Indispensable piano literature - What would you list?

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Jul 21, 2006 9:56 am

Full (or even over-full) schedules often prevent non-musicians from finding enough time to become familiar with even a basic part of the piano literature, even though they may have a feeling that they like the music when they hear it adventitiously. Any of us could probably list 50 or more works that we think most people should know about. I list over 600 on our Listening List and Composer Resource page.

I think it would be valuable to discuss what ten works we might recommend to beginning listeners or players (and why we would recommend them), if we were compelled to list only ten. There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Items can be added to YOUR list for pedagogical value, for artistic reasons or just because you really like them. What works do YOU recommend to others. What do you play for your children or students?




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Postby Mins Music » Mon Aug 21, 2006 8:35 pm

I was so disappointed to see that 167 people have viewed this topic, but there are no suggestions! Then when I tried to think of only TEN, I realised why. Whew! I'm still stumped! I don't really have pieces I use again and again for students - or at least I don't think I do. I try and take into account their personality, interests etc. blah blah blah...
But I am determined to think of ten pieces.

You mentioned beginning LISTENERS or players. I think my list would be seperate for the reason that the listeners won't have to learn the pieces, so therefore skills and techniques and their level of difficulty doesn't have to be considered. Perhaps I'll start with listeners first.

My suggestions are very cliche, but I think for BEGINNING listeners they're palatible enough to be enjoyed by everyone.

1. Clair de Lune by Debussy

For an impressionist piece, it still has a definable (singable) melody line. For people new to classical music, I think this is probably important, as todays music is lyric based, and we're used to singing along. But this piece also delves a little deeper into atmospheric playing, is very emotive and really 'shows off' what the piano can do, without it overwhelming the listener. I think it engages the listener. I remember as a kid this was one piece that made me think: Oh boy, I wish I could play the piano like THAT! And it's not TOO long. 'Reverie' of course would be another, shorter option.

Okay, there's the first one on my list. I'll post this, and then come back later! :D
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Postby Mins Music » Mon Aug 21, 2006 8:53 pm

2.2 part Invention No.13 by Bach.

My list is not prioritised and I include Bach because I desperately would love people to appreciate him a lot more than some people seem to. I think Bach is a tricky one for beginners because of his use of counterpoint, contrapuntal writing, and this can seem confusing/overwhelming to listen to at first, (And many beginning/intermediate players don't like Bach because of the finger indapendence needed in his pieces etc) but the reason why I LOVE him. I think his pieces are hugely passionate and intense, and for the very opposite reasons of why romantic or impressionist players are passionate. (I think it's because Bach isn't overly sentimental) This is one reason why I suggest this easier to follow short piece of Bach, to offer a complete contrast to the Debussy piece. (If you are completely new to Bach, listen to his orchestral music, maybe start with Brandensburg Concerto No4 in G major and just listen to the way he can weave those seperate melody lines - it's glorious!) :cool:

3. About Foreign Lands and People by Schumann

This is such a simple light piece, short and pretty and with only two or three listenings you find yourself humming it in the shower! I think this would be a great stepping stone from todays music into the Classical world.

4. Fantasy in D by Mozart.

Longer than the previous two, it travels us through different themes with different moods, and introduces us to 'virtuoso' playing without being too heavy.

....Beethoven MUST be mentioned, but I still haven't decided which piece for the beginning listener ... although I know I keep coming back to done to death Fur Elise - it's so popular for a reason.

Anyway, that's four. Anyone got one or two or four :D of their own?

Dr John - what would be some on your list for beginning listener? (And I've sort of interpretted 'beginning listener' as those new to piano classical music.) I'll add a list of beginning players once I've finished this list.




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Tue Aug 22, 2006 8:33 am

Mins Music wrote:2.2 part Invention No.13 by Bach.

My list is not prioritised and I include Bach because I desperately would love people to appreciate him a lot more than some people seem to. I think Bach is a tricky one for beginners because of his use of counterpoint, contrapuntal writing, and this can seem confusing/overwhelming to listen to at first, (And many beginning/intermediate players don't like Bach because of the finger indapendence needed in his pieces etc) but the reason why I LOVE him. I think his pieces are hugely passionate and intense, and for the very opposite reasons of why romantic or impressionist players are passionate.


