Curt Cacioppo Composer & Pianist Fri, 24 Jun 2022 13:01:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 WOMB OF THE SACRED MOUNTAINS 25th Anniversary Commemorative Release Mon, 14 Feb 2022 22:09:57 +0000
PURCHASE Womb of the Sacred Mountains
Sacred Mountains I notes
Sacred Mountains II notes
Sacred Mountains III notes
Sacred Mountains IV notes
Sacred Mountains cover art
Conversation 1 – performing the cycle
Conversation 2 – influences
Conversation 3 – compositional techniques…
Conversation 4 – reception

ILLUMINATIONS makes MWI’s Recordings of the Year list Wed, 01 Dec 2021 20:03:00 +0000

Arthur Farwell: a composer’s voice reaching to the sky Mon, 15 Nov 2021 13:57:53 +0000 [This short essay in WSJ Life & Arts “Masterpiece” style celebrates the October 22 NAXOS release of a new CD dedicated to American composer Arthur Farwell (1872-1952). Farwell focused the best of his creative energy to bringing Native American music and belief into symbiotic relationship with the means and practices of the Western concert music tradition. Farwell’s dynamic initiative, while proposing new compositional affinities, further sought to validate the indigenous component in American society, cultivating and expressing an American conscience.]

Arthur Farwell: a composer’s voice reaching to the sky
by Curt Cacioppo

Strewn over six decades are some half dozen inclusions of Arthur Farwell’s music on compilation LPs and CDs – a five minute orchestra piece here, a set of songs there, a solo piano piece or two. Such paltry representation and neglect of a figure whose visionary impact on music in the U.S. during his lifetime was felt from coast to coast and in between is nothing short of a mystery. A valiant reading of his Op. 103 Piano Quintet by the Pacifica Quartet and Aileen James came out on MHS in the 1970’s, which the company doesn’t even remember pressing. The much more recently issued 3 volume release of his complete piano music by the Cherokee pianist Lisa Cheryl Thomas made an ambitious move to address this. Now we have a new Naxos recording dedicated exclusively to Farwell’s most important corpus of work, produced in his prime, that resonates reverently, passionately, euphorically to the Native American influences and inspiration essential in his formation. Arthur Farwell: America’s Neglected Composer – Songs, choral and piano works, and the world premiere issue of “The Hako” string quartet, Op. 65 (1923), included in the label’s “American Classics” series, presents seven fascinating pieces in a variety of genres superbly performed by an international roster of the finest interpreters. Compelling liner notes by Joseph Horowitz, founder of the PostClassical Ensemble, which centerpins the project, accompany the album.

Without doubt, The Hako is Farwell’s longest sustained discourse in this vein, and the culmination of his quarter century long search for aesthetic complementation with the indigenous elements that beckoned to him from an early age. This 18 minute continuous narrative, informed by the Hako ceremony of the Pawnee, brings Native liturgy and melos, Western tonality and instrumentation, to common ground. Sonata form bows to the parameters of the ceremony, melodic content is shaped entirely in accordance with tropes and rhythms characteristic to the ceremony’s song repertoire. Farwell’s rhetorical pattern of intimation later manifesting in revelation follows the ceremony’s fundamental interrogative/declarative structure. At the outset, the ku´rahus, or leader of the Hako, incants: “I know not if the voice of man can reach to the sky, I know not if my prayers will truly be heard.” By the end of many days of devout ritual, he is able to exult: “I know now that the voice of man can reach to the sky, I know now that my prayers will truly be heard.”

The ceremony, received by the Pawnee as a gift from the Omaha tribe who originated it, serves multiple ends, among them as an initiation rite for the young, a mechanism for strengthening social solidarity, an entreaty for fruitful multiplication, an opportunity for thanksgiving. It was recorded collaboratively at the previous turn of century by Chaui Pawnee ku´rahus Tahirŭssawichi, James R. Murie (also Pawnee), and ethnographer Alice C. Fletcher. Edwin Tracy carried out the transcription of its more than 100 songs, which were graphophone recorded. The name of the ceremony embodies all of its components – vestments and paraphernalia, symbolic gesture and image, textual volume roughly equivalent to the combined linear content of the first and fourth Gospels, as well as music – and further implies the power of all of them “to speak.” The enactment unfolds in 20 core rituals grouped into 4 divisions.

