Scott Joplin on the Pedal Harpsichord (played by E. Power Biggs)

Scott Joplin (1868-1917)

Scott Joplin was an American composer and pianist. He was famous for his piano rags during his lifetime and was known as the “King of Ragtime.” Scott Joplin composed over 100 rags but is well known today for only a few such as the Maple Leaf Rag, The Entertainer, The Strenous Life, and the Ragtime Dance. Joplin also composed two operas and a ragtime ballet. He died in 1917 on the day that the US entered World War I.

E Power Biggs (1907-1977)

E Power Biggs was a celebrated organist who was one of the leaders in an organ reform movement in the US that advocated playing historical organs and using original registrations. He travelled to Europe in the 1950s and played many historical organs. He liked the clear crisp sound of the early instruments. Upon his return to the US, Biggs met with well known organ builders and many new organs were built based on the European Baroque organ sound. E. Power Biggs is particularly well known for his recordings of J.S. Bach’s organ music on historical organs.

E. Power Biggs also made recordings on an instrument called the pedal harpsichord. Pedal harpsichords were used during the baroque period. A harpsichord can have multiple manuals (keyboards) just like a pipe organ. The pedal harpsichord has multiple manuals as well as a pedalboard for the feet just like an organ.

In 1973, E. Power Biggs recorded two albums of Scott Joplin Rags on the pedal harpsichord. During the time of Biggs’ recording, Scott Joplin’s music was having a revival of popularity. Biggs also arranged several Scott Joplin Rags for the organ around the same time. Here is a Scott Joplin rag called the Paragon Rag and a waltz by Scott Joplin called Binks’ Waltz played by E. Power Biggs on the pedal harpsichord. Notice how different the music sounds on the pedal harpsichord compared to a piano.

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