Dr John - what would be some on your list for beginning listener? (And I've sort of interpretted 'beginning listener' as those new to piano classical music.) I'll add a list of beginning players once I've finished this list.

All right, here's a stab. I should say that I grew up in a household with absolutely no exposure to classical music, even though I was involved in choral settings for 8 years. I'm one of those people who got their first exposure to classical music in a college music appreciation course and built on that. After 30 years of constant exposure to classical music since, I've acquired a decent knowledge of the literature, so I can appreciate the position of the beginning listener.

I'm leaving out Bach entirely for the arbitrary reason that his music wasn't actually written for piano. I'm also leaving out transcriptions of works written for other instruments (e.g. transcriptions of the Bach D minor partita for solo violin, which is a MUST for any serious classical music listener).

That said, here's a list, with the same disclaimers you gave (and a few more), in no particular order:

Moussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition - A wonderful set of contrasting works which showcase many moods of which the piano is capable. Striking finale.

Beethoven - 4th Piano Concerto - One of the master's most intimate works for orchestra and piano. Shows both symphonic composing and piano writing. Very approachable.

Debussy - Preludes, Book 1 - Preludes, Book 1 - Impressionistic works with great contrast to appeal to most people

Rachmaninov - 2nd Piano Concerto - Beautiful melodies, widely appropriated for popular music, with the virtuoso piano style for which the composer is justly famous.

Chopin - Opus 28 Preludes - A great introduction to the works of a must-know piano composer. In passing, I note that it would be easy to list virtually any other Chopin work here as well.

Scott Joplin - Piano Rags - An example of works written for a "popular" audience which are so good they have become part of the "classical" piano literature.

Schubert - Opus 90 Impromptus - Appealing and soothing. A good choice for anyone who thinks they might like piano music.

Copland - Piano Variations - a work playable by most beginners which melds classical and jazz styles in an approachable way.

Beethoven - Piano Sonatas - I'm at a loss which one to choose. The "Moonlight" is familiar to many people, as is the "Appassionata", the "Hammerklavier" is nothing less than monumental. All are worth knowing.

Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue - the original solo version is definitely worth knowing, since the orchestrated version is so well known.

You can find most of these works on our Audition Room page. I've left Mozart piano concertos off this list, since I can't make up my mind which one should be on it. I think one probably should be. My list is intended to provide a mix of "easy listening" stuff with more challenging works. I've sort of fudged in listing groups of works, rather than single ones, since many of these works come grouped with others on CD's. I'm sure others will have different works to list that I have forgotten or ran out of room for. :D




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Postby Stretto » Tue Aug 22, 2006 2:40 pm

I didn't realize the focus of the topic could be recommended piano literature for beginner LISTENERS too. I wasn't reading close enough the first time and was thinking in terms of piano literature for beginning players. Now I see both were mentioned.

Dr. Zeigler: What was your take on a music appreciation course? Do you think a music appreciation course is worthwhile?

I would really recommend to those wishing to delve into the world of classical music to take a general music appreciation course. The college where I went offered an evening music appreciation course available to anyone. When young (teenager), I used to have a hard time listening to classical music. It "all sounded the same". I enjoyed playing it, but had a hard time just listening to it. I could only listen to it for so long before it got tiring. Not so after I started taking music appreciation, music history, piano lit.- type courses. Classical music was sooo interesting after learning the "behind the scenes" aspects of it. After learning about the composer, the history of the time period the music was written in, and the history of the music of the time, about the various forms, etc., etc. classical music all started making A LOT more sense and was really enjoyable to listen to and I could actually start distinguishing the various styles, forms, etc. of different time periods. Classical music just made so much more total sense. For those of you who don't like getting bogged down with a ton of historic facts and figures (which I don't), a general music appreciation class stays simplistic enough to not get heavily bogged down but enough to really aid in making the listening come alive. I mentioned I had never been a big history fan, but history comes alive and is fun and interesting when studying a about the music of certain time periods. Well, there's my sale's pitch for the worthwhileness of a music appreciation course.

