or "dog fight" that is excluded from the song version, and is based in part on the introduction. The last statement of the trio is purely as I hear it, and just for fun. So don't go out in the woods today without this tune in your head.
Automobile Two Step
Rose De Haven - 1907
There were quite a few automobile-related pieces penned by women, and a fair amount of adventurous women driving automobiles in the early 20th century as well. This one, which is actually a piano rag in disguise, brilliantly captures the feel of a ride through a rural area, or perhaps between a couple of towns, complete with a "beep beep" suggested by the text in the bass line (augmented here with actual bulb horn beeps). I have used this piece, or music with a similar feel, when accompanying driving scenes in silent movies (back then they just called them "movies"). Categorizing this tune as a dance doesn't really do justice to what a great listening piece it is. The right hand in the A section also contains riffs used commonly in later piano rags of the 1910s. The same motive is used throughout each section in different manners. De Haven had already had several works published as of 1907, and even led her own group on the vaudeville circuit, but would retire from both writing and the stage within two years after she married.
Percy Wenrich - 1908
There was a true fascination in the waning days of the western movement with the stories about the "wild west" that showed up in many magazines or the books of authors like William Hart
. In truth, it was rarely as wild as the stories romanticized it to be. Still, where there was a buck to be made, many went for it. When Wenrich, a gifted tunesmith, wrote this tune there was still no definite conception of "western" music as was later presented in sound movies. Even some of the snippets that showed up in themed folios for silent film pianists in the 1910s didn't quite capture the feel of later "western" compositions. An intermezzo more than anything, Wild West
actually does a nice job of capturing the elements of a cowboy riding his horse, and even a little bit of "injun" interaction as stereotypes of the times allowed. The opening theme sets up a trotting rhythm, while the B section presents the open fifth chant often associated with Native American dance. The trio is typical for the time, and similar in some respects to that of Red Wing
, which was quite popular at the time. The well-crafted cover was a precursor of western art that was just emerging.
Best known for a few rags and many hit songs, Wenrich also composed a number of instrumentals throughout his career. His gift for catchy melodies is evident in nearly all of them, and most could be mastered relatively easily by the average pianist. One of a number of pieces with the same title or at least about the same topic, this one in particular captures the spirit of early racers like Barney Oldfield
, the first one to drive a Ford at over 60 mph in 1902, and even the dynamic Henry Ford
himself. While 6/8 marches tend to better emulate the gallop of a horse, this one manages to sustain the feel of a fast-paced (around 60 mph) race in this year before the famous brickyard in Indianapolis first opened for business. After a brief starting fanfare, the race is underway. The B section divides melodic duties between the hands. The trio starts out with a left hand sequence that I repeat an octave lower for fun. The D section is simple but easy enough to build on. Then as fast as it started, *boom*, it's over.
Blind Boone's Rag Medley #1 - Strains from the Alleys
John W. "Blind" Boone - 1908
Boone was a very gifted pianist who had a great deal of classical and technical training in his piano life, before being spirited away to the back alleys where ragtime, in its infancy, was being played and created. Possibly as talented as some of his Missouri counterparts, he initially wrote some "coon" songs, then spent a great deal of time traveling around the world. Although published in 1908, both medleys consist primarily of early ragtime and folk tunes. Many of the themes contained in the medleys are culled from local, rather than worldly influences. Although they are not outright rags, both medleys contain elements of the genesis of ragtime, which was very much a folk-driven music at first. This one, containing sparse lyrics, includes Make Me a Pallet On the Floor
, Oh No Babe
, and I Love Dat Yellow Man
. The arrangement is in 4/4 instead of the traditional 2/4, and as with both medleys, contains some rhythmic anomalies which have been dealt with here in a hopefully effective fashion.
