Friday, October 28, 2011

Sunday Classics preview: Scott Joplin, "The Entertainer"


Initially as piano solist, then as arranger, Marvin Hamlisch gave us two very different takes on Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" for the opening credits of George Roy Hill's glorious 1973 film The Sting.
[The Sting] is noted for its musical score -- particularly its main melody, "The Entertainer," a piano rag by Scott Joplin, which was lightly adapted for the movie by Marvin Hamlisch (and became a top-ten chart single for Hamlisch, when released as a single from the film's soundtrack). The film's success encouraged a surge of popularity and critical acclaim for Joplin's work.
-- from the Wikipedia article on the film

by Ken

It's pointed out, rightly enough, that The Sting takes place in the heart of the Great Depression, in the '30s, whereas the heyday of ragtime was the '00s. Scott Joplin, who was born around 1867, died in 1917. "The Entertainer" was written in 1902. But even in 1973 moviegoers weren't exactly history buffs, and nearly 40 years farther down the pike (my goodness, can the film really be that old?) there are probably still fewer living souls who know the difference between the '00s and the '30s. Never mind that the world had, after a fashion, survived one world war and begun the run-up to a second. The Joplin music gave the film a "period" feel that delighted throngs of viewers.

There's no question that, as the Wikipedia article says, The Sting (including the Best Picture Oscar) "encouraged a surge of popularity" for Joplin's work, but I'm not so sure about a surge of "critical acclaim," since by 1973 the Joplin revival had taken hold solidly. The landmark for me was the release of the then 26-year-old Joshua Rifkin's first Nonesuch LP of Joplin, recorded in September 1970. (There would eventually be three Joplin LPs.) After the click-through we're going to hear two more takes on "The Entertainer," including Rifkin's.



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