Scott Joplin, Joseph Lamb and James Scott are credited with being the top 3 ragtime piano music composers. They have been referred to as the "Big 3". The quality of Scott Joplin's music makes him the number one ragtime composer of all time. Others wrote a larger number of rags, but no one else had as many that were the magnificent quality that his rags were.
Joseph Lamb's rags are quite good too. But he didn't get as many published during the classic piano rag era. In terms of interest and quality I would rank him second to Joplin.
James Scott's compositions were true rags and quite robust. But some were a little tedious. So of course I rank him at number three. Even so, by his own right, he was still a great composer.
Make note there have been hundreds of rags written by hundreds of writers. On this page we take a brief look at the three greatest ragtime piano composers. Also view pictures, sheet music and covers, plus cd's.
Scott Joplin - Ragtime Piano Music
The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 helped introduce the American public to ragtime. By the late 1890's ragtime had become very popular. The Mississippi Rag, written by W. H. Krell and published in 1897 has been hailed as being the first published ragtime piano solo. Of course piano rags were played before 1897 but very few if any were written down.
So the publishing of Mississippi Rag was very important to the beginnings of the classic ragtime piano music era. Mississippi Rag is interesting but not really that impressive in terms of serious classic ragtime. The classic ragtime era did not really get off to a good start until 1899 when Scott Joplin got his Maple Leaf Rag published.
Joplin himself knew when he wrote Maple Leaf Rag that it would make him the "King of Ragtime Composers". It was a hit almost immediately selling over 70,000 copies of sheet music in about 6 months. That was quite impressive in those days. Maple Leaf firmly laid down the classic ragtime form that Scott and many more writers would use thereafter.
Scott Joplin (b. 1868 - d. April 1,1917) was born near Texarkana. In the early 1890's he moved to Sedalia Missouri. Although for a while he was a traveling musician. In Sedalia he played piano at the Maple Leaf Club (for black's only). Obviously this is where he got the name for the Maple Leaf Rag.
According to certain reports he played the piano very well. While others say he was quite mediocre. It really doesn't matter how good of a piano player he was because his most important gift was composition. And composing was his greatest passion. Lucky for us!
Scott Joplin had two marches and a waltz published in1896. But his first actual rag to come out was Original Rags in 1899, just before the Maple Leaf was published that same year. So, M. L. was not his first published ragtime piano solo. He actually wrote the M. L. in 1897 but it was turned down several times before being accepted by the John Stark Co.
Isn't that amazing! The Maple Leaf Rag was turned down!! Many times. What were they thinking?? Even Stark did not want to publish it at first. Maybe Joplin or someone else made him consider the income potential of this new style of music. One story suggests that Stark's kids pestered him into accepting it because they took a liking to Joplin.
John Stark liked ragtime. And surely he realized that Maple Leaf was a magnificent piece. Anyway for whatever reason, he published it, and the M. L. became the number one best seller in his catalog. I know he was happy! I have wondered why did he not accept all of Scott's rags? Because over the years he turned down some of Joplin's compositions.
It seems like it would have been an advantage to have owned all of Scott's copyrights. Possibly Stark was not interested in a ragtime opera that Scott was working on. This may have sometimes strained their relationship. Of course Joplin had to use various publishers and did a few himself.
The truth is ragtime piano music was basically brand new to most sheet music companies in the late 1800's. Throughout the 1890's it was slowly becoming more popular and at first most companies did not know just how popular ragtime would become.
Before long as publishing increased, there were dozens or maybe even hundreds of rag composers. And of course the Joplin pieces gave this business a huge shot in the arm. Soon, hundreds of instrumentals and songs by various composers were showing up on music store shelves.
Joplin also wrote several ragtime songs plus two operas. Over the years only his piano solos have remained popular. And only certain ones. There are 53 solo pieces with his name on them. Plus, an instructional piece. Even now people may not go out and buy his sheet music as much as they did when it first came out, the popularity of ragtime music has not really diminished that much.
I know this for sure because I play ragtime piano music. Many people, young and old, respond with delight when I play Scott Joplin's music. Or for that matter any other composer's rags. Nowadays Scott Joplin has been included in listings of classical composers.
If he were still alive he would be greatly delighted. It's no wonder that he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. To bad that it was posthumously.