A new CD of Max Morath’s compositions played by Sue Keller and Jeff Barnhart includes liner notes written by Morath. The notes provide an insight into the composer’s process and his experience in creating something new, inspired by the past.
Max has been composing since he was a young performer. The selections on this CD range from “Imperial Rag,” written his freshman year for a Cripple Creek Imperial Hotel melodrama in 1950, to his most recently completed trilogy in 2008, Three for Diane, dedicated to his wife.
Keller and Barnhart perform the Cripple Creek Suite, the six sections named for mines in the district. Other compositions, Morath confesses, contain measures borrowed from his vast production of advertising jingles and songs. “One for Amelia” was written for Joe Lamb’s wife, “The Golden Hours” was dedicated to Harriett Janis, and “Old Mortality” was written for Rudi Blesh—the latter two were co-authors of They All Played Ragtime.
The ragtime pieces are light and frolicsome, with many composed around familiar themes. The Barnhart vocals and duets with Keller have the wonderful theater quality of turn of the century burlesque. But Max wrote mesmerizingly contemplative pieces as well, and the pianists beautifully capture the sensitively emotional quality of those compositions. I found Anne Barnhart’s flute performance of “Three for Diane” to be especially moving.
The ragtime pieces contrast with the composer’s novelty numbers and illustrate the range of his creativity. As for how Morath’s compositions should be played, he responds, “Do whatever pleases you…(improvising) is probably how the rag itself was originally born.”
We are blessed to have many recorded versions of Max Morath’s compositions including some of his own. On this Return to Cripple Creek CD, Sue Keller and Jeff Barnhart demonstrate the range of Morath’s originality through the spectrum of his feisty, rollicking numbers to his poignantly expressive and lyrically sentimental, contemplative pieces. When it comes to performing the novelty numbers, Keller and Barnhart could have been Vaudeville headliners a century earlier. It is a gift to have followed the careers of both the composer and the performers through the years and to bring personal reminiscence to the experience of listening to these recordings. But this CD will entertain old and new ragtime enthusiasts. The sheer joy and the emotion the artists convey is palpable, not to mention delightfully entertaining.