Music: An Art and a Language Part 9

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The genius of Beethoven first revealed the full possibilities of the form. In fact, so remarkable was his work that such creative composers as Cesar Franck and d'Indy consider the basic principles for our modern development of music to be found in the Fugue of Bach and the Varied Air of Beethoven. For, deadly dull as is the Variation form when treated in a stereotyped manner, by very reason of its freedom from arbitrary rules it may be a most elastic medium for the expression of poetic genius. The composer has but to invent a striking characteristic theme, rich in potential development, and then to let it develop for as long as he can retain the interest of his hearers.

Likewise for a great orator the simple rule is to state a theme on which something worth while may be said and then by presenting it in new lights and with copious ill.u.s.trations to drive the truth home. The princ.i.p.al and significant changes which we owe to Beethoven are the following: complete freedom in variety of key, so that at times (as in his op. 34) each variation is in a new key; a frequent omission of the rigid stops at the end of each variation, _e.g._, the Slow movement of the _Fifth Symphony_ and the third movement of the _Trio_, op. 96, so that a continuous flow of thought is preserved; the practice, so often followed in modern literature, of founding variations on a double theme--of which the Finale of the _Heroic Symphony_ is a striking example. But the chief advance in Beethoven is the entirely new conception of what variations should be; not, according to him, mere mechanical manipulations of the subject matter, but vital products of the imagination, as varied as the members of a human family having the same mother. Beethoven's variations, in fact, often seem like a series of character-pieces, each with its own individuality and yet retaining an organic relationship to the main thought. His fondness for the form and his mastery over it is seen by the frequency of its use in the last Sonatas and String-Quartets. Every composer since Beethoven has written one or more works in the Variation form; but we can mention only the most beautiful examples and then pa.s.s on to the daring conceptions of the modern school. The Variations by Schubert in his String-Quartet in D minor on the Song, _Death and the Maiden_, will amply repay study, and so will the _Variations Serieuses_, op. 54, for the pianoforte by Mendelssohn. As for Schumann, he was very happy in the use of this form, and his _Symphonic etudes_, op. 13--in wealth of fancy and freedom of treatment--are quite unparalleled. His Variations for two pianofortes, op. 46, deserve also to be known. Among the finest examples since Beethoven are the numerous sets by Brahms, remarkable alike for emotional power, for free and yet logical treatment of the material and for solidity of workmanship. They include the _Variations on a theme from Handel_ for pianoforte, op.

24; the set for orchestra, op. 56a, on the _St. Anthony Choral_ of Haydn; and the two sets, op. 35, on themes from Paganini--universally conceded to be the most brilliant examples for the pianoforte in recent literature.

To speak now particularly of the modern school, there are five compositions in this form which, for their daring novelty and sustained eloquence, should be familiar to every music-lover and heard as often as possible. For they are elaborate works which must be thoroughly known to be understood and loved. (1), There is the set in Tchaikowsky's Pianoforte Trio in A minor, op. 50; noteworthy for freedom of modulation and for the striking individuality given to the different transformations of the theme--two of the changes being to a Waltz and a Mazurka. (2), _The Symphonic Variations_ for Pianoforte and Orchestra of Cesar Franck, based on two contrasting themes, one in the minor mode and one with modulations to the major. The variations are not numbered and there are no rigid stops; throughout the work Franck's marvellous power of modulation and rich harmonic texture are eloquently manifested. (3), The _Istar_ Variations for orchestra by d'Indy is one of the most original works in the whole field; in that, for dramatic reasons connected with the subject, the usual order is _reversed_ and the variations come _first_, gradually becoming more and more simple until we reach the theme itself, pure and unadorned.

(4), The Symphonic Poem, _Don Quixote_, of R. Strauss, a complex set of Variations on _three_ themes which typify respectively the characters of Cervantes' story; the Knight, his attendant, Sancho Panza and Dulcinea. The variations are not confined to a merely abstract or formal treatment of the material but set before us a picture of the attributes of the characters and a description of some of their spectacular adventures. (5), Lastly the _Enigma Variations_ for orchestra by Elgar, so-called because the ident.i.ty of the basic theme is not revealed. The variations are character-pieces which for individuality and charm are a lasting glory to the genius of the composer.[84]

[Footnote 84: For a detailed account see the third volume of D.G.

