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Of Joplin's 50 odd pieces for solo piano, only six are waltzes, which is a surprise, given the waltz's popularity among the home pianists likely to snatch up Joplin's sheet music at the time. Certainly his best waltz is Bethena, one of two published in 1905 when Joplin was perfecting his mature style (the piece's partner is the more innocuous Binks' Waltz). This is a rag waltz, laying right-hand syncopations onto a 3/4 meter. The construction is elaborate: a graceful, wistful refrain (its germ is heard in the brief, wide-ranging introduction) alternates with four contrasting sections, all separated by little, surprisingly chromatic interludes. The first contrasting section is closely related to the main theme, but the second is more rag-like; the third, having skipped the refrain, is a haunting minor-mode episode; the fourth, again intruding before the refrain can return, brightens the mood. The main melody finally returns, closing the piece with tender nostalgia.
This piece is arranged for standard string quartet, with an optional bass part for use with string orchestra.
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