Ragtime and the Critics
To the Editor:
Bruce Kovner’s “The Ragtime Revival” [Music, March] is a welcome corrective to the chuckle-headed criticism which has accompanied the resurgence of what is, in its own terms, delightful music. Mr. Kovner’s brief history of ragtime seems to me to touch upon all the important stages in its development, his necessarily briefer biography of Scott Joplin places him in the proper perspective, and the critical excerpts held up for scrutiny are all too representative. In short, Mr. Kovner is accurate and fair (although I thought I detected two minor errors: I believe Carman Moore is a he, and I think that in listing “The Easy Life” as a Joplin composition, Mr. Kovner has confounded “The Easy Winners”  with “The Strenuous Life” ).
Examples of the kind of critical writing Mr. Kovner skewers in his article could, alas, be multiplied many times over. For example, Gunther Schuller, for whom jazz of the 20′s, a body of music far richer than ragtime, is “only . . . a museum relic,” managed to compare Treemonisha, in an article he wrote for the New York Times, with Götterdämmerung and Monteverdi’s Orfeo.
I had hoped that Mr. Kovner would be widely read by music critics who write on ragtime, but such unfortunately, does not seem to be the case. After “The Ragtime Revival” appeared, the usually intelligent Joseph McLellan of the Washington Post greeted the Deutsche Grammophon recording of Treemonisha in terms that are usually reserved, at the very least, for The Magic Flute.
Jerome S. Shipman