Mason's _Appreciation of Music_ series.]

We shall now a.n.a.lyze, with suggestive comments, two[85] of the well-known sets of Beethoven: the first movement of the Sonata, op.

26, and the _Six Variations on an original theme_, op. 34. The variations from the Sonata are an early work; but, although definitely sectionalized and with only one change of tonality, they clearly reveal Beethoven's freedom of conception and his aversion to stereotyped treatment. The theme itself is a suave, appealing melody, already cited as an example of a sixteen-measure sentence, and admirably suited for variation purposes, since it arouses at once the expectation of the listener.[86] The first variation is a kind of shadowy, mysterious outline of the theme just presented, as if the composer were musing upon the latent possibilities of his material.

There is a quickening of interest in the second variation which, with the theme in the ba.s.s, may be likened to a 'cello solo of a mildly bravura nature. (Note the fantastic accents on weak beats in measures 18, 22, 23, and 24.) In the third variation comes a complete contrast in mood; the key is changed to A-flat minor and the theme is transformed into an elegy, all its joy crushed out. The movement abounds in impa.s.sioned dissonances, always emphasized by _sf_ marks, and the throbbing pulsations of the ba.s.s--in the second phrase--give a tragic intensity of feeling. With the fourth variation there enters that spirit of playfulness so characteristic of Beethoven--the movement being, in fact, a miniature Scherzo. The fifth and last variation is an idyllic revery in which the composer reviews and amplifies the many beautiful fancies which his imagination has conceived, and closes with a coda, based on the motive of the main theme, of tranquillity and satisfaction.

[Footnote 85: These compositions are not printed in the Supplement, as it may be a.s.sumed that the student can readily procure them. They are published in a number of editions.]

[Footnote 86: For some illuminating comments on the whole Sonata see Baxter Perry's _Descriptive a.n.a.lysis of Pianoforte Works_. (The Theodore Presser Co.)]

The set in F major, op. 34, is a striking ill.u.s.tration of Beethoven's fondness for mediant relationship, since no two variations are in the same key; the tonic of each being a _third_ below that of the preceding. The Key-scheme is F, D, B-flat, G, E-flat, C minor; and then, through the descent of a fifth, back to the home-key, or in actual notes:


The first variation is a highly embellished treatment of the opening theme; the melodic outline being merely hinted at in unimportant parts of the phraseology, _e.g._

[Music: original theme]

[Music: 1st Variation]

Written in the old ornate style, it is of interest chiefly for the pianistic effect. In the second Variation we have a change both of time and key; the impression being that of a distant march for men's voices or for soft trombones. The third Variation, again with change of time and key, ill.u.s.trates Beethoven's fondness for a subtle outlining of the theme. In the fourth Variation the theme is transformed into a Minuet of graceful swing; and in the next Variation a strong contrast is afforded by the Funeral March, the minor mode being used for the first time. The last Variation--in the home-key--gives a brilliant summing up of the characteristic features of the theme. Note especially the reminiscent effect of the closing measures.



We have now set forth, with representative ill.u.s.trations, all the fundamental forms of instrumental music, _i.e._, the Canon, Fugue and Invention, the Two and Three-part forms, the Rondo and the Varied Air.