In his Op. 65, Farwell surpasses all previous efforts, including his own, at attempting such cross-cultural coalescence. The process and result seem sui generis until we encounter, a generation later, a Native composer who conversely embraced Western musical tradition: Louis Ballard (1931-2007). Ballard, part Quapaw and part Cherokee, was descended from chiefs on both sides of his family, and grew up learning the cultural practices of his people. At the same time, he pursued a musical path of study at the University of Tulsa with Béla Rózsa, and a career that took him to New York City and the celebrated capitals of Europe. Louis felt himself at once an avowed post-Schoenbergian and thoroughly Indian. Ultimately he said, pointing to one of his scores, “This is not Native American music or any type of music other than ‘Louis Ballard music.’” Now that we are finally able to hear and take measure of Farwell’s Hako quartet, and reflect upon its genesis and intent, it becomes clear what exact counterparts he and Ballard are in historical relation to each other, each searching for synthesis, each writing his music, each shining a light toward compositional advancement. The parallel conjures up the Hopi twins at the North and South poles, who keep the planet rotating. Each composer takes the cultural inheritance bequeathed and entrusted to him and pools it with resources of the other in an effort to define his individual artistic identity, consequently widening and enriching the art.

The Dakota String Quartet outside the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., on the occasion of their world premiere Naxos recording of Farwell’s most consequential work, The Hako. (Photo courtesy of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra)

NARAS voting members, 64th Grammy® Awards – FYC Tue, 31 Aug 2021 17:23:00 +0000
Album on Spotify
Album on Apple Music
Track 7 with scrolling text

Cacioppo texts

Critical response to ILLUMINATIONS

‘like Leonard Bernstein, [Cacioppo is] another American composer of controlled eclecticism’
‘a composer with such a fertile musical imagination, given to a kind of Whitman-like inclusiveness’
‘potency…wealth of wit and invention…spectacularly clever’
‘potent…thought-provoking poetics’
‘The performances are gripping and compelling.’
‘an intense listening experience’

and to the sonic mural “(I, MADLY STRUGGLING, CRY)” – Track 7

‘a majestic setting of Whitman’s poem in praise of the broad heterogeneity and equanimity of the United States of America.’
‘a captivating sonic mural’
‘This composition awakens in our minds the political debate raging in the nation today, but transformed in more positive terms.’
‘a powerful work… It invites readings of expressive opposition to Trumpian attitudes.’
‘This work is an affirmation why many of our ancestors along with some of our neighbors and friends came to the United States, and why others also seek to immigrate.’
‘In its passion and intensity of thought and feeling alike, this work synthesizes, very powerfully, words and music, ideals and fears, past and present.’

Sources: MusicWeb International, American Record Guide, Cherry Grove Reviews, The Georgetowner

A gift of music for the Biden’s Mon, 08 Feb 2021 12:58:59 +0000 Just after the inauguration of our 46th president, it saddened me that because of the pandemic, there would be no White House ball. Until there is, I thought it might be nice to offer the Biden’s some sort of dance number for their enjoyment, and so composed the present TANGO for Joe and Jill. To personalize it, the tunes spell their names, and in Dr. Jill’s case, those of her ancestral family and town of origin in Sicily (being of Sicilian extraction myself). To hear Paul Orgel’s performance, click here. Evviva!

Tango for Joe & Jill – Score

ROCHBERG dedication remastered Thu, 26 Sep 2019 14:24:40 +0000 Cacioppo’s monument to George Rochberg is now available for listening on YouTube at

Ciclo metamorfico sul nome d’un maestro (1988)
Metamorphic cycle on the name of a master 
Curt Cacioppo, pianist (world premiere performance)
Bösendorfer Imperial #29041
Lawrence H. Fornaci, piano technician
LIVE at Marshall Auditorium, Haverford College, 10/22/88
Jeanne Velonis, audio post-production

Part One
Getreidegasse Nr. 9          0 – 1.49
Lo studio                      1:50 – 3:25
Apparition                    3:26 – 4:40
The Absolutist              4:41 – 6:46
Scena appassionata e pastorale  6:47 – 9:53
Amusement                  9:54 – 11:19
Reflection                     11:20 – 13:47
Part Two
Sarbaggiu                      13:48 – 22:41
Bagatelle                      22:42 – 25:24
America: a prayer      25:25 – 31:50
Finale: Rondino          39:51 – 42:38

Ciclo metamorfico began as a greeting to George Rochberg on the occasion of his 70th birthday. The work ultimately expanded into a two-part cycle of eleven pieces. Perpetual metamorphosis and transfiguration of opening thematic materials into contrasting musical characters prompted the extenuation.

