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Music of Curt Cacioppo

Cover: Navajo Sandpainting

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Catalog Number: CPS-8652
Audio Format: Stereo, DDD
Playing Time: 69:48
Release Date: 1998

Track Listing & Audio Samples
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    Three Piano Pieces
  1. America: a prayer (6:26)
  2. ¡Angelus! (4:50)
  3. Old Petitions (5:44)
    Curt Cacioppo, piano
    Pawnee Preludes for Piano
  4. The Buffalo and the Crow (1:18)
  5. The Woman Imitates the Buffalo (1:34)
  6. I Hear the Sound of a Child Crying (1:08)
  7. Spring Is Opening (1:59)
  8. Beloved Emblem (2:48)
  9. How Near Is the Morning (1:15)
  10. Old Age Is Painful (1:28)
  11. The Woman Welcomes the Warrior (2:58)
  12. Mad Chief Mourns for his Grandson (1:48)
    Curt Cacioppo, piano
("Monsterslayer," after the Navajo legend)
  13. Exorcism (12:55)
  14. Cadenza (2:13)
15. Dialogue (3:48)
  16. Scherzo (11:02)
  17. Dance of Celebration (6:33)
    Emerson String Quartet
    Eugene Drucker, violin
    Philip Setzer, violin
    Lawrence Dutton, viola
    David Finckel, cello


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Curt Cacioppo



Twentieth Century Music - February 1999 - by Mark Alburger

"Curt Cacioppo's piano compositions have the fluid quality of Terry Riley and the ritual, ornamental repetitions of George Crumb. The sound can be big and virtuosic, as in Old Petitions, or can be as gentle as a soundtrack to a nature film. Because of the composer's interests in Native American music, there is often a feeling akin to an updated "Indianist" sensibility, particularly in the vignettes of Pawnee Preludes, a nine-movement suite [The Buffalo and the Crow, The Woman Imitates the Buffalo, I Hear the Sound of a Child Crying, Spring is Opening, Beloved Emblem (for the left hand alone), How Near Is the Morning?, Old Age Is Painful, The Woman Welcomes the Warrior, Mad Chief Mourns for his Grandson]. The quality of these little gems is along the lines of Chopin Preludes or Bartók pedagogical studies.

Nayénezgani (Monsterslayer," after the Navajo legend) is a timbral and tribal switch over to the Emerson String Quartet and Southwestern themes and musical values. Here the synthesis seems one of Bartók and Riley, the latter of whom has worked Native American ideas into his own Salome Dances for Peace. Monsterslayer is a powerful work in five movements -- Exorcism, Cadenza, Dialogue, Scherzo, and Dance of Celebration -- that makes for pleasurable listening."


Fanfare - January/February 1999 - by Peter Burwasser

"Curt Cacioppo is an American composer and pianist with a solid post-Schoenbergian background. His expressive, firmly focused voice, delivered in densely chromatic, but clearly shaped phrases, owes much to the powerful music of his teacher at Harvard, Leon Kirchner. At the same time, Cacioppo has developed an intense commitment to issues related to the American Indian communities. He even teaches, at Haverford College, where he is a professor of music, a social-justice course on the immense injustices visited upon Native Americans.

All of the music on this disc is inspired by stories and issues related to Native Americans. What is remarkable about the music of Cacioppo is that although he uses Navajo, Apache, Zuni, Kwakiutl, and Pawnee melodies, they are always in the context of his distinctive, overtly European viewpoint. Rather than condescend to Native music, Cacioppo meets it head on, and unabashedly ensconces it in his own culture, resulting in works of direct honesty and, at times, blistering passion.

