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Before there was jazz, there was ragtime, and the undisputed king of that slightly more relaxed genre was Scott Joplin (1868-1917), who became famous after the 1899 publication of his "Maple Leaf Rag." His upbringing in a musical family led Joplin to try his hand at composing waltzes and marches, but it was his rags that would win him acclaim. Far from the big-city bustle, Joplin (who was born in Texarkana, Texas and eventually settled in Sedalia, Missouri) developed a sophisticated and subtle music that shows its age in a most delicious and dignified way. "Sunflower Slow Drag" was composed in collaboration with a protégé, Scott Hayden, who was related to Joplin through family ties with the older musician's first wife, Belle. This "song without words" is, despite its title, one of Joplin's most energetic scores.

The original music was composed (and published) for solo piano, but about ten years later it appeared in a collection of arrangements (known affectionately as the Red Back Book) entitled Standard High-Class Rags. Published by the Stark Music Company of St. Louis around 1912, the set included parts for flute/piccolo, clarinet, cornet, trombone, first and second violin, cello, bass, piano, and drums. Its quaint arrangements evoke an era when minstrel shows and cakewalks were the "nostalgic" music of the day.

- Dennis Bade is the Philharmonic's Associate Director of Publications.