On nearly every piece of the original Scott Joplin sheet music, he
notes: "Do not play fast," "not fast," or "Don't play this fast.
It is never right to play rag-time fast." On the "Swipesy" cake walk
(actually written by Arthur Marshall) it merely says, "slow."
In his publication of "School of Ragtime," He gives exercises and then
states, "Play slowly until you catch the swing, and never play ragtime
fast at any time." "We wish to say here, that the "Joplin ragtime"
is destroyed by careless or imperfect rendering, and very often good
players lose the effect entirely, by playing too fast. They are
harmonized with the supposition that each note will be played as it
is written, as it takes this and also the proper time divisions to
complete the sense intended." (Exact quote, including punctuation.)
Also in a biographical sketch in "Scott Joplin Collected Piano Works"
Rudi Blesh remarks that Joplin complained that virtuosos often ruined
his music by showing off playing it at great speed.
I think this pretty well answers the question about how Joplin's rag
was intended to be played. My own grandmother heard him when she was
a young girl (about 1900) and her own renditions were always rather
slower than you hear it played today. She was basically a classical
violinist and not primarily a pianist, however.
He apparently never recorded, but did cut some player piano rolls a
year before he died. He had become very disorganized and disoriented.
After a competent version of "Maple Leaf Rag," for the Connorized
label, among others, he attempted a recording for Uni-record Melody
label two months later, which was "completely distressing to hear."
He died of end stage syphilis. (Dementia paralytica-cerebral) April 1,