Garibaldi to Syncopation: Bruto Giannini and the Curious Case of Scott Joplin’s Magnetic Rag

Marcello Piras


The richness and complexity of layered meanings hidden inside Scott Joplin's opera, Treemonisha leaves one wondering. Is it an exception in his opus? Or did he weave a similarly thick web of symbols in other pieces as well?

It is known that The Crush Collision March and Wall Street Rag bear headings pointing to the specific events described—a deliberate train collision organized in September 1896 and the moods unleashed by the October 1907 stock market panic. Also, The Cascades makes reference to actual cascades built for the 1904 St. Louis World Exposition and shown on the original cover. Such facts suggest a consistent approach on Joplin’s part. If so, more evidence might exist.

Actually, this writer detected descriptive elements in Solace and Country Club; their decipherment was delivered in a video-recorded presentation but not yet committed to paper. The logical next step was, tackling the daunting task of systematically decoding all of Joplin’s titles and covers to go beyond isolated cases and seek evidence of a recurring approach. This research yielded a rich harvest. Its crux, although cumbersome, will ultimately require a comprehensive exposition, as it calls for a unified discussion.

However, Magnetic Rag has a somewhat separate story, that calls for a separate treatment. Readers are thus invited to take this essay as a first morsel of a bigger—and hopefully tempting—musicological banquet.

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