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Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History (University of California Press, 1980)

I started my ragtime investigations not with ideas of producing a book, but as an academic exercise. I thought I knew what ragtime was; I had read the literature, I knew what writers had to say about the subject. Still needed, I had concluded, was only a more methodical exploration of the music -- in musical terms -- and a clarification of the ragtime’s evolution.

My study of the music proceeded smoothly, but readings from the period magazines and newspapers raised questions in my mind. Time and again I came across commentary of a ragtime that I had not associated with the music I was studying. How could I reconcile this discrepancy?

I asked that question of an established author in the field. He responded that the people of the ragtime years did not know what ragtime was.

While that point of view might resolve the discrepancies, it was not a road I could follow. A more reasonable evaluation was required, and the results of that evaluation turned my academic exercise into a book.

The book’s publication was met with a variety of reactions. Some critics grasped my intent and applauded where I was successful. Some nodded approvingly, occasionally for the wrong reasons. A few, from what I consider the reactionary camp of ragtimers, resented that I had disturbed their most fondly held beliefs and denounced me for ignorance. One particularly vituperative attacker wrote to me a year later with an apology. He had consulted readings in my notes and bibliography and came to realize that I was right. How could he remedy the damage done by his words? His words had done little, if any, damage, but I thanked him for his good wishes.

I. The Scope of Ragtime

Ragtime as Popular Song
The Ragtime Band
Ragtime for Other Instrumental Combinations
Ragtime Dance
Jazz and the Close of the Ragtime Era
II. Origins and Early Manifestations
Origins of the Music
Origins of the Term
III. The Ragtime Debate
Ragtime Texts
Lowering of Musical Tastes
The Attack
The Counterattack

IV. The Varieties of Ragtime Songs
Piano Renditions of Ragtime Songs
Ragging Unsyncopated Music
Original Ragtime Compositions for Piano
The Score versus Performance.
V. Early Piano Ragtime
Early Rags
Ragtime Syncopation
Ragtime Melodies
VI. Musical Sources of Early Ragtime
The March
The Cakewalk
Black Character Pieces and Patrols
Coon Songs
Caribbean Dance Rhythms
Other Source Attributions
VII. A Cohesive Style Develops
Loss of Ethnic Identity
Rhythmic Changes
Secondary Ragtime
Unifying Relationships
Development of “Measure 13” Conventions
VIII. The Erosion of a distinctive Style
Dotted Rhythms
Other Expansions of the Ragtime Language
Bluesy Rags and Raggy Blues
Novelty Piano
Other Applications and Misapplications

IX. The Historiography of Ragtime
Vocal Ragtime versus Piano Ragtime
The Ragtime Revival
X. A Consideration of Style
The Perception of Style
Classic Ragtime: Stark and Joplin
Classic Ragtime: Blesh and Janis
Classic Ragtime: Schafer and Riedel
Toward a Definition of Classic Ragtime
Other Ragtime Classifications

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Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History was in print with University of California Press from 1980 to 2000. The 1984 paperback edition is now available in an unaltered, on-demand reprint. It can be ordered from me. I also have a few remaining hardcover copies for sale. Email me for information.

Copyright (c) 2002-2016 Edward A. Berlin