Here's some listening recommendations:
I will try to put an asterisk next to the pieces that could be approachable for at least intermediate players as well:

If we want to include Bach:
Bach French Suites and English Suites - I have a hard time leaving out - fascinating to study the dance forms or rhythms of the various dance forms alongside and try to listen for those rhythms. (probably approachable for an intermediate player) *

Bach - Notebook of Anna Magdalena Bach * - early intermediate

Beethoven - one's always that come up: Pathetique Sonata, Appassionata Sonata, Moonlight Sonata, Fur Elise (I never get tired of playing or hearing Fur Elise even if it's on a music box or toy), Moonlight Sonata - my personal opinion nicer to listen to than to play.
- I'm not sure I'm sold on the rest of his sonatas
- for something different on Beethoven - Minuets and Ecossaises *

Haydn - nothing specific but like most of it

Clementi - Sonatinas * for being not too difficult to play and nice sounding/ jury still out on Clementi Sonatas

Mozart - not sure what to mention or what I like specifically but would highly recommend listening to and playing Theme and 3 Variations (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star). It's so neat to hear the variations on the theme in this - fun to listen to and fun to play. *

Schubert - Moment Musicals, Impromptus *

Brahms - Intermezzi - would you all consider these intermediate for players?

Schumann - Carnival - more advanced to play but interesting to listen to and an interesting "behind the scenes" study
(I really don't like his Scenes from Childhood pieces).

Grieg Lyric pieces *

Ravel - no specific recommendation

Kabalevsky - Preludes

Bartok - interesting to listen to, fun to play - many beginner to intermediate pieces here *

Muczynski - Six Preludes Op. 6, fun to play and listen to *

Copland - agree with Dr. Zeigler - not sure what skill level because I don't have copies of the music

MacDowell - Woodland Sketches *

For something else interesting and out of the ordinary to listen to in the Modern category - George Crumb

Oh yes, and I have to agree with Dr. Zeigler on Scott Joplin - I really think it important to keep his music alive among piano students today.

Anything that says Mazurkas or Bagatelles - interesting to listen to.

Well, happy listening and playing!




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Postby Mins Music » Tue Aug 22, 2006 5:27 pm

YAY! I was so excited to see others in this thread! Thanks DrJohn and Stretto!

I SO agree with you about Pictures at an Exhibition - I was going to narrow it down to just one of the themes though! I guess it would be the Promenade - the short 'singable' theme between each of the 'pictures'.

Here's some more on my list (they're also mentioned by you both)

5. Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin.

What's not to love about this piece - it's vibrant, energetic, fun, easy to listen to (and just as much fun to play as to listen to - although more for the advance student).

6. "La Molinara" by Beethoven.

In all honesty, I could simply write, "Beethoven" and any exposure to his music would be beneficial, but I've decided to try and keep to examples that are in the audition room so that you can hear them immediately. Also, I wouldn't want my beginner listeners to be 'scared' off - there's some more challenging works that would be appropriate for the 'intermediate listener' - :D This, once again, is a lighter, prettier example of lovely piano music.

7. Op.28, No.4by Chopin

Like Beethoven, ALL good things come from Chopin. I chose this for the beginning listener just because the others on my list have been quite light and pretty much happy. This is a little more intense, in Em, so has a sadness, yet is still short enough for the beginner not to lose focus.

I would also include on my list Schubert's Moment Musical Op 94 No.3 - but sadly, it's not in the audition room.

8. Gymnopedie No.1 by Satie

So relaxing, easy listening piece a little more contempory in nature (not as 'old' as some other pieces).

9. To A Wild Rose by MacDowell.

Another sweet easy listening piece, short and pretty.

10. Song Without Words Op19, No.6 by Mendelssohn

Rich sounding boat song with a strong melody and engaging atmosphere.

Ten ALREADY!!!! Wow! I suggested this list, not really to challenge the new listener, but to entice them into further investigation. Also, as I've mentioned, I decided to only use examples found inThe Audition Room.

Dr Bill - I know you're a huge advocator of listening to music. What would be on your list for the beginner listener?




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Aug 23, 2006 7:00 am

Stretto wrote:Dr. Zeigler: What was your take on a music appreciation course? Do you think a music appreciation course is worthwhile?

