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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Steph's thoughts on Joplin

Scott Joplin's closing material in "Pine Apple Rag" sounds like an itch that you can't quite scratch because you've been in a coma for 68 preceding measures and are now in an uncomfortable public situation and you can't get away to scratch yourself silly. Joplin uses a flat VI in measure 77 to create tension, which he only intensifies by creating a thick texture, doubling the root and the fifth in the right hand- what a drama queen. Joplin also resolves the flat VI to a I64 chord in measure 79, but uses an f natural embellishment to keep the tension alive before moving to a IV7 in measure 81, Joplin now emphasizes the f natural even more by placing it in the top voice. He finishes measure 81 with a minor iv, but you know that there's more material coming because of the f natural which leads to the I64 in the next measure. With the arrival of the V64 in measure 83, as a listener, you're relieved, thinking it will be over the minute tonic comes to the rescue. Much to your dismay, Joplin just teases you with his first ending going to tonic but using that f natural to lead into a repeat of the section.
At this point, the f natural feels like a wool sweater on your bare skin in mid-July. You're sweating, itchy, and having an awkward conversation with overly friendly relatives you've never met and who happen to be Michael Bolton fanatics. Somehow, you just can't end the conversation and make a clean escape. Joplin's mixture chords are those relatives, and the recurring f natural- that's your wool sweater. You sit through one more repeat of Joplin's closing knowing that with each f natural comes another rant on how wonderful Michael Bolton's rendition of "When a Man Loves a Woman" is. When the relatives finally go home and Joplin ends "Pine Apple Rag" with a perfect authentic cadence, you run screaming to your air-conditioned room, rip off that wool sweater and find your hairbrush so you can give yourself a good scratching in front of the breeze. After all those hurried mixture chords and embellishment, it feels pretty good to hear the familiar dominant-tonic arrive.
If I were a talented enough pianist to play this piece, I would accent the downbeat of measures with mixture chords such as the flat VI just to let listeners know that they're in an awkward situation with these relatives and in a pretty big hurry to get the visit over with. I would also try to emphasize the f naturals which would hopefully give the listeners the same idea I have: the constant teasing by prolonging harmonies or leading to more material feeling like the wool sweater you can't remove. I would also take into consideration Joplin's voicing. Why did he use such a thick texture on those mixture chords? I hear it in the sense that he's trying to create some immediate, hurried discomfort that will not be resolved any time soon- you have to wait until the second ending to get the true, undisturbed tonic.

1 comment:

Scott said...

M. 81 is a ii65 - iiΓΈ65, the G is a suspension.

I never want to hear you worry about not having any relevant thoughts again. Good analogies, just watch out that you don't get too enamored by them and lose sight of what you want to communicate. And good ideas about performance.