In 1973, author Rudi Blesh wrote:
“If our very land and air could have been, essentially, all but lost, it should not be surprising that for more than half a century we forgot our most charming and most American classical music: ragtime.
“So, after the long reign of the jazz trumpets and in the very midst of Rock’s amplified guitars, we are finding all kinds of earlier American music: Gottschalk, Sousa, Billings, Ives. But especially, we are rediscovering that syncopated, tonal art nouveau jewellery called (as if Mark Twain had named it) “ragtime,” that syncopated fin-de-siècle keyboard music that once flowed as pure as did our rivers.
“Ragtime is a rich and rewarding find. It was the first native music thoroughly to encompass the contradictory American spirit – lively yet romantic, sanguine yet pensive, energized yet tender, adventurous yet irenic – a spirit as resistant to explanation as it is palpable and unmistakable when perfectly expressed. Ragtime was the first native music to include in creation and performance both Black and White. Ragtime was both like and unlike Europe, with Continental qualities and their antithesis. Strangest of all, it came from no conservatories nor, even, from studios however humble. It bloomed in the lurid nights of those inner cities of the 1890s, the infamour red light districts of brothels, saloons, casinos and wine rooms.”
Adapted from Blesh, R. (1973) Classic Piano Rags, Dover Publications, New York.
The playlist below includes four classic rags recorded by the Singapore Guitar Quartet between 1985 and 1991. To our knowledge, this is the first time that these pieces have been presented on guitar in their original (uncompressed) form.
Click play to begin. Mouse over video to show playlist controls.