Blind Boone's Rag Medley #2 - Strains from the Flat Branch
John W. "Blind" Boone - 1909
The "Flat Branch" was an area of Columbia, Missouri where many amateur song purveyors tried their wares in the bars and the alleys. Boone seemed to spend as much time in these areas as he did entertaining the elite in concert halls as a savant oddity (a blind colored man with talent). Although this is not a true rag, but rather a collection of songs that influenced ragtime, it still contains some light syncopation reminiscent of the genesis of the genre from the previous decade. It opens and closes with Carrie's Gone to Kansas City
, a well-known ditty of the day. I'm Alabama Bound
, the Mississippi Valley song that follows, was also released by itself as a song/rag that same year by Robert Hoffman
, and is considered to be the first blues-based tune ever in print. So They Say
and Oh! Honey, Ain't You Sorry
round out this medley. This arrangement contains a number of anomalies, such as incomplete measures and odd gaps. Much of what these pianists played was difficult to translate on paper, but the arranger was somewhat even more in the dark concerning this particular medley. Not having had the benefit of hearing Boone's piano rolls of this and similar material, I was a bit perturbed on how to interpret it, so it includes the weird gaps with the odd measures rounded out to 2/4. Alternate suggestions or demonstrations are welcome.
The Connecticut March
William Nassann - 1911
While ragtime was predominant in both popular song and instrumental pieces by 1911, there were still those from the "old school" who insisted on keeping traditions alive (much as the "Perfessor" does here). So there were a number of composers engaged in writing waltzes and marches, not the least of those being E.T. Paull
. Also, since piano did not translate well to early acoustic forms of recording, bands were often engaged to keep fresh material coming for owners of cylinder and disk players. Little else was found on this composer, but this march of his is certainly representative of the type favored by militia or college bands. While no direct association was found with either the state of Connecticut or any reference to a particular school within that state, it may well have been composed with such a purpose in mind. The Connecticut March
did see at least a couple of early recording dates, not the least of which was Prince's Band
, the house band for Columbia Records. While a piano reduction of a Sousa knockoff loses something in the translation, I have nonetheless tried to give the piece some "oomph" beyond the score. So if you don't like it, I guess I'll have to find a New Haven
to hide in. I Thank You.
The Speed King
Speed was, of course, both a fascination and progressively a way of life for early automobile owners. However, owing to horrible roads that were intended for slower horse-drawn vehicles, speeding was also a luxury, and early on a captivating sport. By the time this piece was composed, a speed of 100 miles an hour or better was being reached on race tracks and early proving grounds like the one at the Ford plant in Dearborn, Michigan. Streamlining of automobiles (and railroad locomotives) was also important, and historically from the early 1900s on, many innovations put into race cars trickled down into passenger vehicles as well, a trend which continues more than a century later. Morrison was a fine composer from Indianapolis, a city that was host to some great ragtime composers, early car manufacturers and, of course, the Indianapolis 500 mile race which began in 1911. This exciting little jaunt around the track is more than enough to get the circulation going.
Lincoln Highway (Piano Roll - US Word Roll 42196)
One of the great arts of the ragtime era and beyond was the direct arrangement of piano rolls. While some piano roll companies featured "hand-played" (though nearly always carefully edited) performances, others became well known for well-crafted products that utilized the full capabilities of the piano, even if they were beyond what one or even two people could play. This dynamic piece clearly demonstrates that paradigm by taking a simple Harry J. Lincoln march, penned in honor this first coast to coast predecessor of the modern U.S. Interstate (mostly U.S. 30, 20 and Interstate 80 now), and crafting it into a sumptuous display of pianolistic prowess. This roll and the march itself came out the same year that the Lincoln Highway (named after the 16th President of the United States) was one of the first wrapped into the new Federal Highway program, making coast to coast travel (Manhattan to San Francisco) in an automobile more viable, and also literally paving the way for future U.S. highways of the 1930s and 1940s chartered in 1926, including the famed Route 66. Lincoln, who had lived for decades in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, now resided in Philadelphia, less than a mile from an early alignment of the storied road that he shared his name with.
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