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date: 20 February 2020

Novelty pianolocked

  • David Thomas Roberts


A term, used particularly in the 1920s, that was applied to a variety of piano music based on ragtime. Novelty piano music drew on sources as diverse as popular dance music, folk ragtime and the music of the Impressionists (especially in its use of the whole-tone scale and the parallel 4th). Its most recognizable unifying feature was the ‘novelty break’ – a stylized interruption of the melody and texture. This was often based on the motif of a tritone resolving onto a 3rd, although whole-tone passages and various figures used by dance orchestras and jazz bands of the 1920s were also employed. The novelty style was influenced by piano-roll arrangements, and many works demanded considerable pianistic skill; indeed, their composers were among the most adept pianists in the popular field.

The word ‘novelty’ was used in association with various rags including Scott Joplin’s Euphonic Sounds: a Syncopated Novelty (1909), but it was with the release on piano roll of Zez Confrey’s ...

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