She rises up and
Leads her people to
Those who control by
Superstition and by fear,
They capture her and
Would kill her; but then rescue
Arrives—she is saved.
The people now know
Education is the way,
And she will lead them.
We know him only
As the father of ragtime,
There was so much more.
His first opera—gone:
A Guest of Honor was staged,
Then the score was lost.
He tried yet again.
His score was hailed in print, then
But now, a new day:
Vindication for this work.
Scott Joplin is known as the father of ragtime. But few know that he was the composer of two operas. A Guest of Honor was written in 1903 and Treemonisha was written in 1910.
A Guest of Honor was performed in a number of cities in the American Midwest in 1910. The score was subsequently lost.
Lost also is the orchestration of Treemonisha—only the piano and vocal score, published in 1911, survives. No one would publish the score, so Joplin paid for the printing himself.
Joplin submitted a copy of the score to the American Musician and Art Journal, where it received a glowing review. The text of the review can be seen in conductor Rick Benjamin’s detailed account of the history of Treemonisha and the life of Scott Joplin contained in the program for a performance of Treemonisha (pp 14-15). The program also contains the libretto. You can find the score of Treemonisha here.
Conductor Rick Benjamin cites research that, contrary to popular belief, Treemonisha was performed during Joplin’s lifetime, but it appears the number of performances was limited. Thereafter, it was forgotten.
It was only in the early 1970s that the score again saw the light of day and received the recognition that it deserved.
Berlin, Edward A., King of Ragtime. Oxford University Press, 1994.
Cover of Treemonisha score, published 1911, public domain via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATreemonisha_cover.jpg
Scott Joplin. First published in St. Louis Globe-Democrat newspaper, June 7, 1903. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AScott_Joplin_19072.jpg