For whatever reason, this is the Last Rag.
For whatever reason, I get the idea of an old pianist returning to ragtime for the first time in years.
Classic ragtime is wonderful, but, as it is, it's not something you can dedicate a lot of time to for many years and still... I'm not sure how to put it... look up to it? At some point, you understand most of it, and if you want to get more you have to make more, like Bolcom did. If the old pianist had been playing ragtime for all those years, it would have been different. But this is an old pianist looking back to his youth, the last time he really played ragtime.
I guess he knows that it can't hold the same charm forever, so he's decided to play it one time, just once, and never again. He'd rather keep his love for it the way it was, I suppose.
He's been a very accomplished pianist for a great many years, and he's able to sit down and just play in a way that he never could before, with fantastically perfect harmonies that no classic rag has. But he's aware that this is his Last Rag, so at first he can't but play an incredible melancholy strain in a minor key.
As he goes on, he manages to do what he wanted to do.
He gets lost in the music.
He goes back to the old days.
The same love, with greater experience and talent.
He's able to go to the B section, and play just like he did as a young man, but better, more subtly, more “raggily”.
So, time kind of stops for that section.
When he goes back to the A section, it's with a greater awareness of what he's been missing. It's even more tragic the second time around, but he's also more absorbed in the music. The reprise of the A strain is much more a part of the rag as a whole than the first section was. This is where he starts to truly go crazy, just like he did playing rags as a kid, but with crazy new harmonies! Crazy new talent as he brings his years of experience to the ivories! That's what happens as he enters C. This is just crazy rag — not classic rag, but classical rag!
So, this is where time stops with a groove, and it kind of goes on for just the right amount of forever. But as it gets to the end, he's not ready yet. Some part of him still knows that this is his Last Rag. So, instead of ending on his crazy new harmonies in C, he goes back to B.
And he plays just like he did as a kid. He doesn't have to add his crazy new harmonies. He's back to his days as a kid, and he can enjoy it just like he did before.
But time doesn't stop this time around.
He wants to keep repeating it forever, but the rag has to end. Even the last one. He's playing B twice, and it's time for it to end.
But he decides to do it again.
He doesn't go to a fancy shmancy coda!
He's going to do it again!
It's time for the end, and he's going to keep going!
And then he doesn't.
Music is very subjective. It needs an anchor in order to carry meaning. But once you have that anchor, it manages to say a lot. By an “anchor”, I mean a connection to something I already understand.
For example, Bolcom's Last Rag. When I first heard it, I hadn't heard the title. My thought was something along the lines of, “Oh, that's pretty.” But then the person playing it kind of ground to a halt and had to start over. And in the break, our teacher — this was in studio class — told us the title of the piece. And with the fact that it was titled “Last Rag”, it all made sense.
The first time around, it was just kind of nondescript, but pretty.
Something about the finality of it?
It was in a minor key. But the first time I listened to it, ...
It didn't seem to be conveying any particular emotion, but when I realized it was a rag, it clicked.
The fact that it's a minor rag is a big deal. Rags are almost always in major keys. Another thing to notice is that the piece has very sophisticated counterpoint and harmonies. It's not intuitive on the page, but it's very comfortable on the piano.
When I play a song, I usually get a feeling that I don't when I listen to the song.
Oh, yeah, definitely. Here I'm describing what it was like to hear, not to play it.
So it makes sense in the hand positions and movements. Not awkward-feeling.
Well, it's really difficult, actually. You have to figure out what the right fingerings are. It's like a puzzle. But there's always a comfortable fingering.
I don't know exactly how to explain it. That's something that I only picked up on once I played it, by the way. All I knew when I heard it was that it made sense for piano.
As soon as you know the style, the A section, with its mode and tone, becomes very obviously melancholy.
When you get to the B section, it picks up into a regular rag again, but still with the same tempo, etc., as the beginning part. The minor section repeats again after the major B section, then goes into a major subdominant C section. Just plain rag again, but this section has much more complicated counterpoint, with the right and left hands trading off in a way they never do in classic rags.
I'm just telling you the actual things about the music that I noticed first, by the way. Then I'll tell you my interpretation.
Then it goes back to the simpler rag of the B section. Usually, it would just end with C, but instead, it ends rather abruptly at the end of the restatement of the B section.
So, now I have to tell you what all that meant.
For whatever reason, this is the Last Rag. ...