I found all of the piano music effective and moving, as Cacioppo expresses his sorrow and outrage at the holocaust that has been visited upon the American Indian, with music that echoes not only Kirchner and other polytonalists, but also Lisztian bravura, and delicate, Debussy-like impressionism. The Native musical sources rise closest to the surface in the three Pawnee Preludes, which incorporate authentic Pawnee melodies as the spine of the music, serving as a cantus firmus, both in the traditional rhythmic and harmonic sense, but also in a palpably spiritual sense. At the risk of conjuring cliches, the insistent beating of war drums seems to remind us of the vitality and vision that remain in the hearts of these people.

The ambitious string quartet Nayézgani (Monsterslayer) is a five-movement depiction of a Navajo creation story. Although the composer purports to utilize a "system of scales, intervals, chords and rhythms derived from elements of Navajo cosmology," the language of the quartet is, like much of the piano music, distinctly European. And again, the strength of the music derives from this honesty of expression; the absence of any overt Native music (at least to these admittedly unschooled ears) is striking. The closing Dance of Celebration even incorporates some jazzy syncopation, making for an ironic meeting of two native cultures. The work is a semiprogrammatic description of the destruction of a child-eating monster (cello) at the hands of two brothers (the two violins), who are counseled in the task by the supreme deity, Changing Woman (viola).

The composer performs his own music with impressive virtuosity and infectious passion, and the Emerson String Quartet, for whom Nayézgani was written, plays with the same focus and energy as it might for Shostakovich, Bartók, or Beethoven, all of whom are evoked in this vibrant music."


Fanfare - March/April 1999 - by John Story

"Curt Cacioppo (b. 1951) has immersed himself in the culture of Native Americans, and it permeates his art in much the same way that, say, Messiaen's Catholicism permeated virtually everything he wrote. All of the music is programmatic, although often one is hard pressed to hear the specifics of the program in the music. There are also some similarities in Cacioppo's piano writing with that of his great French predecessor-a certain fondness for bell sounds and massive sonorities. The notes are painfully sincere about the injustices faced by Native Americans and how those injustices have influenced the music, and they go a long way toward convincing the listener that he or she is about to hear an hour or so of do-gooder music (whatever that might be). But the truth is that this is pretty remarkable stuff.

Cacioppo is a formidable pianist with a rich, ringing sonority, and however his political concerns have affected his music's details what one hears is always impressive and often very beautiful. The idiom is an expanded tonality with a lot of the melodic material derived from Native American sources, modified to fit the requirements of the even-tempered scale. The disc opens with three works for solo piano, America: a prayer, ¡Angelus!, and Old Petitions. The first is a three-part nocturne somewhat similar to the two by Sorabji, although on nowhere near as expansive a time frame. The music is arpeggio-based, rising to a huge, bell-drenched climax before retreating back to the more muted music of the opening. ¡Angelus! begins with isolated two-note phrases in the piano's upper register. As the music progresses the range and size of the phrases increase to another bell-oriented climax. The third piece, Old Petitions, recorded live, rounds out the set with more bells.

The Pawnee Preludes is a set of nine short pieces using Pawnee melodies as their cantus firmus. Unless one is familiar with the originals, I doubt anyone would be able to hear the source material as such (unlike, for example, Messiaen's use of bird song in his music), but they give a much broader picture of Cacioppo's muse. Only three of the nine preludes use anything immediately recognizable as being Native American in origin, and that turns out to be the rhythm one associates with war dances from old Westerns which presumably, given the context and the composer's sympathies, is authentic. What is more pervasive is how Cacioppo's music fits within the ongoing traditions of piano music. My notes for one of the preludes, for example, describe it as dissonant Debussy. The nine pieces are all shorter than the three independent works, and none have the impact of the larger pieces.

