Fanfare Magazine, Concordant Diversity: A Conversation with Curt Cacioppo, Issue 44:5 (May/June 2021)


By Robert Schulslaper

Previously, in Fanfare 44:2, composer Curt Cacioppo spoke with Henry Fogel about his “love of diversified layering … and the erasing of historical boundaries,” touched on important influences on his music, and together with pianist Emanuele Arciuli and choral director Nathan Zullinger offered detailed commentaries on the three major works comprising Metamorphosis (Albany 1822): Armed and Dangerous, Women of Ancient Greek Myth, and Tuscan Folio, his Symphony No. 3. Now he’s back to tell us more about himself and his CD Italia that presents three works inspired by his ongoing love affair with Italy.

How important was music at home when you were growing up?

Music was a significant part of my mother’s life. She played the piano, sang in the church choir, and had aspired to attend Westminster Choir College. She enrolled me in the children’s choir when I was four. We didn’t have much in the way of media devices until a bit later, but once we were equipped with a radio, record player, and TV, music of many types was heard on a daily basis. We had a collection of classical records, 45s of Elvis and Tennessee Ernie Ford, and we watched Liberace and Dinah Shore. She had popular sheet music, carols and hymnals, theory and notation books on hand, staff paper, biographies of composers, stories of the great operas. Her grandmother was a capable pianist, and one of her uncles had been a very skilled trumpet player, passionate about symphonic literature. (For decades I didn’t know about it, but on my paternal side I had an uncle myself who was an able trumpeter, with a passion for Dixieland, kindled by a more distant relative in New Orleans, Tony Almerico, who went on to achieve considerable fame. And there’s a chance that we are related to Vincent Rose, who wrote Blueberry Hill; his real surname was Cacioppo.)

You began piano lessons with your mother when you were nine years old. Did you ask her to teach you or was this her idea?

By the time I was nine, Mom wanted to have a piano in the house, so she made a deal with my Dad that if we rented one for a month, and at the end of the month he could recognize the songs I played that she would teach me during that period, we would purchase the piano. That worked out, and we became proud owners of a Baldwin Acrosonic. The idea was hers, but obviously I embraced it, as did my three-year-old sister Anne, who also received instruction.

I’m always impressed when I read of people (often children) who, after only a short time studying music, perform recitals or even concerts with orchestra. And so it was with you, playing your first concert at the Kent State University School of Music when you were only 11. Was that your teacher’s idea?

Some while after we acquired the Baldwin, my mother sent us along to a professional teacher, a piano faculty member at nearby Kent State University. Irene Greenleaf Drake had been a scholarship student of Tobias Matthay in London, and a very active performer in Boston. Mrs. Drake plunged us into Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Grieg, Chopin, Debussy. She had my sister and me “share” sonatas and concertos—we traded movements in K 331 on one recital, and were going to appear on the Mike Douglas TV show doing K 488. She also arranged private masterclasses for us with Arthur Loesser, for instance, and worked with us on ear training and dictation. We kept lessons up throughout the summers. Her enthusiasm for us seemed boundless. This all came to an abrupt halt with Mrs. Drake’s passing in early 1964. I hasten to say that at this beginning stage of development, these private studies were complemented and reinforced by music classes and activities in the public schools. When my new teacher after Mrs. Drake asked me what piece I might want to learn, I said (to her astonishment) the Brahms C-Major Sonata. Where was I introduced to the Brahms C-Major Sonata? In seventh grade music class! By fourth grade, all students in my elementary school had taken weekly music class, could read music, sing, and at least play the recorder-like instrument that was provided. The high school in our town boasted a stellar band program, and civic music concerts took place there, booking talent like Richard Tucker, Christoph Eschenbach, the Guarneri Quartet, and Itzhak Perlman. I remember concerts by Ferrante and Teicher and the Count Basie Orchestra on that series. You had easy after-concert access to these artists backstage. Routine field trips to hear the Cleveland Orchestra were part of the school music curriculum—the first time I saw Peter Serkin perform was in this context.

Do you play anything besides piano or harpsichord?

