The Music of Marvin Hamlisch — Part 4 — Scott Joplin and The Sting (1973)

The piano player in me had found a long-lost brother in Scott Joplin.”  — Marvin Hamlisch (1944–2012)

 

The Plot: The Sting is a 1973 American caper film set in September 1936, involving a complicated plot by two professional grifters (Paul Newman and Robert Redford) to con a mob boss (Robert Shaw).

The Hook:

The Sting - The Hook1

The story was inspired by real-life cons perpetrated by brothers Fred and Charley Gondorff and documented by David Maurer in his book The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man.

The Wire:

The Sting - The Wire

The title phrase refers to the moment when a con artist finishes the “play” and takes the mark’s money. If a con is successful, the mark does not realize he has been “taken” (cheated), at least not until the con men are long gone. The film is played out in distinct sections with old-fashioned title cards, with lettering and illustrations rendered in a style reminiscent of the Saturday Evening Post.

The Sting:

The Sting - The Sting

The film is noted for its anachronistic use of ragtime, particularly the melody “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin, which was adapted for the movie by Marvin Hamlisch (and 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 popular and critical acclaim for Joplin’s work.

The Music of Scott Joplin and The Film The Sting :

With Joplin’s death in 1917, the ragtime rage subsided but experienced a phenomenal rebirth in the 1970’s when celebrated musicians and symphony orchestras performed his “rags.” Joplin set the standard for ragtime compositions and played a key role in the development of ragtime music.

Composer Marvin Hamlisch did arrangements of Scott Joplin’s music for the movie The Sting (1973)

While the film “The Way We Were” was in post-production, I got a message from director George Roy Hill. I had loved his Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and he said he needed to talk to me right away.

–Marvin, it’s not an original score I need. All I want you to do is adapt some music for me.”

–I thought: Please… I don’t do adaptations. I’m a composer. I write my own music. But once again I heeded the biblical injunction that “pride goeth before a fall.”

I quickly realized that this was one of the best pictures I had seen in years.  David Ward had written a witty, stylish script, George Roy Hill had directed it faultlessly, and Newman and Redford were the best screen couple in years.

Paul Newman and Robert Redford

Paul Newman and Robert Redford

From the beginning, George Roy Hill’s idea had always been to use the ragtime music of Scott Joplin.

I was well aware that there were other musicians who knew the music of Scott Joplin far more intimately than I, men who had popularized Joplin’s famous piano “rags.” But I knew how to write for film, marrying music to the length of each scene, and I could also play the piano “rags”- those Juilliard piano lessons were about to pay off.

The real fun came for me when we started recording the soundtrack. We didn’t have a full-size orchestra, as with “The Way We Were,” but we had eight or nine great musicians, with yours truly at the keyboard. We spent hours making ragtime; the piano player in me had found a long-lost brother in Scott Joplin.

Watch: Sample of Musical Adaptation for The Sting (Film 1973)

the Sting Musical Adaptation

 

The music for The Sting was getting a lot of mention in the reviews. (Who would have guessed that a ragtime single would bounce to the top of the charts?) Of course, there were critics. Some carped that Scott Joplin’s music was out of place in a movie set in another era. The film was set in the thirties; the Joplin “rags” were written around the turn of the century. I had been aware of this. I knew this might cause a problem for some purists. But the music and movie had a great kinship-a good humor and high spirits. It received many nomination and won many Oscars” — Marvin Hamlisch.

(READ: Oscars won by the film The Sting at the 46th Academy Awards)

Haircut-Pinnaple Rag

The Music for The Sting: The Joplin’s rags, from early in the 1900’s, were adapted to evoke the 1930’s Era to this Gangster movie. The two Jazz Age style tunes written by Hamlisch are chronologically much closer to the film’s time period.

1.“Solace” (Joplin) — orchestral version

2.“The Entertainer” (Joplin) — orchestral version

3.“The Easy Winners” (Joplin)

4.“Hooker’s Hooker” (Hamlisch)

5.“Luther” — same basic tune as “Solace”, re-arranged by Hamlisch as a dirge

6.“Pine Apple Rag” / “Gladiolus Rag” medley (Joplin)

7.“The Entertainer” (Joplin) — piano version

8.“The Glove” (Hamlisch) — a Jazz Age style number; only a short segment was used in the film

9.“Little Girl” (Madeline Hyde, Francis Henry) — not in the final cut of the film

10.“Pine Apple Rag” (Joplin)