Using a polyglot solmisation alphabet, the theme stated at the outset of the first piece spells in musical notes the name George Rochberg. The tune is set in a Mozartean texture, Alberti accompaniment and all, because I first started thinking about what to do with it when visiting the house in Salzburg where Mozart was born, Getreidegasse Nr. 9 (the cycle reflects much of my travels through Austria, Germany, Italy and Sicily in 1986-87). The curious spelling of George’s name into a simple C-major melody with classical accompaniment makes an appropriate allusion to his (and my own) belief in establishing and maintaining a living connection with the past. By the end of the first piece, the Mozart tune literally turns into a motif from Rochberg’s Serenata d’estate. We segue into the second piece.

“Lo studio,” a little scenario full of puns, depicts George in his workroom on the verge of producing the opening theme of his Partita Variations. The previous Serenata motif turns into a Beethoven bagatelle theme, effects and strains from the Leonore Overture No. 3 and the Quartet in C#-minor enter in, and an amorphicization of a Hammerklavier interlude eventually formalizes itself into the explosive motto of the Partita Variations. The piece ends quietly, punctuated by the famous motif from Beethoven’s Op. 111. (It was, of course, George’s adoption of Beethoven’s style in sections of his early tonal-atonal mixed language pieces that called to my love of Beethoven and drew us into acquaintance.)

“Apparition” represents the sparse disembodiment of the Alberti accompaniment to the Getreidegasse theme.

“The Absolutist” is another scenario. An argument takes place between the declamatory and insistent material of the beginning (I always admired George for being able to come up with this kind of theme), and a quicker, more nondescript type of material characteristic of convoluted serial textures of the 50’s and 60’s that George ferociously railed against.

“Scena appassionata e pastorale” begins with a romantic outburst recalling the mood of one of Rochberg’s Four Short Sonatas. The tranquil middle section uses as a melody the inversion of the name theme.

“Amusement” was written on carnival day in the small Tuscan town of Loro Ciufenna, Italy, where I was living with my family during my leave. “Reflection” recalls the C-major melody in a slow, mystical way. Shimmering arpeggios on chromatic chords evoke the silver-green glistening of olive branches in the sunlight, over which the call of a bird typical to Tuscany is heard. This marks the end of the first part.

The four pieces comprising the second part of the cycle are each of larger scope. “Sarbaggiu” is Sicilian – actually Palermo dialect – for “savage.” The piece is in a fast-slow-fast form. The outer sections, in a violent b-minor, quote here and there the opening motif of Rochberg’s Second Symphony. Vendors’ cries from Sicily and Naples, and a festival fanfare from Arezzo, also make their way into the contrapuntal texture. The slow section comes out of my sweet-sad reaction to atmospheres in Sicily, and bears kinship to the “Nocturne” – by Giacomo Leopardi – “of a wandering shepherd.”

“Bagatelle,” in a reserved way, plays with extremes of register and pedal sonorities. “America: a prayer” I began in Italy and completed in the United States. After some months away in Italy, I started to view my country very differently. I lamented its offenses, and began to pray for cultivation of its attributes, and for our evolution into an ever more generous people of peace. In the middle section of the piece, a motif representing the eagle, our national symbol, calls out that we use our power and resources wisely, for the good of all, for the good of the earth.