Through the perfecting of these means of expression music became a living language of communication, ready for that development which, through the genius of the Cla.s.sic and Romantic masters, it was destined to show. The essential feature of all the above forms is the emphasis laid on _one theme_. This is strictly true of the polyphonic forms, the Canon, Fugue[87] and Invention and of the Two-part form; and although in the Three-part form we have a second theme, this is merely for contrast and is often of rather slight import. The same comment holds true of the Rondo where, notwithstanding the new contrasting themes of the episodes, the centre of attraction is the _single main theme_, to which constant recurrence is made. Obviously the Varied Air is the expansion of a single theme. But the princ.i.p.al characteristic of the Sonata-Form, now to be studied, is that we find therein _two themes_ of coequal importance, which may well be compared to the hero and heroine of a novel or the two leading characters in a drama. It is true that a composer will often in the creations of his imagination show a marked preference for one theme over the other; just as, in the family group to which the child owes its life, either the man or the woman is likely to be the stronger character. But as there can be no child without two parents, so the organism of the Sonata-Form derives its vitality from the presence and interaction of two living musical personalities, the first and second themes. The first theme is so called because it is the one first presented and because it generally furnishes the prevailing rhythmic pulse of the movement. Yet the second theme,--exactly as important in its own way, is often of a greater beauty; its t.i.tle of "second theme" implying nothing of a secondary nature, but merely its position in order of appearance. No greater step was ever taken in the growth of musical structure than this introduction of a second coequal theme; for the principle of duality, of action and reaction between two forces, runs throughout nature both human and physical, as is seen from the import of the terms: man and woman, active and pa.s.sive, positive and negative, heat and cold, light and darkness. The first theme, in fact, often resembles, in its vigor and directness, a masculine personality; while the second theme, in grace and tenderness, resembles the feminine. As long as music confined itself to the presentation of but one main theme it was hampered by the same limitations which beset the early Greek tragedians, in whose primitive plays[88] we find but one chief actor. The introduction of a second theme can not be attributed to _any single man_; indeed it resulted from a tendency of the times, the demand of which was for more h.o.m.ophonic melodies rather than for an elaborate polyphonic treatment of a single one. Embryonic traces of a second theme we find in D. Scarlatti (see Supplement No. 40) and in Sebastian Bach himself.[89] Scarlatti,[90] in fact, was often hovering close to the Sonata-Form and in the example just cited actually achieved it. The systematic employment of the second-theme principle, however, is commonly attributed to Emmanuel Bach (1714-1788), although an undue amount of praise, by certain German scholars, has been given his achievements to the exclusion of musicians from other nations who were working along the same lines. Any fair historical account of the development of the Sonata-Form should recognize the Italians, Sammartini and Galuppi; the gifted Belgian Gossec, who exercised such a marked influence in Paris, and above all, the Bohemian Johann Stamitz (1717-1757), the leader of the famous Mannheim Orchestra, of whom we shall speak further when we come to the orchestra as a medium.

In many of Stamitz's Symphonies we find the essential first-movement structure (_i.e._, tripart.i.te grouping with a clear second theme) and, as Riemann says in his _Handbuch der Musikgeschichte_, "Their sincere phraseology, their boldness of conception and the masterly _thematic development_ give Stamitz's works lasting value. Haydn and Mozart rest absolutely upon his shoulders."[91]

[Footnote 87: Except in the comparatively rare cases where we have a Fugue on two subjects.]

[Footnote 88: Illuminating comments on this point will be found in _Outlines of Musical Form_ from W.H. Hadow's _Studies in Modern Music_ (2nd Series).]

[Footnote 89: See the prelude in D major of the second book of the _Well-tempered Clavichord_.]

[Footnote 90: For further information consult the first chapter of J.S. Shedlock's _The Pianoforte Sonata_.]

[Footnote 91: For an extended account of this development see the second chapter, Vol. II, of _The Art of Music_ (The National Society of Music, N.Y.). See also Chapter XIX of Pratt's _History of Music_.]

The other marked characteristic of the Sonata-Form is the _second_ part which is known as the Development Section; for, as we shall soon explain, the structure as a whole is tripart.i.te. In this portion of the movement the composer has an opportunity to improvise, as it were, with his material, using one theme or both as already presented. Dry and labored development sections may, of course, be found in certain Sonatas and Symphonies, but in the great works of such masters as Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikowsky and d'Indy the development is the most exciting part of the movement. The hearer is conducted through a musical excursion; every device of rhythmic variety, of modulatory change and polyphonic imitation being employed to enhance the beauty of the themes and to reveal their latent possibilities.

Before going further, it is well to point out a confusion which often arises between the terms Sonata and Sonata-Form. When we speak of Sonata-_Form_ we mean invariably the structural treatment as to number of themes, key-relationship, etc., of _any single_ movement within a series.[92] By the term Sonata is meant a composition generally in three or four movements, _e.g._, First Movement, Slow Movement, Minuet or Scherzo and Finale; of which, in most examples of the cla.s.sic school, the First Movement--and often the last--were in Sonata-Form.

An alternative name, indeed, for Sonata-Form is First Movement Form.

