Marches Madness from NPR Classical

It’s that time of year when everyone seems to be filling out brackets and preparing for the basketball frenzy that is the NCAA Tournament.  Lest you think the headline of this blog was a typo, “Marches Madness” is exactly what it sounds like – a month full of favorite marches from NPR Classical.

One march in particular caught my attention, because it comes from what most of us would consider an unlikely source — Scott Joplin.

Joplin is, of course, best known for ragtime. His Maple Leaf Rag was the first piece of sheet music to sell over a million copies,but he was far too ambitious to settle for simply turning out popular tunes.  He spent much of his too short life trying to stage operas.  

According to NPR, his first opera was A Guest of Honor, the story of Booker T. Washington dining at the White House with Theodore Roosevelt. Joplin formed an opera company and took the opera on the road, but the receipts were stolen by someone associated with the company. Unable to cover payroll or pay the boarding house where the company was staying, all of Joplin’s possessions, including the music, were confiscated to be sold. The score was never registered with the Library of Congress and is lost.

The opera for which copies do exist, Treemonisha, would never make it to the stage, in spite of the it’s favorable review in American Musician and Art Journal, an important music magazine. According to scottjoplin.org, “In the June (1911) issue, the magazine published a lengthy review of the score, declaring it to be the most American opera ever composed, far more so than Horatio Parker’s Mona, which had just won a $10,000 ‘American opera’ prize from the Metropolitan Opera.”

Treemonisha resurfaced in 1970, a few years before the film The Sting would resurrect Joplin’s fabulous music.  Tragically, Joplin died before Treemonisha ever made it to the stage.  It has been staged numerous times since then, most notably by the Houston Opera Company, which you can see below performing the march finale.

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