solaceI’m currently reading and enjoying the book Electric Eden – Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music by Rob Young, and in it Young highlights various waves of folk music revival. Classical music’s appropriation of folk in the early years of the 20th century, while it inspired some great music, is nevertheless criticized for turning “authentic” folk songs into something safe and polite, more suitable for the drawing room and concert hall. (It’s a more complex argument than that – I recommend the book highly). That got me wondering when I chose this next piece for the blog. Did the Scott Joplin revival brought about by the classical pianist Joshua Rifkin in 1970 (intensified shortly afterwards by the use of Joplin’s music in the film The Sting) do the same thing for ragtime? I don’t think so – Joplin deliberately pushed ragtime forms towards classical piano style, to the extent that it’s been suggested that he did for rag what Chopin did for the mazurka (a folk-derived dance from Poland). It needed a performer such as Rifkin to come along to bring out the lyrical nature of the music.

The “Mexican serenade” Solace , the only piece Joplin wrote in tango, or more specifically “habanero” rhythm, remains my favorite example. Habanero is the quaver rhythm 123 123 12 played against a pulse of four beats in the bar. That may be why I like this piece, because the cross-rhythms appear more natural than the somewhat four-square, march-like rhythms that lie behind the syncopations of most rags. But I also like it because of the deepening sense of melancholy that builds up as each of the four distinct sections are gradually unveiled.

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