I took violin lessons, and still have my fiddle. I’ll still take it out to try fingerings and harmonics when I’m writing a quartet. I tried double reeds and trumpet, but I have no hope of an embouchure because of an injury from a bicycle accident when I was eight or so. In middle school I played percussion, an interest that resurfaced later on in connection with my Native American studies, and which I continue to pursue avidly.

You’ve kept up your piano playing and often perform your own music and that of other contemporary composers. Why is this important to you, besides the obvious pleasure it must bring and the opportunity to promote new music?

For me, to know a piece of music is to know it from the inside, and studying it as a performer, considering every note and nuance, arriving at an interpretation, brings this kind of enriched understanding. To be able to share in this process with living composers is very special. And to engage in it with fellow performers—I gravitate toward chamber music and art song—is one of the great rewards in life.

When did you realize you wanted to be a composer?

I wandered into composition from doing arrangements for the jazz quartet that my friends and I formed in our early teens. Once on that path, I just kept going.

What was your early music like?

The first piece I wrote, Reprise, gathered together various strands of material from the Classical repertoire I had played, with a little Tijuana Brass thrown in. Overall I was a tonal composer, and unabashedly Romantic. I took a lot of flak for that in college, but isn’t it ironic—at the start of my undergraduate career, I was ridiculed for writing this way by those who thought themselves so avant-garde, and by the end of that time, the New Romanticism had been proclaimed, showing them to have been backward. (I dropped composition as a major, by the way, after freshman year.)

Besides playing jazz with your friends, were you attracted to popular music?

My teacher after Irene Drake, though tremendously beneficial to me, did not approve of any inclination toward popular music or jazz. In fact, her tastes even within the classical sphere were quite narrow. So Erroll Garner, Bill Evans, Red Garland, George Shearing, were not topics of discussion at my lessons, and I continued with my quartet discreetly. I credit her—her name was Hazel Leigh Hart—with giving me a firm foundation in harmony and voice-leading, score reading, and analysis. She was in a sense a true 19th-century mentor, as our lesson time extended beyond music into other areas of the arts and humanities.

The musicians you’ve just mentioned are all legendary jazz artists, as is Dizzy Gillespie, for whom you wrote Homage to Diz. (Pianist Matthew Bengtson, who also appears on Italia, can be heard performing it at In general, what role does jazz play in your music?

I was pulled into jazz in eighth grade via the stage band I played in. We did Down by the Riverside, Night Train, and those tunes, and from there a few of us veered into Brubeck and eventually Miles [Davis] and Herbie [Hancock]. This violated the orthodoxy of my private teacher, as I mentioned, so I sought out the super gifted jazz/classical composer/pianist Pat Pace, who happened to be local (so local in fact that at one point he lived right across the street from us). He was thoroughly versed in Bartók and Stravinsky (one of his jazz pieces was titled Son of Firebird) and played recitals that juxtaposed his own works and improvs with Beethoven, Bach, Gershwin, Villa-Lobos. I heard him play both the Beethoven Choral Fantasy and the Fifth Brandenburg on the same program, and he became my role model. Just now I remember that somehow I convinced Hazel to attend that concert, and in spite of her elitism, she pronounced him a genius by the end of the evening, and her objections to my jazz and “vernacular” activities waned. Later I came under the influence of Bill Dobbins and Chuck Israels.

A brief footnote—my son Charles also combines jazz and classical in his playing. His dissertation advisor was Steven Stucky he (might have been Steven’s last advisee), and in addition to the creative component of his doctoral work, he wrote a 324-page treatise on “Modern Jazz Trumpet Solos as Spontaneous Compositions.” His younger brother Nic is the drummer in the JD Allen Trio and the Nicole Glover Trio and Quartet. You can hear his work with JD on Savant SCD 2184—Toys Die Dreaming—and SCD 2177—Barracoon. Not to dwell on family, but I may as well mention too that my wife, Christine, is a pianist and teacher, and has authored a series of pedagogical materials that are described on her website:

Homage to Diz is more of a straight-ahead jazz piece in the vein of someone like, say, Kenny Drew Jr. It came about through an improv I did when Charles, Nic, and I played Con Alma [a Gillespie composition] at a library gig. It’s more or less homogenous from beginning to end. In larger works, I may freely launch into a jazz tangent, or incorporate a particular element of the idiom such as harmony (sharp-9 and 11 chords, for instance). Sometimes these gestures are overtly recognizable, sometimes more disguised. Ornament and “free time” often figure in—they appeal to my sense of fantasy. An example of fusion/transformation might be my Parisian Room Waltz. It has more the scope of a Chopin ballade. A tribute to Tony Almerico, I based it on a tone row derived from one of Tony’s 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.) For more on this, see

The Homage was posted to YouTube as part of a Friday Facebook series “in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.” Tell me a bit about that series and some of the music readers might find there.

