STRAVINSKY AND RAGTIME

Piano-rag-music. Dédié à Arthur Rubinstein (1919).

London and Geneva, J. & W. Chester, [1920].

Large 4to, pp. 10, [2], plate no. J. W. C. 2061; lightly toned; original wrappers; a little soiled.

£9500

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First edition, first printing of this important work for solo piano. This copy has been extensively revised and annotated by Stravinsky in pencil and red crayon and was perhaps the composer’s own performance copy. The annotations include notes added to chords, written-out arpeggiations and dynamic instructions, and provide significant clues regarding the performance and overall conception of the work.

Stravinsky wrote Piano-Rag-Music to encourage Arthur Rubinstein to play contemporary music. Rubinstein was not tempted, however, and the work was instead premiered by José Iturbi in Lausanne on 8 November 1919. Far from obviously parodying ragtime, a genre that was enormously popular in the first two decades of the twentieth century, Piano-Rag-Music is notable for its systematic avoidance of ragtime cliché and may be characterised rather as a cubist interpretation of the style. ‘As regards Stravinsky’s specific “problem” in constructing the Piano-Rag-Music, a non-octatonic, closely related set family, functioning as architectural determinants, seems to have provided the solution. Every detail is thoughtfully plotted in relation to the whole. Whatever the stream of surface events imparts, substructural erosion is nowhere detectable. The clever disguise of a rhapsodic improvisation is uncovered. Even in thrashing out a barroom rag, Stravinsky remained ever the vigilant guardian of both an ordered content and process’ (Charles M. Joseph, ‘Structural coherence in Stravinsky’s Piano-rag-music’, in Music Theory Spectrum, vol. 4 (1982), pp. 76–91 at p. 91).

Stravinsky himself obviously derived great pleasure from playing it: ‘What fascinated me the most of all in the work was that the different rhythmic episodes were dictated by the fingers themselves. My own fingers seemed to enjoy it so much that I began to practice the piano simply for my own personal satisfaction . . . . Fingers . . . are great inspirers, and, in contact with a musical instrument, often give birth to subconscious ideas which might otherwise never come to life (Stravinsky, Autobiography p. 82).

Kirchmeyer 32-1.

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