Section from chapter 1919: Jazz on Tour   [ return to introduction ]

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By Mervyn Cooke • 325 illustrations,
82 in full color • 256 pages • 8-1/2 x 8-1/2"
Cloth • ISBN 0-7892-0399-5 • U.S. $45.00
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Picasso's front-cover design for the piano reduction of Stravinsky's Ragtime for Eleven Instruments. [ view larger image ] (Succession Picasso DACS, 1997)
Stravinsky's "Stolen" Rags

The Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, a self-styled musical "kleptomaniac" whose genius could transform almost any compositional source material into a highly original work of art, began to borrow from ragtime in 1918 when he included a ragtime-style dance in his music-theater piece The Soldier's Tale. Stravinsky's friend, the Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet, had visited the US two years before and brought back the sheet music for various rags, and it was Ansermet's glowing reports of Sidney Bechet' clarinet playing in London in 1919 that stimulated Stravinsky to compose his Three Pieces for Clarinet in 1919.

Stravinsky wrote two more works in this period that were heavily influenced by ragtime. His Piano-Rag-Music for solo piano, conceived for Artur Rubinstein in 1919, demonstrates how the cross-rhythms and ostinatos typical of ragtime complemented Stravinsky's own compositional preoccupations at the time. In Ragtime for Eleven Instruments, first performed in 1920 (• p. 44) his unorthodox instrumental ensemble included the distinctive cimbalom, a folk instrument from eastern Europe played with hammers, which was used by the composer to represent the clattering of a honky-tonk piano.

Stravinsky was for a time interested in mechanical pianos, and in 1945 he composed his Ebony Concerto for Woody Herman in emulation of the big-band style then fashionable.