The finale, “Rondino,” is really a sonata form with double coda. However, the title signifies that, for the most part, the expression is to be light, like in a little rondo. The C-major Mozartean material returns in 6/8 meter to form the theme. The image is again Austrian – one hears the church bells of Salzburg, the rhythm of the waltz. The development section poses one ornery problem – the obstinate repetition of a series of loud b-flat octaves. Initially there were seven – one for each decade George has lived. Eventually, they added up to thirteen, which is a lucky number in Italy – a way of toasting “cent’ anni” (live for a hundered years!) to George. The first coda launches into a rapid 3/4 meter. A phrase from Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony is inserted, and the music intensifies its joyful feeling. Here I desired to build up something almost euphoric. (The melody unit reiterating here echoes a „Glück auf!” hymn from the Goslar area in the Harz, West Germany). The climax spills into a recurrence of the appassionata phrase of the fifth piece, and from here a second coda – a long diminuendo – ensues. As in the seventh piece, the C-major theme finds a more reflective, mystical expression. The work finishes with two deep, pianissimo chords.

— Curt Cacioppo

(notes from the world premiere performance program October 22, 1988)

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PIANO VARIATIONS notes & download Wed, 01 Feb 2017 03:20:47 +0000 My PIANO VARIATIONS on Hail to the Chief act to affirm and to celebrate our country’s diversity and its people. It is truly “for ALL Americans,” and represents many constituencies. A blustery fanfare and flourish announce the Theme (already varied, as it finds itself in a heckled quodlibet framework). Variation I (“Arabesques”), acknowledges the Islamic American community. Variation II (“Phelonious Blues”) pays homage to the African American community. Variation III (“¡Nunca pagaremos!”) represents the Latin American, and particularly Mexican, community. Variation IV (“Rock Solid”) is in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux, and is dedicated to Native Americans throughout the hemisphere. Variation V (“Tarantella”), for the left hand, honors Americans with disabilities. Variation VI (“Stronger Together”) represents the Asian American community, and incorporates a part for the page turner (hence the invocation of the campaign slogan as title). Variation VII („Träumerei”) is based on a motif derived from the letters LGBT. Variation VIII (“Daughters of Freedom”) amplifies the Women’s Suffrage song of the same title. The Finale (“Tear down this wall!”) bears the indication Marcia putinesca, and expresses some of my feelings about the United States’ relationship with the international community. Privately I had a very distinct program in mind when planning and executing the work, but there is much opportunity for alternative reading and reading-in. As absolute music, the piece is virtuosic and emotional — at times wry and ironic, at other times perturbed and passionate. Along with other works of mine in this vein, such as America: a prayer and Three American Fantasies, it ultimately reflects a sense of patriotism as deeply rooted as it is complicated.

The score is available for perusal and download by clicking here: Cacioppo Piano Variations.

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“for ALL Americans” Fri, 20 Jan 2017 21:31:52 +0000 On this day as President Obama’s successor takes office, I wanted to inform readers that yesterday morning I completed a new set of PIANO VARIATIONS “for ALL Americans” on Hail to the Chief, to coincide with the inauguration. The 36 minute work celebrates our country, its diversity, and its people. The table of contents includes 10 sections:

Fanfare & Theme(s) in quodlibet
Vari. 1 – Arabesques
Vari. 2 – Phelonious blues
Vari. 3 – ¡Nunca pagaremos!
Vari. 4 – Rock solid
Vari. 5 – Tarantella (for the Left Hand)
Vari. 6 – Stronger Together (aka “Judy’s song”)
Vari. 7 – Träumerei
Vari. 8 – Daughters of Freedom
Finale: Marcia putinesca (“Tear down this wall!”)

Within a month, the publisher-perfect version will be available.

“…the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

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Dvořák pilgrimage Tue, 16 Aug 2016 22:28:51 +0000 I was a latecomer to Dvořák. By late I mean maybe the summer of my sophomore year at college, when the Serenade for Winds & String Bass was being rehearsed at the Blossom Festival. Of course I must have heard some of his music prior to this, but other than the energetic Slavonic Dances, it somehow didn’t get through. What really first spoke to me was the d-minor Symphony, which Wm. Richard Shindle introduced me to in one of his style and genre courses. As I recall, I played the Piano Quintet in that class with a group of graduate student string players. My appreciation continued to grow as I came to know the G Major Symphony, the Violin Concerto, heard Lynn Harrell & James Levine do the Cello Concerto at CIM, became acquainted with many of the tone poems, read the Dumky Trio with friends, and discovered a particular fondness for the early String Serenade in E.