11.“Merry-Go-Round Music” medley (traditional) — “Listen to the Mocking Bird” was the only portion of this track that was actually used in the film, along with the second segment of “King Cotton”, a Sousa march, which was not on the album

12.“Solace” (Joplin) — piano version

13.“The Entertainer” / “The Ragtime Dance” medley (Joplin)

RELATED CONTENT:

The Music of Marvin Hamlisch — Part 1 — Film: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

The Music of Marvin Hamlisch — Part 2 — Film: Sophie’s Choice (1982)

The Music of Marvin Hamlisch — Part 3 — Film: The Swimmer (1968)

The Music of Marvin Hamlisch — Part 5 — They’re Playing Our Song (Musical, 1978)

 

SCOTT JOPLIN

 

Scott Joplin was a composer, a pianist and a music teacher.

He was the second of six children born to Giles Joplin and Florence Givens. (Born around 1867–1868)

Joplin grew up in Texarkana, TX where he formed a vocal quartet, and taught mandolin and guitar. During the late 1880s he decided to travel around the American South as an itinerant Musician. He traveled along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to St. Louis. He went to Chicago for the World’s Fair of 1893, which played a major part in making ragtime a national craze: By the early 1900’s Joplin became the creator of a “ragtime madness” that swept the world.

The syncopated melodies and richness of his lyrical ragtime tunes were so well respected technically that they influenced even classical composers such as Stravinsky and Debussy.

During his brief career, (he died at age 49), he wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas.

MAPLE LEAF RAG:

His most famous piece, “Maple Leaf Rag”, published in 1899, propelled Joplin to massive fame and reputedly sold over a million copies of sheet music, an unheard of feat!

Musical structure of Maple Leaf Rag:

AA BB A CC DD 

Maple Leaf Rag” is a multi–strain ragtime march with athletic bass lines and offbeat melodies. Each of the four parts features a recurring theme and a striding bass line with copious seventh chords. The piece may be considered the ‘archetypal rag’ due to its influence on the genre; its structure was the basis for many other famous rags.

Maple Leaf Rag Seventh Chord Resolution:

Joplin-Piano animation Maple Leaf Rag

 

A pervasive sense of lyricism infuses his work, and even at his most high-spirited, he cannot repress a hint of melancholy or adversity…He had little in common with the fast and flashy school of ragtime that grew up after him.” — Joshua Rifkin, a leading Joplin recording artist

Joplin and his fellow ragtime composers rejuvenated American popular music by creating exhilarating and liberating dance tunes, changing American musical taste.

Joplin’s music had helped to “revolutionize American music and culture” by removing Victorian restraint.”  — Biographer Susan Curtis

WATCH — From film: Scott Joplin. (Dueling piano competition)

After the publication of the Maple Leaf Rag, Joplin was soon being described as “King of ragtime writers.”

This new art form, the classic rag, combined Afro-American folk music’s syncopation and nineteenth-century European romanticism, with its harmonic schemes and its march-like tempos. In the words of one critic, “ragtime was basically… an Afro-American version of the polka, or its analog, the Sousa-style march. Joplin wrote his rags as “classical” music in miniature form in order to raise ragtime above its “cheap bordello” origins and produced work which opera historian Elise Kirk described as “…more tuneful, contrapuntal, infectious, and harmonically colorful than any others of his era.

In the hands of authentic practitioners like Joplin, ragtime was a disciplined form capable of astonishing variety and subtlety…Joplin did for the rag what Chopin did for the mazurka. His style ranged from tones of torment to stunning serenades that incorporated the bolero and the tango.”   –Joplin’s historian Bill Ryerson

 

By 1904, Joplin married Freddie Alexander of Little Rock, Arkansas, (his second marriage). To this young woman he had dedicated The Chrysanthemum. She died ten weeks after their wedding.

Joplin’s first work copyrighted after Freddie’s death, Bethena, was described by one biographer as “an enchantingly beautiful piece that is among the greatest of ragtime waltzes”.

This compositon was also used in the film: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

 

The Ragtime Dance (1906)

The Ragtime Dance - Joplin - Piano

The Magnetic Rag (1914) (Listen to version by Perlman/Previn)

Scott Joplin wrote more than 40 piano rags, but he also wrote two operas; A Guest of Honor and Treemonisha. A Guest of Honor was performed in Joplin’s lifetime, but since then the music has been lost. Treemonisha was never performed while Joplin was alive, but it has been performed since then. Joplin also wrote a symphony, but the music has been lost.