Beginning with Beethoven, however, composers began to exhibit great freedom in the application of the Sonata-Form. We find Sonatas of Beethoven, notably the set op. 31, in which every movement (even the Scherzo) is in Sonata Form or a modification thereof; on the other hand, there are compositions, ent.i.tled Sonatas, in which not a single movement is in pure Sonata-Form, _e.g._, Beethoven's Twelfth Sonata, op. 26. These comments apply equally to many other large instrumental works. For a symphony is merely a Sonata for Orchestra, a String-Quartet a composition--of the same general type--for four solo instruments[93] and there is, furthermore, a large group of ensemble compositions: Sonatas for Violin (or any solo-instrument) and Pianoforte; Trios, often for unusual combinations, _e.g._, Brahms's _Trio for Violin, Horn and Pianoforte_; Quintets and even Septets--in all of which the distinction must be made between the terms Sonata and Sonata-Form. Nor is there any rigid rule in regard to number of movements or the moods expressed therein. The cla.s.sic Sonata, Symphony or Quartet, as we have stated above, generally contained three or four movements, of which the first would be direct and vigorous in nature--a summons to attention--cast in sonata-form, with a wealth of material organically treated, and requiring from the listener concentrated attention. The second movement was generally much simpler in form, affording relief after the tension of the preceding movement--its themes of a lyric nature, often with great depth of emotion, sometimes even of tragic import. The third movement, Minuet or Scherzo, would portray the light, humorous side of life; and the Finale, joyful and optimistic--its themes often bearing strongly the sense of finality--would close the work with a general feeling of satisfaction. It was Beethoven who first modified these principles to suit his own poetic needs. Thus we find some of his Sonatas with only two movements; some have three, some have four. One of Schumann's Symphonies contains five movements and Rubinstein's _Ocean Symphony_ seven! When we reach the modern school, we shall see further freedom as to number, order and type of movements.

[Footnote 92: The form is also sometimes used independently, as in Brahms's _Rhapsody in G minor_ and often, of course, in the Overture.]

[Footnote 93: _I.e._, 1st Violin, 2d Violin, Viola and Violoncello.]

We are now prepared to sum up the essential characteristics of the Sonata-Form; for there is no structure in which it is more important for the music-lover to acquire the art of listening easily, naturally and with a minimum of friction. The Sonata-Form is the instrumental form "par excellence"--the Gothic Cathedral[94] of music--and has retained its place, not because of any slavish regard for form as such, but because it has been worked out, perfected and utilized by the greatest of the composers. Any form with a beginning, a middle and an ending, _i.e._, presenting material worthy of consideration, which allows this material to grow and realize its inherent possibilities and then sums the matter up in a convincing, objective close; which, furthermore, exemplifies the great principle of Duality, _i.e._, reveals _two_ musical personalities, has as little need for argumentative sanction as a tree or a human being. The Sonata-Form--often, to be sure, with free modifications--predominates in all the large instrumental compositions of the Cla.s.sic, Romantic and Modern Composers, notably of such men as Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Cesar Franck, Tchaikowsky, d'Indy and Sibelius. Anyone unable readily to follow movements in this form, if he thinks he is receiving the complete message of the music, is his own dupe. It would be as logical to expect to enjoy the beauties of architecture without perceiving the difference between a nave and a bowling-alley. The obvious way to understand the meaning of a language is to know something of the principles of structure and expression in that language. Music is in very truth a language; and far too many people get from it nothing save the appeal which comes from its emotional power. This exciting experience is important, we may frankly acknowledge, but there are no reasons, save apathy and indifference, why the hearer should not have all this and more too. There is no conflict between warm emotions and an intelligent, well-trained mind. They should go hand in hand; and in any complete artistic appreciation each is indispensable.[95]

[Footnote 94: See the eloquent comments on this a.n.a.logy by d'Indy in his _Course in Composition_, Vol. II, Chap. 5.]

[Footnote 95: "Art is not more a riot of the pa.s.sions than it is a debauch of the senses; it contains, no doubt, sensuous and emotional elements, the importance of which there is no need to undervalue, but it is only artistic if it subordinate them to the paramount claims of reason." W.H. Hadow, _Studies in Modern Music_ (second series), preface.]