The New World period keenly interests me, with the Symphony No. 9, the String Quartet No. 12, the resplendent String Quintet No. 3, the “American Suite” and other works composed while in the U.S. Of all of these, I probably prize the E-flat Quintet most highly. But beyond any of them, I think that it was Dvořák’s embracing of African and Native American influences, and his manifesto to American composers that their music should root with those of the North American continent and stop imitating European models that I value the most. My own inclinations had already led me to this path – I would estimate that at least half of my output at this point is in response to Native American and African American sources – so Dvořák’s position finds great resonance with me.

For the past 15 years I have been pursuing these themes with my friend Joseph Horowitz, author of Dvořák in America. Joe and I were participants at a liberal arts conference at Grinnell College in Iowa this past May, and we took the opportunity to add on a pilgrimage to the small town of Spillville, where Dvořák sojourned during the summer of 1893. This tiny hamlet was settled by Bohemian immigrants in 1860. The St. Wenceslaus Church there was built in the same year, and remains the oldest Czech Catholic church in the United States. The church itself is a gem, closely resembling St. Adalbert’s in Prague, and Dvořák attended services and played organ at both.

Our hotel was less than 50 paces from the two story brick building where Dvořák lived and composed the initially controversial/now iconic “American Quartet” 123 years ago. Dvořák occupied the second floor, which is now a museum dedicated to his stay; the first floor houses the Bily Clock Museum. Among the displays representing the composer, one finds an ms. facsimile of the “American Quartet,” first editions of the “Humoresques,” various bureaucratic ledgers, personal items such as a four piece long-stem pipe, musical instruments, and a copy of an editorial in the Decorah Republican June 29, 1893 about the composer’s efforts to make “vulgar things” ‘approximate the divine.’ (Unabashed use of racial epithet in this newspaper article!).

In addition to the museum and the church, we saw the remains of the mill where Dvořák would fraternize with locals, heard the same bird songs that filtered into the composer’s measures along the banks of the Turkey River, and drove the same rolling agricultural terrain that he had traveled during that summer. The landscape has a unique characteristic, for unlike in Connecticut, for instance, or Lancaster County, PA, where ascending an incline you can still see the next crest beyond it, in this part of Iowa, as you climb a hill, you feel like you’re approaching the edge of the earth, because there is no visual indication of anything beyond its top line. On the other hand, this makes the arrival on each summit a surprise for, behold, suddenly another vast expanse of farmland spreads out before you. Surely Dvořák experienced these same moments of geographic revelation.

Below are some photos from our trip.

Joe in front of the museum

Joe in front of the museum

Dvořák & Cacioppo

Dvořák & Cacioppo

MS. facsimile of the "American Quartet" (apologies for glare)

MS. facsimile of the “American Quartet” (apologies for glare)

Organ collection

Organ collection

Joe at the Czech majolica baptismal font in the museum courtyard

Joe at the Czech majolica baptismal font in the museum courtyard

the Turkey River

the Turkey River

St. Wenceslaus Church & cemetery

St. Wenceslaus Church & cemetery

St. Wenceslaus altar

St. Wenceslaus altar

St. Wenceslaus, one of many stained glass windows

St. Wenceslaus, one of many stained glass windows




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STORIES FROM THE 7TH WARD – a 2-piano tribute to New Orleans Wed, 13 Jul 2016 20:32:01 +0000 In the last few days I have completed a half-hour-long 2-piano work called STORIES FROM THE 7TH WARD, a tribute to New Orleans. My friend Althea Waites, a member of the Orpheus Duo for which the set is written, and a native of New Orleans who grew up in the 7th Ward, was the catalyst for this suite. Hearing stories told to her by her grandmother, hearing about her mother and about her sister’s dream vision of her, and hearing Althea’s playing of pieces like Margaret Bonds’ “Troubled Water,” were the main sources of inspiration. Along with these, I was influenced by the music of my late distant relative, Tony Almerico, who was a prominent New Orleans Dixieland trumpeter, bandleader, broadcaster and educator, known for his Parisian Room All-Stars and collaborations with Pete Fountain. “Clambake on Bourbon Street” was probably his most successful recording.

Here are the titles of the four movements of the suite with brief summaries of the stories associated with them.