By far the largest work on the disc is the string quartet alternately described as Monsterslayer or Neyénèzgani, depending on where one is reading. In five linked movements, it is described in the notes as the interplay of five principal characters in a Navajo myth, with each instrument representing one character and the quartet as a whole being the fifth. Obviously this is not the kind of individual characterization familiar from works like Carter's Second and Third Quartets where, each instrument has a rhetorical/dramatic function more or less independent of the other three instruments. It is probably more helpful to listen to the piece as absolute, albeit highly rhetorical, music rather than attempting to follow the rather vague program. There is a tendency for the music to sprawl, but there are wonderful moments, such as the highly aggressive opening section and the finale, which is basically a contrapuntal boogie for the four instruments, the performance is a recording of the premiere, and so there are audience noises as well as some fairly noisy page turns along with a modicum of applause at the end.

With the exception of the two live recordings noted the recorded sound is fine. This is an interesting voice and is recommended to the adventuresome."


American Academy of Arts and Letters

"Curt Cacioppo has fashioned a rich language which gives him the flexibility and range with which to say what he believes in musically, emotionally, spiritually. His music incorporates in ingenious ways the traditions of Western modernism with significant aspects of Native American culture, among them, for example, Navajo creation stories which he has set to music with great confidence in his powerful string quartet Nayénezgani (Slayer of Monsters)."


The Washington Post Monday, March 17, 2003; Page C01
20th Century Consort: Uplifting Underground
By Tim Page, Washington Post Staff Writer

"The 20th Century Consort's occasional programs at Ring Auditorium manage to combine taut, expert and altogether committed performances with a welcoming -- indeed, downright homey -- friendliness that is quite unusual in the rarefied world of contemporary classical music. Those listeners who found their way through the protests and clotted traffic to this small theater in the basement of the Hirshhorn Museum Saturday afternoon were rewarded with one of the best concerts of the season.

Curt Cacioppo's Three Piano Pieces, brilliantly played by Lisa Emenheiser, proved a set of ambitious, densely harmonized and directly expressive compositions that deserve a place in the repertory. Cacioppo is a virtuoso pianist himself, and it is not surprising that his writing for the instrument has the flash and physical daring we associate with the works of such composer-pianists as Liszt, Debussy and (once again) Messiaen. But what startled me was a welcome, almost imperceptible link to turn-of-the-20th-century American composers Edward MacDowell and Charles Tomlinson Griffes in Cacioppo's open fifths and jaunty melodies.

"I was sincerely smitten by the expressive force of the music... pages which take their place within the great musical current of the 1900's, but with a very strong, singular character..." "Assertive music emerges, but at the same time one which is refined, muscular but subtle, and which has something of an indomitable sense of its own nature. One begins to listen attracted by the originality of the source of inspiration, but one concludes carried away by the power of the music itself." -- from Amadeus, June 1999


Jewish Exponent

"stunning...[the quartet] overwhelms us"


Paul Orgel, Curt Cacioppo's Pawnee Preludes for Piano, DMA dissertation, Temple University 1996

"Pawnee Preludes surpasses in musical interest every attempt by earlier composers at adapting Native American material in piano pieces. ...originality backed by technical mastery, scholarly attainment...that achieves real self-expression"


Anzeiger/Frankenpost, Germany (Pawnee Preludes and other piano works)

"...penetrating works...a spellbinding musical experience..."


Nordbayerischer Kurier, Germany

"Visions from the New World (headline)" "...America: a prayer tells the story of what was done to Indian tribes and their lands during white expansion. Here symbolic elements of the Indians, the cry of the eagle in the canyons, are treatedmusically. The eagle as a national symbol of many lands and cultures can in this piece be seen in reference to the common roots of all mankind, and as an invitation to mutual understanding."


Stephen D. Hicken, American Record Guide, p. 348 Sept/Oct 1999

"Curt Cacioppo's music is resolutely post-romantic in its harmony, gestures, and syntax, even while using Native American thematic material. His piano writing is virtuosic and idiomatic, and he plays his own pieces with skill and expression. Fans of late-romantic character pieces will find much to like here. Nayenezgani (Monsterslayer), for string quartet, has a somewhat larger harmonic and gestural palette, while remaining accessible and expressive. The Emerson Quartet gives this very difficult work an assured and aggressive performance."