The three main divisions of the Sonata-Form, with their essential features, are the following: (1) the Exposition, in which two themes in different tonalities are announced for the consideration--and, as the composer hopes, the pleasure--of the hearer. In the works of Haydn and Mozart this contrast of key was invariably that of Tonic and Dominant, _e.g._, C major and G major, or of major and relative minor, _e.g._, A-flat major and F minor. Beginning, however, with Beethoven great emphasis has been laid on _mediant_ relationship, _e.g._, C major and E major or C major and A-flat major; and in modern composers[96] this more stimulating change has largely superseded the former tonic and dominant grouping, _e.g._, Brahms's _Third Symphony_.

We thus see that the harmonic feature of the Exposition is _Duality_ of Key-relationship. Between these two main themes there is always a modulatory connection or Bridge Pa.s.sage which, in the time of Haydn, was generally of a very perfunctory, stereotyped character. Wagner once sarcastically remarked that Haydn's transitions reminded him of the clatter of dishes between courses at a royal feast. In Mozart we find the bridge-pa.s.sage more deftly planned, more organically connected with what precedes and follows; but it was Beethoven who, in this portion of the movement, first revealed its possibilities.

Throughout his works the bridge-pa.s.sage is never a mere mechanical modulation or a floundering about until the introduction of the second theme, but is so conceived that the interest of the hearer is increasingly aroused until, at the entrance of the second theme, he is in the highest state of expectancy.[97] A bridge-pa.s.sage of this kind often has a subsidiary theme of its own, or even several melodic phrases, and is planned as carefully as the action by which a dramatist leads up to the entrance of his heroine. After the second theme we generally find a closing theme to round out the Exposition as a whole. This practice dates from Haydn and has been much expanded by modern composers. Witness the glorious climactic effect in Cesar Franck's _Symphony_ and in Brahms's _D major Symphony_ of the closing themes in the Expositions of the first movements. For many years it was the invariable custom to repeat the Exposition, and in Cla.s.sic Symphonies we always find a double bar with marks of repeat and two endings. This practice was not an integral part of the form but was adopted so that the hearer, by going over the themes of the Exposition twice, might follow more intelligently their growth in the Development. With the advance in public appreciation this repeating of the Exposition has been largely abandoned; for there is no doubt that to begin all over again, when a certain objective point has been reached, breaks the continuous flow of the movement.[98]

[Footnote 96: Some composers have also experimented with still freer key-relationships.]

[Footnote 97: For striking examples see the Expositions of the first movements of Beethoven's _Third Symphony_ and of Tchaikowsky's _Sixth Symphony_.]

[Footnote 98: The ultra-conservative att.i.tude of Brahms is shown by his retention of the double bar and repeat, although this is often ignored by modern conductors.]

(2) The Development, for which the Germans have the happy name of "Freie Phantasie," or free phantasy; the composer thus giving rein to his imagination and doing whatever he pleases, so long as he holds the interest of his hearers and neither becomes verbose nor indulges in mere mechanical manipulation. There are, alas! developments in which the composer exhausts his themes and his hearers too;[99] but on work of this kind, since it is not real development but labored jugglery, no powder need be wasted. Beethoven began the practice, in his Developments, of not confining himself to the themes of the Exposition but of introducing an entirely new theme, whenever the main material had fulfilled its purpose. The single most exciting factor in a good development is the freedom and wealth of modulation revealed by the daring genius of the creator; the effect being Plurality of Key-relationship, in distinction from the two closely related keys of the Exposition. It would often seem as if we were taken up into high mountains or borne away to distant seas. For ill.u.s.trations of this "free phantasy" note the end of the Development in the first movement of Beethoven's _Second Symphony_ where, after great stress has been laid in the Exposition on the two basic keys of D major and A major, we are left in the distant tonality of C-sharp major and are then whirled back, by a dramatic change, into the home-key of the third part. One of the most interesting studies in the workings of a great mind is to observe how Beethoven, in his developments, allows the excitement to subside and yet never entirely die out, and how deftly he leads the hearer onward to the summing up of the main themes of the exposition.

[Footnote 99: It was probably a development of this kind which called forth the characteristic comment from Debussy who once remarked to a friend at a concert, "Let us flee! he is going to develop."]