I – The Valiant Crab
This piece is a scherzo similar to those of Chopin. Althea’s grandmother told of a crab who, along with many other crabs, got dredged up onto a boat deck and put into a barrel destined for a New Orleans restaurant. Unlike the other crabs, he was determined to get out and back to sea. He would struggle upward in the barrel, but for some reason the other crabs would pull him back down. Each time he got a little further toward the top, but it took five attempts before he successfully freed himself and returned to his aquatic environment. The outer sections of the piece depict the crabs being harvested from the water, scraping and clacking around on deck and in the barrel, and the valiant crab making his repeated escape attempts. The “trio” section contrasts this with “underwater music” that suggests a graceful “crab ballet.” In addition to these elements, I also included a “cantus firmus” passage in the trio section, expressly for Althea’s Duo partner Mark Uranker, who happens to come from my hometown of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and [therefore?] is a devotee [like me] of the intensely contrapuntal composer/pianist Ferruccio Busoni.

II – Taffeta Skirts
In 2008 my piece “Crying for Justice” was performed several times by the Pacific Symphony. The score calls for various Native American percussion instruments, including corn husk rattles (which I fabricated myself). Althea was present for one of the concerts, and afterward said that the sound of the rattles scared the living daylights out of her. She explained that the menacing tremolo was identical to the flailing of taffeta skirts worn by an apparition that she had witnessed as a child. The ghost appeared when Althea went alone into the kitchen. As she recounts, “When I saw the spirit, I screamed and ran to the living room, and after asking my grandmother why the spirit’s skirts were swishing back and forth, she said that this was one of our departed [Creole] relatives who was struggling to resolve conflicts that she experienced when she was alive. I spent the rest of the day being frightened, and my mom gave me hot tea when it was bedtime to calm me down.” The piece is really a scena that begins with brooding, disgruntled, dolorous material. A playful motif then enters, reminiscent of a tune Althea and her sister sang as girls. The encounter with the phantom is represented in a dynamic and disturbing episode, after which a calming lullaby theme takes hold. The corn husk rattles are employed by one of the players throughout, with a final receding shake at the end.
Cacioppo-with-rattles1-180x180 Here I am with a pair of my corn husk rattles.

III – Parisian Room Waltz
Tony Almerico ran a Dixieland club on the corner of Rue Royale and Canal Street called the Parisian Room. Trumpeter, bandleader, jazz educator, and record producer, he also hosted national live broadcasts from this site for 15 years. This piece is a tribute to Tony, and is clandestinely based on a tone row derived from one of his solos on “That’s a Plenty” from the album “Clambake on Bourbon Street.” (You’d never know this is tone row music, as the series is deployed to form a progression of three chords that support the lilting tune: C 7/#11/13, E Major 7 over B, and G 7/#11.) The B section is marked “siciliano,” nodding to the Almerico (and Cacioppo) Trinacrian heritage. The C section alludes to those traditional New Orleans funeral processions in which the bands are followed by second line folks twirling umbrellas and shaking their hips. (This piece is also available in a solo piano version.)

IV – Saints Alive! (aka Clara’s Vision)
Althea tells of a dream that her sister Clara had after their mother passed away. In the vision, Mama came to Clara to let the two know that she was OK and not to worry about her, that she was up there in heaven telling God how to run things more responsibly on earth. The piece winds up being a sort of rondo, with the thematic areas arranged in an ABACBDA sequence. A favorite song of Althea’s mom (along with “Roses of Picardy” as sung by Mario Lanza) was “When the Saints Go Marching In” (as done by Louis Armstrong). This provides the basic material for No. IV, although neither tune is ever stated outright. The A sections march along brightly in C Major, then modulate and dance jovially. In the B section, Althea’s mom goes up and tells God about all the troubles on planet earth, that he mustn’t be an absentee father and needs to look down and straighten things out. He then answers, and genuflects, blessing all the races, showering them with gifts of harmony. The brusque C area chips at motivic material. D, to balance out the “saintly” music, presents a “voodoo” theme with incisive accents over an ostinato. All is in a spirit of celebration. Another piece that Mama enjoyed was “Für Elise,” which she would hear her daughter Althea practice at home. A figuration from the beloved Beethoven example is used transitionally to set off the second occurrence of A, and in the coda. And somewhere along the way, the listener may wonder if, in addition to God, Mama Clara once within the pearly gates ran into Thelonious Monk (though they perhaps be One and the Same!).

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