Monday, October 12, 2009

Contest Literature-Graceful Ghost Rag

Who is the composer and where is he from? Named 2007 Composer of the Year by Musical America, and honored with multiple Grammy Awards for his ground-breaking setting of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, William Bolcom is a composer of cabaret songs, concertos, sonatas, operas, symphonies, and much more. He was awarded the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Twelve New Etudes for piano. He is originally from Seattle. In 2007 Bolcom was feted in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, with a two and a half-week festival of his music, including master classes, recitals, and concerts of his organ and chamber music. Bolcom taught composition at the University of Michigan from 1973-2008. Named a full professor in 1983, he was Chairman of the Composition Department from 1998 to 2003 and was named the Ross Lee Finney Distinguished University Professor of Composition in the fall of 1994. He retired from teaching in 2008.
What else have they written that we may already know or have heard? Did you go to the festival?
What is the title? What does it mean? It was written in 1970. It is lovely, wistful and elegant piano "rag" in the exotic key of B-flat minor called "Graceful Ghost," - one of a set of three "Ghost Rags." Few ragtime pieces outside Scott Joplin's oeuvre can boast such a beautiful melody, and some of Bolcom's adventurous progressions are at once astonishing and perfectly natural.
What time period is it from? contemporary
What about this piece do you like? (These are student answers, remember) There is a graceful quality, but I was expecting something, well, more spooky.
What sounds challenging? The ragtime genre is a challenge who want to play too fast, or do not have hand capacity to reach the octaves (in both hands in this piece).
The following are two examples of ways to play this piece. There are more variations out there, a lot of tempi choices, including an arrangement by George Winston. The first is with repeats played very differently from the prime section. The second is with a swing rhythm that is not usually associated with ragtime. We will have great discussions about this if you choose this selection.

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