Famous Ragtime Composer: Lewis F. Muir

Categories: Music Industry

I am doing this paper on a composer known as Lewis F. Muir. He was a ragtime composer in the early 20th century. Specifically during 1910-1914. He had published several songs by late 1915, when he died on December 3rd of Tuberculosis.

Lewis was born on May 30th with the birth name of Louis Meuer. His hands were nearly long enough to span two octaves, making him ideal for playing the piano, which he became quite adept at on the side of his career as a peddler of womens' hats.

He became a pianist, traveling around St. Louis playing in cafes, until his first major gig at the St. Louis World Fair in 1904. Later on, in 1910, he moved to New York and began composing. His first published composition was titled ‘Play that Barbershop Chord', and his main style was ragtime. One of his more famous pieces was ‘When Ragtime Rosie Ragged the Rosary', which drew public attention when a reporter named L.

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Wolfe Gilbert grew jealous of his success, and published an article about how the name of the song was sacreligious. Angry with this article, Muir invited Gilbert to his house to argue about it there, where he challenged the reporter to write a song with him. He did, and created a song together. Another song, by far the most famous of his songs, was also partially written by Gilbert. This song was the most famous of his songs, and was titled ‘Waiting for the Robert E. Lee.' Muir died at the age of 32 years old.

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Ragtime music was extremely popular at the time, but was phased out by jazz around the year 1917, close to a year after Lewis's death. Ragtime was characterized by a syncopated rhythm, which was one longer note followed by a shorter note, then a longer one. Sort of like a heartbeat: bum bu-dum, bu-dum. The best period for listening to rag would have been from 1895 to 1918. By this timeline, Lewis would have been composing during the later period of the ragtime.

The first song that I chose to listen to was ‘When Ragtime Rosie Ragged the Rosary'. This was the song that drew all the attention from Gilbert and eventually lead to ‘Waiting for the Robert E. Lee' which as was mentioned before, was Muir's most famous piece. This piece made me think about the times pre World War One, and its happy-time feel. This song makes me feel happy mostly because of its sound. Anyone who doesn't smile during a ragtime piece either is deaf or has no soul. Its quick and bouncing beat are fun to listen to as well as its joking lyrics and wonderful piano accompaniment. This piece is written as a solo, in the tenor range. The instrumentation is a piano, providing the main ragtime feel with its tight chords and bright sound. There is also a banjo and a tambourine, which help add to the happy feel of the song. The final piece of instrumentation is a tuba, which is the base line which plunks along keeping time with the tambourine. The overall tone is happy, as is with most ragtime.

The second song I chose was ‘Play that Barbershop Chord' as it is Muir's first composition, so I decided, why not listen to the one that started it all? This piece is more sad sounding, as it tells the tale of a woman who was in love with a man called Jefferson Lord who played a piano. Every time he plays that barbershop chord, she feels more in love with him. It is difficult to tell what kind of accompaniment goes with this song, so I'll make a guess as to that it is played with trumpets and a piano at the least. Although it most likely also has trombones in it too, because every good song needs trombones. It is sung in TTBB, as in first tenor, second tenor, baritone, and bass, which is typical of barbershop songs. This piece made me think of lost or unattainable love, as the woman pines over Jefferson, who doesn't notice her and continues to play. It is uncharacteristic for Ragtime music sound sad, and yet, here is one song which doesn't leave you with as happy a feeling as most ragtime. It is interesting to think that Muir's first ever song to be composed was a sad ragtime rather than a happy one, since ragtime had been around since 1895, it would have clearly been the norm already to have happy ones.

The final piece I chose to listen to is ‘Waiting for the Robert E. Lee' because it is his most famous song, and was written also by L. Wolfe Gilbert, who, as mentioned earlier, was just a reporter who wanted to sully Muir's reputation. This song was an interesting and happy song that made me think of waiting for a train to bring you to fame and riches. This song is peppy and quick, and as shown by the video, quite famous. It was used in the movie Babes on Broadway, which was made in 1941. If a song is used in a movie, then it was bound to be famous at one point. This song's accompaniment was a full orchestra, composed of a strings section, most likely violins and violas, brass, like trumpets and trombones (which take up the bulk of the sound save the singing itself) and percussion. It is arranged for SSAATTBB, which is first soprano, second soprano, first alto, second alto, first tenor, second tenor, baritone, and base. All three of the songs I picked were in English.

In conclusion, The three songs I listened to were all ragtime, and two of the three were happy, as normally characterized by ragtime music. The only sad on was ‘Play that Barbershop Chord'. The accompaniment was different for each one, depending on what group was singing it, but all were fun to listen to. I personally think that ragtime is one of the most entertaining styles of music to listen to. Mostly because it leaves you feeling pretty good after you finish listening to it, because they are almost always happy sounding. I also enjoy them because of the instrumental behind them. The tinny old sounding brass and piano just sounds so cool and old fashioned. Its almost like the music is trying to paint a picture of what it was like when times were good. I hope that someday, we might be able to sing a little ragtime in choir, but I don't know if the other students will go for it, regardless of how wonderful the music is.

Updated: Feb 17, 2024
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Famous Ragtime Composer: Lewis F. Muir. (2024, Feb 17). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/famous-ragtime-composer-lewis-f-muir-essay

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