Art History and Appreciation
Scott Joplin, a well-known ragtime pianist, composed “The Entertainer” in 1902. The seemingly joyful and entertaining character of “The Entertainer” portrays the dimensions of entertainment. It is what it is, such that the title of the composition directly reveals its theme – fun, delight, happiness, entertaining, and being entertained. It seems to portray a story in tune about the life of an entertainer and the delight and pleasure that he brings to his audience. The entertainer is most happy when he is able to keep his audience amused. Moreover, it seeks to represent feelings and emotions of the entertainer and the entertained through gleeful music. It is that simple – the embodiment of entertainment, amusement, happiness, glee, and such.
Scott Joplin was a ragtime pianist. It was his background in culture that led him to become a musician. Joplin grew up in Texarkana in a black community, and people perceive blacks to be musically inclined. Music, for them is a sacred art where they can express their feelings and emotions. Moreover, the origins of ragtime music – the genre Joplin is best known for – may be traced to music of the black culture through its connections to Negro folk music. Ragtime music was supposed to express jubilation and elation felt by the black community. This influence brought music closer to Joplin’s heart. (Rosen, 2008) In addition, the historical origins of ragtime music are connected to African-American musical inclinations through the popular style of syncopation. African-American music is upbeat patterned from their folk music, with the use of the juba and banjos. Ragtime music is used for entertaining gatherings and dances. (Jones, 2006)
During his time, ragtime music was popular in the country. However, he doubted the duration of the genre’s popularity. With this in mind, Joplin began to explore other musical genres. Despite his interest in other musical genres, Joplin was able to release his musical compositions which were classified under the ragtime genre. (Rosen, 2008)
Understanding and appreciating the meaning of “The Entertainer” requires analysis of its musical elements. The tone of “The Entertainer” plays on various points, such that it flows from low tones, mid tones, and high tones effortlessly and uncontrived especially in the early parts of the musical piece. The tone is almost complex due to the musical movement from high tones to low tones, but the complexity of the music produces the gleeful pattern of music that is in sync with the theme of the musical composition. The rhythm is almost the same in character as the tone, unsteady and uneven, but continuous. The beat is moderate, and slows down slightly in the end. Since it is a piece of ragtime music, it may be compared to the rhythm of syncopation which is faint but still, entertaining in nature.
The melody and harmony of “The Entertainer” is attributed to Joplin’s musical genius. The arrangement of the notes, although extreme or complex, follows a good musical succession. Although the tone varies from low notes to high notes and vice versa, the composition of the musical piece is still organized. The complex succession of notes resulted to the theme and musical success of “The Entertainer” in terms of organization and musicality. The musical form of “The Entertainer” in general follows continuity, but at the same time contrast and complexity. “The Entertainer” is made up of two distinct parts wherein the tone, rhythm, melody, and harmony changes from two different points of view. However, there is still continuity and oneness in the thought between the two parts of the musical piece.
The prevailing musical genre in America during the 1900’s was ragtime music and jazz. However, it is known that ragtime music is the latter’s predecessor. (Southern Music in the 20th Century, 2008) During that time, the country was faced with civil wars, and people clang to religion as a means of easing the burden of the war. The civil war impressed upon the black population inequality and injustice. Due to this situation, religious music in churches especially in Baptist church hymns, majority of the members from the black community. Baptist church hymns, enjoyed by the black community, are closely related to ragtime music. Ragtime musicians also clang to this genre to provide entertainment as a means to amuse their people amidst the war and oppression. Perhaps, this influenced Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” spreading happiness and amusement despite their unfortunate situation. (Jones, 2005)
Jones, C. S. (2005). Scott Joplin. Retrieved October 17, 2008, from CNX. Website:
Joplin, S. (1902). The Entertainer. Retrieved October 17, 2008, from M Utopia Project. Website:
Rosen, I. (2008). Scott Joplin. Retrieved October 17, 2008, from All About Jazz. Website:
Southern Music in the 20th Century. (2008). 1900’s. Retrieved October 17, 2008, from Southern
Music Network. Website: http://www.southernmusic.net/1900.htm