Stravinsky – one of many composers who were influenced by American jazz – wrote his Piano Rag Music in 1919, by which time jazz had gained quite a European following, especially in Paris. This one was also written for Arthur Rubinstein. The piece is a prime example of the cubist influence in music – in that the composer fragments the harmonic and rhythmic elements of ragtime, then restructures them so as to achieve sort of a three-dimensional “collage” effect in music, much as the original cubists (like Picasso) did with images. He further added shifting accents to the already syncopated rhythms, as well as a bitonal approach to harmony. While the essential format, musical characteristics and spirit of the ragtime genre remain readily apparent, Stravinsky transformed it all into something much more complex, abstract and stylized than, say, Scott Joplin’s original piano rags. Still, listeners will find the music’s ready wit as well as its almost improvisatory, start-and-stop nature to be fascinating and fun.
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