Spotlight on Nightingale Rag

The Nightingale Rag was published by Joseph Lamb in 1915. It is Classic ragtime at its finest.

Note: The Illustration contains the name Nightingale Rag but the Sheet Music is titled Ragtime Nightingale.

I first heard John Arpin perform the Nightingale Rag on CBC Radio some 25 years ago. I was moved by the lyrical beauty of the tune and Mr. Arpin’s interpretation.

Nightingale Rag

Joseph Francis Lamb (December 6, 1887 – September 3, 1960) was a noted American composer of ragtime music.

Joseph Lamb was interviewed and recorded in his home August 12 and 22, 1959 on Folkways Record FG 3562. In that interview he says he was influenced by James Scott’s Ragtime Oriole so he thought he should be able to write about a Nightingale. He "borrowed" an 8 note bass phrase from one of the selections in The Etude magazine to begin his piece. He said he didn’t have the slightest idea of how a Nightingale sounded but he added some bird noises. He was particularly fond of some "bird" sounds he heard in Ethelbert Woodbridge Nevin’s Nightingale Song and used that as the introduction to the last strain.

Like Joplin’s rags, the Nightingale is separated into strains but instead of the traditional 4 strains, Lamb used 3 strains, repeating the first strain as per usual but closed with the majestic second strain.

The piece has a very classical sound and is more difficult to play than it sounds. Interestingly enough, it is now included in the piano syllabus for the Royal Conservatory of Music (Canada).

Listen to Nightingale Rag


7 Responses

  1. That is very interesting about the influences Lamb had on the writing of this piece….

    I saw you perform in Ktown and your “Nightingale” is wonderful. When is your next event? Coming up to Ottawa soon?


  2. Thanks Alex. I’m playing every Sunday in Kingston at the Holiday Inn plus a number of private engagements in this area. No Ottawa gigs on the immediate horizon.

  3. Hi there,
    I must say that I like your blog very much.
    I saw the ragtime covers here and in wikipedia, and I am very intrigued by them. I’ve been searching for a place that sells them as posters but couldn’t find any; even reproductions are a long-shot.
    Do you have any idea where can I find a place, maybe an online website, that sells reproductions of vintage ragtime advertisement posters?

  4. I own a book called “Memory Lane” ISBN 0 902063 13 8. It contains beautiful colour covers of Ragtime, Jazz, Foxtrot and other popular music from 1890-1925 selected by Max Wilk. If you can find this book, I’m sure you could scan the covers at high resolution and enlarge to poster size. If I find a store that sells posters , I’ll let you know.

  5. Thanks for the info Ross.
    Maybe I’ll order it sometime when I have the ‘push’.

  6. Hello,

    Enjoyed reading your blogs and viewing the beautiful sheet music covers.

    I’m curious if you know of any writings that examine the programmatic nature of ragtime pieces (without lyrics)? As you mention in your blog, the Nightingale Rag contains a good example of musical imagery. I’m wondering if most ragtime composers arbitrarily named their pieces or if they generally tried to draw a connection, however, subtle, between the music and their corresponding titles?

    Perhaps you may know of some books, articles or individuals that touch on this subject.

    Thanks for your time and your efforts to put this website up.

  7. I agree with you Paul that most titles seem arbitrary. There are certainly some exceptions that I can think of. Robert Hampton’s Cataract Rag evokes the vision of a waterfall for me. Similarly Joplin’s “The Cascades” has a waterfall strain as well. One of the best examples is William Bolcom’s “Graceful Ghost”. I can almost see the ghost floating through the room. There are other examples I’m sure.

    I know when I composed my own rags I chose the titles before I wrote the rags. “Happy Cat Rag” is my attempt at a Kitten on the Keys, ragtime format. There are notes clumped together and trills throughout ending with a final pounce.

    “Vitality Rag” is just that, a rag that is full of vitality to play and to listen to.

    “Ragtime Jalopy” begins with the Jalopy starting it’s engine, then putting down the road, complete with the Jalopy horn. There are some darker sections as the Jalopy makes it’s way through the sleazy parts of town.

    Those are my attempts at imagery. I’m not sure if there are books written on this. Maybe we should write one!

    Thanks for your comment Paul.

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