This was a series that ran from June into October. Here is the text for the initial post, which showcased Althea Waites:

“On this June 19th, I am beginning a series of Friday posts in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, which will commemorate some of the people and occasions that have so mattered to me over the decades. First I want to share, if I have not before on FB, the work of my wonderful friend, colleague and collaborator, pianist Althea Waites. Althea’s album Black Diamonds was a milestone, and her performance of Margaret Bonds’ fantastic Troubled Water remains a true inspiration. It led me to compose my Fantasy-Choruses on ‘This Little Light of Mine’ for Althea, which she has performed far and wide many times (last May she gave the 20th anniversary performance in Long Beach, CA). Here is the link to Althea playing Troubled Water by Margaret Bonds: visit”

(Other posts featured conductors William Appling and Harvey Felder, composers Ulysses Kay and John Benskin as well as Halim El-Dabh, pianist William Chapman Nyaho, and storyteller Brother Blue.)

I understand that you’ve recently finished your memoir of Leon Kirchner, with whom you studied. Will it be published? I only saw him once in person, at a concert of his music at Harvard years ago, but it left vivid memories.

Perhaps you were at one of the birthday concerts—they were held when he turned 60, 70, 80? The essay will appear on my blog, as soon as I have time to do the final editing. You might like to hear my performance of his Sonata (1948) on YouTube:

Curious fact: I was neither the first nor the last Cacioppo to receive Leon’s mentoring—George Cacioppo (not my father, but my father’s age—we knew each other well) had studied with him at Tanglewood in 1959, and my son Charles Cacioppo, now 37, came under his influence during Leon’s last years in New York City.

In your previous interview, when referring to the many (unnamed) “teachers, historical role models, inspiring performers” who influenced you, you mentioned being “very captivated by the music of Giya Kancheli.” What was it about it that so affected you?

I heard the premiere of Bright Sorrow in Leningrad in 1988. Above all, I found the emotionality of it to be very powerful—and also its mixing of vocal with instrumental, archaic and new. The degrees of contrast were dramatic, and this also related to his notion of “dynamic stasis.” I was there for the International Contemporary Music festival, and over the course of the week heard many new works on many programs. This one lifted me out of my seat. (Maybe hearing the Leningrad Philharmonic live amplified the effect—I love their Tchaikovsky symphonies with Mravinsky.)

Henry Fogel remarked on “your ability to wed past traditions with techniques and musical grammar of today.” (Several Fanfare critics also included similar observations in their reviews.) Has this tendency/facility always been a feature of your music?

There is the wedding of past and present traditions, but there can also be the marriage of diverse traditions, to which I am also drawn. Whitman would answer: “Give me to hold all sounds, (I, madly struggling, cry)…. Utter, pour in—for I would take them all.” Schumann in his aphorisms encourages us to discover and appreciate the music of other cultures and peoples. In residence in NY just prior to 1900, Dvořák directed American composers to seek inspiration from indigenous, African, and folk traditions. At the threshold of the New Tonality, George Rochberg urged that we “embrace the past as well as the future,” and “strive for greater inclusivity and flexibility of gesture and sound.” His aesthetic credo espoused the far broader premise that “all human gestures are available to all human beings at any time.” It was a blessing to meet Rochberg in 1975—we shared a 30-year friendship, and for most of that time were neighbors, living only minutes from each other in adjacent townships near Philadelphia.