READ: Scott Joplin Body of Work (List of compositions by Scott Joplin)

Listen to more “Rags”:  Elite Syncopations   Solace   Palm Leaf Rag   Sunflower Slow Drag   The Cascades

 

OPERA :    T R E E M O N I S H A

Treemonisha was set in the post-bellum period, after the war and emancipation. The freed men and women were poverty stricken and being taken advantage of by hucksters peddling goofer dust. Schooling was not available, and Treemonisha was the only educated member of the community. She challenged the hucksters and was chosen as the loader of the community, to help them progress.

Watch the finale with lyrics from Marching Onward:

Treemonisha Opera

LISTEN - Treemonisha — Opera Recording:

The plot of Treemonisha is that education is the way forward, not the old superstitions.

The setting is after the Civil War.

The main point:

EDUCATION makes us strong!

Joplin self published Treemonisha in 1911, during the ragtime era.

They are not making light of it: when Scott Joplin wrote this in the early part of the 20th century he was trying to encourage his people to “march onward”. This is a very optimistic and uplifting story.

READ: T R E E M O N I S H A

Scott Joplin — additional awards and recognition:

1970: Joplin was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame by the National Academy of Popular Music.

1976: Joplin was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for his special contribution to American music.

1977: Motown Productions produced Scott Joplin, a biographical film starring Billy Dee Williams as Joplin, released by Universal Pictures.

1983: the United States Postal Service issued a stamp of the composer as part of its Black Heritage

Stamp by The U. S. Postal Service

commemorative series.

1989: Joplin received a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

2002: a collection of Joplin’s own performances recorded on piano rolls in the 1900s was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. The board annually selects songs that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Those few who realized his greatness bowed their heads in sorrow. This was the passing of the king of all ragtime writers, the man who gave America a genuine native music.” jazz historian Floyd Levin

 

 

Scott Joplin (1867–1917)

 

14 comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful information on Scott Joplin — After recently pulling his piano music book off the shelf and enjoying reading through the pieces it’s such a pleasure to learn more about him. What an amazing composer and person! I was noticing how interesting the musical ‘form’ of the rags are and loved seeing the explanation in your notes. Died way too young. Thank you for your wonderful compositions as well Mr. Hamlisch! Best wishes and continued success!

    • Thanks to the late Mr. Hamlisch for continuing to push for greater appreciation for the still under-appreciated Scott Joplin. As a resident of Queend, NY, I’m aware of another connection between Hamlisch and Joplin. Marvin Hamlisch was a graduate of the great music department of Queens College in NY. Scott Joplin has an even more permanent connection to Queens, as he is interred at St. Michael’s Cemetery in Queens. Every May there is a free concert of Joplin’s music held near his grave site, along with a free barbeque there. Somehow it all fits the joyfulness of his music. God bless Mr. Hamlisch and Mr. Joplin!!

  2. Sad to find out today about Marvin Hamlisch passing away. But, one can imagine the roushing piano jam sessions there will be in Heaven when Scott Joplin and Marvin get together.

  3. Thank you Marvin Hamlisch for spreading this music around so everyone with a radio had a chance to hear the music of Scott Joplin…You made so much beautiful music while you were here on Earth…Your contributions will be remembered.

  4. When I first heard “The Entertainer” played by Marvin Hamlish back in the early 70’s it cemented my life-long love of ragtime piano. RIP Marvin and thank you for all the music :-)

  5. For his resurrection of interest in Scott Joplin, Msrvin Hamlish would be recognized as a great American musician. However, that was only one part of works that defined a generation. This a much better World for Marvin having resided in it. God bless!

  6. I was 12 in the 70s when “The Sting” came to México, for many years I believed The Entertainer was Hamlisch´s composition until I found otherwise, but the real impact in my life as a profesional pianist was the influence of ragtime as an important musical tool for understanding and developing rythm skills, had not been for Hamlisch, I would not known this wonderful music!

  7. In addition to his legacy of music and song, what Marvin did for ragtime was to put its popularity back on the map in the mid-1970s. Everyone wanted ‘The Entertainer’, ‘Solace’ and the wonderful ragtime repertoire. Thanks to Marvin and his work for “The Sting”, to this day, piano students clamor for ‘The Entertainer’, ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ and more. The torch will continue to glow with his spirit and will surely for many years to come.

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