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MMD > Archives > May 2001 > 2001.05.16 > 09Prev  Next


Scott Joplin, Marvin Hamlisch and Max Morath
By Lee Munsick

I must agree with the comment stated in 010515 MMD, "Unfortunately,
the world re-learned of Scott Joplin through "The Sting" and that has
written the tempo for most of us".

It is forgotten that Marvin Hamlisch used the Joplin rags to impart
a certain mood to the picture, which I think succeeded very well, even
though the timing of the eras was off.  Hamlisch realized that by the
time of the setting of "The Sting", the incredible earlier popularity
of Joplin's works was, shall we say, on the wane.  Actually, the word
is "forgotten".

It's also not widely known that Hamlisch himself frequently credited
Max Morath with practically single-handedly reviving ragtime, and for
drawing Hamlisch's attention to the genre.  Who knows how many other
of today's ragtimers have fortunately been so blessed?  And us?

Pardon the pun:  Max "banged away" for years in whatever media he could
find, educating the public about the beauty of ragtime.

A frequent guest on the ubiquitous Arthur Godfrey programs, he appeared
in two marvelous television programs, one a series about ragtime for
the predecessor of PBS.  Shockingly, there seem to be no copies of this
series extant.  What a loss!  Max's stage productions of "Max Morath at
the Turn of the Century" and his later programs are gems.

I have said this for years before any audience which might (or might
not) care:  We all owe Mr. Morath for the rebirth of interest in Scott
Joplin and his works.  I seriously doubt that Joplin's marvelous opera
"Tremonisha" would have been revealed without Morath's impetus, let
alone staged by a number of fine companies.  As it is, there was at
least one other Joplin opera which is apparently lost to the ages.
Who knows how many other outstanding pieces went thataway, because of
the early demise of the composer, and the ensuing loss of interest in
ragtime, coupled with its ruination by improper, albeit unknowing,
performances and tempo?

Max Morath started in his early days playing rags like most others,
as "honky-tonk".  Hugely influenced like everyone else, he listened
to non-reproducing player piano rolls.  These at best tend to sound
mechanical because of the method of recording.  Then of course this
was magnified by people playing the rolls too fast!

When he undertook his serious study of ragtime, Morath realized his
error. He slowed down, put more heart and feeling in his renditions.

In the three wonderful programs he did years ago for our Yesteryear
Museum in New Jersey, we had his LPs on sale in the lobby.  They sold
out, but I've since found other stores which I shall be offering for
sale in coming months!  Very likely the only remaining Morath LPs.

In one program, Max's wife came into the dressing room before the
program, very upset that one of the LPs was a very early one, and
crying "Max, they're selling the Epic record!"  My recollection is
that it was the early Epic LP, in which Max had still been the typical
ragtime "Honky".

I offered to withdraw the LP, and Max and I discussed it.  He thought
perhaps it was good for people to see that as he saw the light, as he
learned and grew in stature, he played as Joplin and his contemporaries
intended their works to be performed.  I agreed, and have made the
point ever since, whenever possible.

All of us Max Morath a great debt.  I don't know if he will see this,
and in any case he knows of my feelings.

We love you, Max -- God Bless you and your work!  And Marvin Hamlisch
too.  His audience was larger and still growing, and so his
contribution is certainly not insignificant!

Lee Munsick


(Message sent Wed 16 May 2001, 18:55:17 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Hamlisch, Joplin, Marvin, Max, Morath, Scott

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