(Footnote: Rochberg dedicated his Four Short Sonatas to me, which I premiered at Merkin Concert Hall in 1985. A recording is on YouTube at

Just to give a few examples of how you accomplish that, in Italia’s Sulla via dei sette ponti, at one point you have an extensive section that not only quotes Beethoven but expands it considerably, even adding a section in “authentic” Beethovenian style. Your Neveskaya Fantaziya was inspired by themes of Tchaikovsky, and your CD Illuminations (MSR Classics MS 1777) includes “solo piano reflections on Beethoven and Chopin.” There are also brief moments in one of the Impressioni venexiane where I thought some of the music had a distinct Renaissance flavor. I found that especially interesting in light of your musicology thesis on the music of the 14th-century Johannes Ciconia. Would you like to add anything to what you told Henry Fogel, that “There are commonalities between different styles, different musics, that invite synthesis and transformation?”

I have been preoccupied with this for a long time. Remembering back to my early days teaching at Harvard, one of the courses that I designed was a seminar called Comparative Analysis. At each meeting we explored two contrasting works from different traditions or epochs, with the objective of revealing similarities in content and organization. The pairing might be a virelais of Machaut and a Charlie Parker solo. Concurrently, a handful of students and I formed a chamber ensemble (Libramentum) which, with a lot of transcription effort, presented programs of music from eight centuries. It was during that time too (the early 1980s) that I formulated a proposal for a cross-cultural arts initiative and shopped it around among Boston-area university colleagues.

What prompted the sudden interjection of the Beethoven in some of the Sulla pieces, which overall are nothing like Beethoven?

Grouped on the CD under the heading Sulla via dei sette ponti, these pieces were all written while living in Tuscany in a villa situated on the Road of the Seven Bridges. One encounters seven Roman bridges along this road, which was originally paved by Hannibal. The landscape and the architecture there make you think you’re in a Piero della Francesca painting.

You ask about Lo studio: Of these Seven Bridges pieces, numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8 come from the larger work Ciclo metamorfico sul nome d’un Maestro, dedicated to my mentor, George Rochberg, which I was working on at that time. Lo studio uses a motif from his very Italianate Serenata d’Estate, and further depicts George in his workroom searching for the theme of his Partita Variations (which I was then practicing, at the villa). Those familiar with the introduction to the fugue of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” will see that George’s theme emerges from there. The scenario was intended to show George at the piano navigating through this improvisatory stretch, suddenly to have his Partita Variations theme jump out at him. When I played it for him the very first time, he totally cracked up and exclaimed, “Touché!” (Footnote: the Ciclo metamorfico may be heard in its entirety on YouTube at

I thought I could hear a little whistling in Reflection (No.8).

Yes, the call of the Tuscan merlo (blackbird) is whistled by the pianist (or if the pianist is not a good whistler, by someone perhaps in the audience—that’s even more effective!).

Well, I can’t be sure that Matthew Bengtson is the whistler, but in every other respect his performance is exemplary. When did you first meet?

Matt moved to Philadelphia in 2004 or thereabouts, and sought me out. He put together a grouping of my pieces, which included the Klavierstück from 1976, Homage to Diz, one of my Pawnee Preludes, and another character piece. Soon after he took up the Tuscan pieces that are on the CD. Matt is extremely versatile in terms of piano and chamber music repertoire, and further in his serious pursuit of fortepiano and harpsichord. Beyond that, the music that he has composed has impressed me in many ways.

Although inspired by your Tuscan experiences, the titles, with two exceptions, Lo studio and Capriccio leggendario, aren’t in Italian. Getreidegasse Nr. 9, for example, is the house in Salzburg where Mozart lived until he was 17. How does that relate to your piece?

The initial ideas for the Ciclo metamorfico for George Rochberg (the larger work I referred to a while back) came concurrent with our arrival in Europe for my sabbatical year. En route to our villa on the Road of the Seven Bridges, we spent time in Germany and Austria. In fact, it was at the Mozarthaus that it occurred to me to spell George’s name out in solfège syllables and note names and use it as a melody over an Alberti bass. This became the basis for all 11 movements.

How does Old Swedes (another title) connect to Santa Lucia?

One easily recognizes the correlation between Old Swedes Church in Philadelphia — founded by Swedish immigrants in 1698, who introduced the annual festival of light celebrated every December—and the Saint Lucy Church on the island of Ortygia in Sircusa, Sicily. In this treatment of the famous Neapolitan song, the absence of harmony in the sotto voce octave passage suggests blindness, while the use of the pedal elsewhere adds luminosity and resonance.

