At the beginning of the 20th century, the ragtime, originally a syncopated binary dance with bass note and its chord alternated respectively on the even and odd counts, reached an impressionable peak. Stravinsky, who had, by that time, emigrated to France after his studies with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in Russia, was confronted with American jazz combos actively influential in Europe. However, Stravinsky's knowledge of stylistic jazz properties were limited to scores brought to him from the United States by his colleague Ernest Ansermet.
Compositionally, Stravinsky interprets the ragtime in a cubist way rather than imitate the style. Stravinsky incorporates elements from his Russian period (ostinati, shifting accents, bitonality) with rhythmic and harmonic fragments from ragtime. The irregular meters give the piece an improvisatory character. The end, shifting through various fast and short double thriller parts, perhaps referring more to a form of bruitism than technical capacity, eases down to a halt in a lyric relegation to his Sacre du Printemps.
Stravinsky wrote the piece for pianist Arthur Rubinstein. Rubinstein, however, does not seem to have performed it. Stravinsky also arranged Trois mouvements de Petrouchka, his Petrushka for solo piano, for Rubinstein.