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Article Christensen's Ragtime Review

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Christensen's Ragtime Review: Vol. 1. No. 1 (Chicago: Axel Christensen, December 1914). Performing Arts Reading Room, Library of Congress.

The term "ragtime" took on new shades of meaning in the first decades of the 20th century. Originally defined as the "classic rag" style of African-American piano players in the 1880s and 1890s, it described a unique style in which the pianist "ragged" or syncopated the rhythms. Later, however, "ragtime" came to signify a world of popular entertainment that had been sterilized for general audiences. The "naughty" side of ragtime became connected to "jass."

Christensen's Ragtime Review, published from 1914 to 1918, demonstrated how the term "ragtime" became more inclusive. Primarily a vehicle for the many publishing and pedagogical enterprises of Axel Christensen, the Review dubbed Scott Joplin "the King of Ragtime." Christensen appropriated another noble title for himself--"the Czar of Ragtime."

Christensen's Ragtime Review advertised eponymous schools where one might go to learn to play ragtime. These establishments were generally pictured as prim and proper, well-lit studios peopled with decently-clad female instructors--a far cry from the smoke-filled saloons that gave ragtime its start and original reputation. Subscribers could try out pieces of music (many composed by the Christensen himself) that were included in each issue. Advertisements offered collections of compositions for amateurs as well as for working professionals who could purchase books of music that could be performed as accompaniment for motion pictures ("special piano music for Western Pictures, Lively Scenes, Mysterious, Burglar Scenes, Quarrels...") and for vaudeville theaters.

Since the Review was almost entirely a marketing venture, other musical firms paid to be included, among them John Stark & Son, the publisher of Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag." Non-musical ads ranged from notices for Rand McNally Index Pocket Maps with Auto Roads to opera singer Geraldine Farrar's endorsement for Kosmos Cream and Face Powder.

The photographs and illustrations of the "Czar" were in and of themselves telling statements. In many ads, Christensen is depicted in formal attire, seated at a grand piano. As his hands fly over the keyboard, his right foot is placed behind the stool, bracing his body as he tears through a performance. Even the tails of his tuxedo fly up from the motion of his playing. The choice of piano (a grand rather than an upright), his attire (a tux), and his appearance (in profile, he is made to look quite like illustrations of the composer/conductor Gustav Mahler) demonstrate that ragtime was perfectly appropriate music for every audience. Moreover, his wild interpretation seemed worlds away from the stately interpretations urged by Joplin in his School of Ragtime.

About this Item


  • Christensen's Ragtime Review


  • -  Ragtime music -- History and criticism
  • -  Popular Songs of the Day
  • -  Songs and Music
  • -  Progressive Era to New Era (1900-1929)
  • -  Articles

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