Death Goes Modern: Bruce Leto, Jr.’s Mood Poems

American pianist Bruce Leto, Jr., took inspiration from his teacher at Haverford College, Curtis Cacioppo in creating his first album, Mood Poems. In working with Cacioppo, Leto says he was able to not only improve his musicality but also how to emphasize and bring out different aspects of the music he played.

Pianist Bruce Leto

Bruce Leto, Jr. (photo by Adler Roberts)

On this album, Leto also performs works by more familiar composers such as Ravel, Sibelius, and Poulenc, but over half the recording are works by Cacioppo. There’s an enormous amount of affection and humour in his works, ranging from a pensive piece in memoriam (Julian’s Song), views from travels in Italy (Sulla Via dei Sette Ponte), and an excerpt from his Piano Variations on Hail to the Chief, entitled Träumerei, among other pieces.

Dedicated ‘for all Americans’ and written ‘on the occasion of the U.S. Presidential Inauguration January 20, 2017’, the Piano Variations on Hail to the Chief casts a shade on the 45th President’s lamentable public positions and is a work that celebrates the many diverse people who make up modern America. Variations are for America’s Islamic, African, Latin and Mexican, and Native American communities, as well as its citizens with disabilities and the marginalized, including women and the LGBT+ communities. Träumerei is based not on Schumann’s work, but on a motif derived from the letters LGBT.

There’s much in the music to explore and one of the first works that immediately captures your ear is Cacioppo’s Drehleier Blues. The opening seconds inform you immediately that this is the closing song to Schubert’s Winterreise, Der Leiermann, until the style changes to contemporary blues. At the end of Schubert’s song cycle, we know our anonymous hero is making the wrong decision to follow the crazy musician, barefoot in the snow, to probably death in the frozen landscape. In Cacioppo’s version, however, we’re now inside our anonymous’ hero head – the hurdy-gurdy man is only the spark for his own psychological travels, slouching into forever. The title, in fact, removes the player entirely: it’s not Der Leiermann (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man) but Drehleier (Hurdy-Gurdy) – the instrument, not the man playing it.

Curt Cacioppo: Drehleier Blues (Bruce Leto Jr., piano)

In the many moods on this recording, you’ll find something that works for you: travel, blues, waltzes, or perpetual motion.

Mood Poems, Bruce Leto Jr. album cover

Bruce Leto, Jr.: Mood Poems
Navona Records: NV6626
Release date: 3 May 2024

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