Colomba scarlatta della Libia (Red Dove of Libya) is the third work on the program: is there more than an ornithological significance to the title?

Very definitely! For years I pondered the symbolism of Melisande’s doves, which in Maeterlinck’s play make a conspicuous airborne departure from the tower. Does this relate to the dove of the resurrection, the Holy Spirit, world peace? No, these associations do not apply. The answer came when I visited the western Sicilian town of Erice, and learned of the ancient Roman Cult of Venus, which held its rites of sacred prostitution in a castle high above the coast. Before the Romans, the Greeks had established a similar Cult of Aphrodite at the same site, and even earlier, Phoenician priestesses carried on there in the name of Ashtoreth or Astarte. The Norman Count Roger fortified the location in medieval times, and its history feeds into Wagner (the Venusberg) and of course Debussy. In preparation for the start of the ritual, white doves (still today the symbol of Erice and still populous there) were released from the tower in the direction of Libya, where they would retrieve Venus, in the form of a red dove, and fly back with her. Upon her arrival, the devotions could begin (Thucydides and Diodorus Siculus provide historical accounts). This was truly an X-rated revelation!

So the title of the opening Prelude ericéen refers to the town?

Erice is named after Eryx, who was the son of Aphrodite. Someone or something from or about Erice would be ericéen.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to understand much of the spoken text in Melodrama and Ayre, besides the words “birds” and “Great Apollo.” What did I miss?

The recitation lines are Shakespearean references to Sicilian environs (the final iteration “Behold Venus!” is my own insertion—this is the moment where the Red Dove appears). They’re from The Winter’s Tale, act III, Scene I:

The climate’s delicate … the air most sweet … fertile the isle … the temple much surpassing the common praise it bears …

Great Apollo turns all to its best. Ecco Vernere!

Network for New Music, Philadelphia’s performance of Colomba scarlatta is very fine. Do you work with them often?

I landed in Philadelphia a year or two prior to the inception of the Network for New Music. At that time there was a nucleus of players dedicated to new music performance based at the Settlement School on Queen Street. Among them were Robert Capanna, Linda Reichert, members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and faculty from Temple University. The group was destined to incorporate into one of the most active and respected new music presenting organizations in the country, with an impressive track record of garnering support and in turn supporting contemporary composition. It has been a pleasure over the years as a composer and fellow performer to collaborate with them, and equally to present them at Haverford College on stage and in the classroom during my tenure as a professor there.

When you studied musicology, was it with an aim to becoming a musicologist?

No. But as an undergraduate, I took numerous courses with the musicologist Richard Shindle, including independent studies. I had become very intrigued by Medieval and Renaissance music, Elizabethan madrigals and lute songs, the sounds of portative organ and harpsichord. Aside from the enjoyment of listening to it, I suspected that there were deeper aspects of this repertoire that could expand my own creative resources. It seemed logical that a graduate musicology curriculum would offer the appropriate framework for such inquiry. Shindle guided me toward NYU and Gustave Reese, along with a varied lineup of scholars and composers that included Jan La Rue, whose Guidelines for Style Analysis proved to be useful for me.

I’m curious about how you compose. Does the music present itself in its entirety to your inner ear, à la Mozart, or do you pursue an initial idea that’s gradually developed, sometimes after considerable struggle, vis-à-vis Beethoven?

I can’t say that I’ve found a standard modus operandi. I’m no stranger to struggle, and maybe Mozart wasn’t either, as sketches have been found. With each project I feel my way into it, nudge the material, write as it comes, and look toward the “eureka” moment when I discover the lever that will allow me to execute the form. It’s at that moment that the piece writes itself.

In your previous interview you mentioned providing choral director Nathan Zullinger with a midi realization of the motets he was going to record. Do you prefer to use notation software to compose, or do you also write in the “old-fashioned” way, with pencil and manuscript paper?

I’ve used software since the mid-1990s, although I’ll jot things on staff paper along the way. But the days of laboring to produce a complete fair copy by hand and entering it in from that are over. It became physically painful to do manuscript copy several decades ago, so the notation program has been a great boon. Midi playback is another matter….

Have you written purely electronic music? Does electro-acoustic music hold any interest?

