Sunday, May 6, 2012

Heliotrope Bouquet

My morning began well. I enjoyed practicing the first two strains of a ragtime piece called Heliotrope Bouquet by Louis Chauvin and Scott Joplin.

Ragtime expert "Perfessor" Bill Edwards (www.perfessorbill.com) explains the piece's history: "This rag contains the only known surviving compositional fragment of Louis Chauvin, who by most contemporary accounts was a very creative, skilled and prolific pianist who knew a multitude of pieces, though he was unschooled and could neither read nor write music."

Chauvin (1882-1908) lived a hard life as a traveling musician. His health broke in his early twenties from dissipation. Alcohol and opium addiction were proximate causes, although there have been conjectures that syphilis, multiple sclerosis, and/or sickle cell anemia may have been contributing causes.

"Perfessor" Bill continues: "Scott Joplin visited Chicago (some sources say Sedalia) in 1906 where he found the ailing Chauvin playing some beautiful syncopated themes. Two of these strains in particular were found to be particularly haunting to both, and Joplin wrote them down for later completion. Once the strains were harmonized by Joplin, and two more were composed with thematic tie-ins, he released it in 1907 as Heliotrope Bouquet, giving Chauvin the primary composer credit, and therefore some of the income derived from the work."

Chauvin died in 1908 at the age of 26. Heliotrope Bouquet was his only published piano work and has been a popular ragtime piece for over a century. It is represented by several good YouTube performances. My own performance still lacks technical polish but has oodles of panache.

For those who aren't familiar with the pink-purple flowers of the heliotrope plant, here is a picture.

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