(3) The Recapitulation or Resume, in which both the themes of the Exposition are rea.s.serted, each in the home key--a strong final emphasis thus being laid on _Unity_ of Tonality. The bridge-pa.s.sage has to be correspondingly changed, for now the modulation is between two themes _both_ in the _same key_. To achieve such a modulation is quite a "tour de force" as every musician knows, and often taxed the ingenuity even of the great Beethoven. The skill by which he always made the second theme sound fresh and vital is astounding. For a case of "academic fumbling"--mere treading of water--in this adjustment of key relationship, see the Recapitulation of the first movement of Brahms's Second Symphony. To secure unbroken continuity and to avoid vain repet.i.tions[100] there is no portion of the Sonata-Form which has been more modified by the inventive genius of modern composers and by the tendency exemplified in the Symphonic Poem (to be explained in due season). The general validity of Restatement, as shown in the Recapitulation of the Sonata-Form, cannot be questioned; for that depends, as so often pointed out, upon the human craving to enjoy once more, after intervening contrast, something which has originally given pleasure. Furthermore this sound psychological principle finds an a.n.a.logy in our own life: with its early years of striving, its middle period of development and its closing years of climactic retrospect and satisfaction. There is a corresponding structural treatment in the denoument of a drama. In the cla.s.sic composers, the Recapitulation is almost always a literal repet.i.tion of the Exposition, although Beethoven began to be freer, _e.g._, in the climax of the Coriola.n.u.s overture, where he modifies the form to meet the dramatic needs of the subject.[101] Modern composers, however, have felt that much of this repet.i.tion was superfluous; and when they do repeat both themes, one or the other is freely varied and made still more eloquent. For examples, see the resume of the first movements of Franck's _Symphony_, of Brahms's _First Symphony_ and of Tchaikowsky's _Sixth_. The Recapitulation is often abridged by omitting the first theme altogether and dwelling exclusively on the second; as for example, in the Finale of Schumann's _Fourth Symphony_ and in Sinigaglia's Overture, _Le Baruffe Chiozzotte_.[102]

[Footnote 100: See Gretry's amusing comments on the Sonata-Form cited by Romain Rolland in the essays _Musicians of Former Days_.]

[Footnote 101: See also Wagner's comments on the _Third Leonora Overture_, cited by Ernest Newman in his _Musical Studies_, pp.


[Footnote 102: Additional ill.u.s.trations of this treatment may be found in Chabrier's Overture to _Gwendoline_ and in the first movement of F.S. Converse's _String Quartet_.]

It remains to speak of the beginning and end of the Sonata-Form. With Haydn it became the custom, not necessarily invariable, to introduce the body of the movement by a Prelude which, in early days, was of slight texture and import--often a mere preliminary "flourish of trumpets," a presenting of arms. In Mozart we find some examples of more artistic treatment, notably in the Overture to the _Magic Flute_ and in the prelude to the C major Quartet with its stimulating dissonances. But in this case, as in so many others, it was Beethoven who first showed what a Prelude should be: a subtle means of arousing the interest and expectancy of the hearer; the effect as carefully planned as the portico leading to a temple. To usher in the theme of the Exposition in a truly exciting manner every means of modulation and rhythm is employed; famous ill.u.s.trations being the introductions to the first movements of the Second, Fourth and Seventh symphonies; and, in modern literature, those of the first movements of Brahms's _First Symphony_ and of Tchaikowsky's _Fifth_. It also became customary to prolong the end of the movement by what is termed a Coda; the same tendency being operative that is found in the peroration to a speech or in the spire of a cathedral, _i.e._, the human instinct to end whatever we attempt as impressively and completely as possible.

This Coda, which, in Haydn and Mozart, was often a mere iteration of trite chords--a ceasing to go--was so expanded by Beethoven that it was the real glory of the whole movement. In fact so many eloquent treatments of the main material were reserved for the Coda that it often became a _second_ development; and such was its scope that the form may be considered to have _four_ parts instead of three, _i.e._, 1, Exposition, 2, Development, 3, Recapitulation, 4, Coda; parts 4 and 2 balancing each other in the same way as 3 and 1. For two of the most famous examples in all Beethoven literature see the Codas to the First movement of the _Third Symphony_ and to the Finale of the _Eighth_.

We now present a tabular view of the Sonata-Form summing up the features just commented upon.


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Music: An Art and a Language Part 9 summary

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