I am indeed interested—an acoustic piece that I finished in May has an electronic track. I would like to do more, and now that I no longer have teaching duties, there will be time. To excel in this requires as much time and effort as it does to attain proficiency on an orchestral instrument.

For your YouTube performance of Franco Cavallone’s Ombre allungate, which is combined with artwork by Lia Laterza, you’re also credited with the visual montage. So you’re something of a film editor as well as a composer?

At this point I can add the title filmmaker to my signature. In 2015 artist Ying Li and I embarked on a “synaesthesis” project, and from there I have produced 60 films or so. I love multimedia work. Way back in the early 1980s I put together programs of live music, slide images and text recitation, but today’s less cumbersome resources make facilitation so much easier. Larger examples are the video realization of my a cappella cycle Women of Ancient Greek Myth, a 37 minute film on YouTube (; and a realization of my piano quintet Women at the Cross, which I ran as a seven-part series on Facebook during Lent in the past two years. It will repeat again this year.

Alessio Mancino is another artist with whom you’ve been collaborating recently. Would you like to say anything about the various projects the two of you have undertaken? The Cortometraggi, for example, or Favole Domitiche and your organ Sarabande for his The Book of Hours?

Alessio was the artist for the Women of Ancient Greek Myth and also the earlier Cantata of the Angels, also on YouTube. Both of these projects involved our poet friend, Luigi Cerantola, as do a number of the cortometraggi. Alessio has done the realizations of these—we so far have two series of six shorts each. They deal with various themes from mythology, folklore, personal/poetic experience. At times they are humorous, one is scatalogical (in a medieval sort of way). All are viewable on YouTube, and feature some really great musicians, such as the harpist Paola Perrucci and Philadelphia Orchestra members Jonathan Blumenfeld (oboe) and David Cramer (flute).

Your father was Sicilian. Was he influential in stimulating your deep involvement with Italian culture? Did you grow up bilingual? Also, I find it interesting that you were born in Ravenna, Ohio, a town named for its counterpart in Italy. Were there many people of Italian heritage living there when you were growing up?

A sizeable percentage of the Ravenna, OH population was Italian. Many of my relatives lived there—bisnonno (great-grandfather) had a wine and cheese store, Aunt Lena and her husband ran a gelateria—a typical immigrant scene, like Jerre Mangione describes in his book Mount Allegro. My Dad, however, wished to extricate himself from this, and so, no, I didn’t grow up bilingual. He was (and still is, at age 93) a staunch assimilationist, ex-Marine (which means still a Marine), and retired manufacturing man. The person who most cultivated my passion for Italy was my Dad’s older brother—he had spent a year at the university in Rome after the war, reconnected with family in Sicily, undertook formal research into our genealogy, and encouraged me to explore writers from Guido Cavalcanti to Giovanni Verga.

Returning to Italia (the CD), Venice holds a special place in humanity’s imagination, and you’ve made it the focus of your Impressioni venexiane—a musical tour, so to speak, of some of Venice’s most iconic sites, including some I’ve never heard of before, such as Attila’s Throne on the island of Torcello.

The piece you’re referring to, number seven of the series, is set over a laconic, sauntering ostinato, and recalls a midday visit to the lagoon island of Torcello, where Venice’s oldest building stands. There is musical history here—the church contains relics of St. Cecilia, patron saint of the art, and we hear resonances of a style of music that reaches back to Venice’s days as a medieval and renaissance republic. In a courtyard near the church is another relic, the throne of Attila the Hun (a nice seat these days for taking a nap).

In keeping with your love of synthesis and transformation, The Impressioni touch on a wide variety of music—in different tracks I heard what I thought were authentic flamenco clapped rhythms, quasi-Arabic melodies, Jewish/Hebraic allusions, rhythms and motifs reminiscent of Beethoven or Schumann, Italian Renaissance music, and an entire track that I heard as strongly suggestive of Gustav Mahler or Richard Strauss (Canzone popolare).

The cellist of the Quartetto d’Archi di Venezia, Angelo Zanin, says that “all of Venice is in this piece.” Of course chant and Medieval/Renaissance allusions, but also Moorish rhythms and modalities, especially those associated with the nawba [Arab-Andalusian music]. There is a section dedicated to the Venetian Jews who were deported to Nazi concentration camps (here Mendelssohn’s Venetian Boat Song, op. 19/6, is transformed into a threnody). And the Venezia mia! movement (which the entire work is based on, and which is dedicated to my friend Violetta), is affirmatively in the style of an up-tempo gondola song or canzone popolare (though is completely original).

I don’t think you could ask for a better performance of the Impressioni than that of the QdV: How long have you known each other?

It has been a wonderful association. We were introduced 20 years ago by the eminent Toscanini biographer Harvey Sachs, and almost immediately began to collaborate. This year, in fact, is their 40th anniversary as an ensemble, so I’ve known and worked with them for half of their professional life. We have played together in the U.S., Italy, and Germany, and I’ve composed a number of pieces for them—the Impressioni, three other quartets, Women at the Cross, and the group has a proposal in for me to write a sextet for them for the Franck 200th anniversary festival, which would involve violinist Marco Rizzi and pianist Gabriele Carcano.

What does Venice mean to you, musically, historically, artistically?

Venice is music, a city designed like a great nocturne, the canals carrying us along like fluid bass notes, the bridges and promenades providing the harmonic cushion, the Serlian windows and cupole singing the melody. Alternatively, Venice is a quodlibet—this idea was expressed by the musicologist Giovanni Morelli—that is, a multicultural and resonant layering that formed over centuries if not millennia. Yet another interpretation, advanced by Frederic C. Lane in Venice: A Maritime Republic, is that the Serenissima provided the model for American democratic government.

Have you lived in Italy for extended periods of time?

Absolutely, as much as possible. My first academic sabbatical was spent there, in Tuscany. What a life-changing year that was. Shortly after, I took a group of students for a summer music program in Siena. Subsequent to that, a summerhouse exchange with another composer and his family. And many, many shorter trips year to year. From a professional standpoint, I think that maybe I’ve established more collegial ties and carried out more activities over there than here in the U.S.

Was Italia’s atmospheric cover photograph manipulated in any way? It has a certain painterly quality that made me wonder: the misty buildings in the background that allow the more sharply defined gondolas in the foreground greater impact, and the one or two masts that are almost translucent where they might otherwise obscure the background….

I am delighted that you like the cover! This is a photo taken by my friend and alumni tour co-leader Violetta Sumerano Brown. Violet and I led three tours of Italy for Haverford College alumni during our years of employment there. The picture you see here was from the first tour, early July 1999, just around noontime, when the light colors the water to a magical tint. The funny thing is that Violet had forgotten to pack her digital camera for the trip, and at every stop had to go to a souvenir kiosk and buy a new one of those little Kodak cardboard box throwaway cameras. Thanks to low tech, the inadvertent result was, as you say, a very atmospheric shot of a ubiquitous Venetian view.

In addition to the beautiful cover, there are several picturesque slide shows on the Navona website that accompany the music—were you the photographer? The opening shot of the first sequence, shot from above and behind the dome of St. Mark’s, had me wondering how it was managed. Were you the photographer?

Yes, all but a few of those pictures are mine. The majority of the more recent ones were taken with my beautiful Olympus C-765 with 10x zoom (which unfortunately hasn’t worked properly since 2014), others with non-digital cameras further in the past. I can’t say for sure, but I was probably shooting from the bell tower there at St. Mark’s Square, or up on the top of the basilica itself, or across the canal from the bell tower on the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore. Or it could have been from the roof of my flute player friend’s house, which is just behind San Marco.

Lastly, what brought you to Navona?

I learned of Navona Records via my friend Kile Smith’s Vespers disc with The Crossing and Piffaro, which was one of the fledgling company’s first releases (2009). Piazza Navona is one of my favorite spots in Rome, so I had a hunch that the label might be interested in Italia. Also, Parma Recordings, the parent company of Navona, in essence already had in its catalog five of my releases from the Capstone label, which it acquired when that company folded. Aside from those earlier Capstone releases, I am on six Navona CDs, the most recent of which came out last June—a compilation entitled Through Glass. But Italia was our maiden voyage, and it still has special meaning for me, not the least because of the slideshows that you mention, and all the other media enhancements, which are now being reformatted to comport with the latest technological developments.