I would really recommend to those wishing to delve into the world of classical music to take a general music appreciation course. The college where I went offered an evening music appreciation course available to anyone. When young (teenager), I used to have a hard time listening to classical music. It "all sounded the same". I enjoyed playing it, but had a hard time just listening to it. I could only listen to it for so long before it got tiring. Not so after I started taking music appreciation, music history, piano lit.- type courses. Classical music was sooo interesting after learning the "behind the scenes" aspects of it. After learning about the composer, the history of the time period the music was written in, and the history of the music of the time, about the various forms, etc., etc. classical music all started making A LOT more sense and was really enjoyable to listen to and I could actually start distinguishing the various styles, forms, etc. of different time periods. Classical music just made so much more total sense. For those of you who don't like getting bogged down with a ton of historic facts and figures (which I don't), a general music appreciation class stays simplistic enough to not get heavily bogged down but enough to really aid in making the listening come alive. I mentioned I had never been a big history fan, but history comes alive and is fun and interesting when studying a about the music of certain time periods. Well, there's my sale's pitch for the worthwhileness of a music appreciation course.

I don't want to get too far afield from the focus of this topic, recommendations for learning about the piano literature, but there is no question that a good music appreciation course is a great way to develop an understanding and affinity for all kinds of music, including piano. The one I took was heavy on listening and musicology and light on theory - just about right for an introductory course. It was taught by the late Fred Enenbach, who was acquiring a reputation as a symphonic composer, prior to his untimely death. I looked forward to that course, given that the rest of my load for that semester was composed of the most "meaty" science and math courses the College had to offer.

We have suggested elsewhere on the site that offering free music appreciation courses is a good way for teachers to meet and interest prospective students. You can usually get them advertised for free.

I want to thank Mins and Stretto for their replies and extend a special thanks to Mins for including direct links to her choices on our Audition Room page. It's time-consuming to do this, but a great help to our readers. I think the explanations that Mins and Stretto included with their choices are really valuable and hope others will include similar explanatory information in their replies.

One final comment: I'm feeling a little guilty about arbitrarily excluding Bach works from my list, because they were written before the piano was invented. I place Bach works sort of in the same class with Beethoven and Chopin - almost any Bach work could legitimately be included on anybody's Top Ten" list of "piano literature". I'm partial to the WTC and Musical Offering, but could be persuaded easily to include just about any other one. I think a good argument can be made that the piano is a better instrument for many Bach works than the ones for which they were written. :D




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Postby Mins Music » Wed Aug 23, 2006 8:00 pm

I'll attempt my list for beginning PLAYERS. The problem I'm having is that my versions of the music give excruciatingly specific titles such as "Air", "Minuet" :( I've interpretted 'beginners' meaning 6 months to a year of lessons already.

1. Bach: Minuet in G - all three of them! (They are the first three listed in the Audition Room)

The first one is so popular with kids, it's an option for exams over here (I'm an Aussie), and EVERY time my kids ALWAYS choose this - probably because it's already so well known. Put the three of them together and you have a fine recital number! Teaches finger indapendence and exposes them to one of the GREAT masters of the keyboard. (okay, they now say that Bach probably didn't write what is in the Anna Magdelena Notebook, but he collated it, so he thought it was worthy of study) Probably the only one on my list I would truly call 'indispensable'.

2. Schumann: Wild Horseman.

Develops forearm playing in the left hand with chords, while maintaining an even stacatto quaver movement with the right. And it's FUN!

3. Sonatine 1 (op36) - alllegro, andante, vivace.

A little more challenging, it shows students how music was written in 'groups' not in individual independent pieces. Introduces the classic alberti bass, arpeggio, octave jumps, fingers crossing over, thumbs under in scale movements, has an assortment of touches, 3rd intervals played harmonically, then goes with the use of triplets - some scarey looking leger line notes, dotted rhythm, then we have some semiquavers to navigate, and at the end some lovely arpeggiation. We travel through 3 different time signatures, 2 different key signatures - the version I have is FULL of expression marks, a trill, sforzando, huge dynamic range.... yep, 'indispensible' enough. More for the later beginner - at least a year of study... although it does depend on the student.

4. Beethoven: Russian Folk Song (in Gmajor, vivace)

A much easier one to tackle than the above. Only six months of study and no problem! Probably not 'indispensible' but it has finger independence, the need to go from legato to stacatto, good phrasing opportunities, touches (as mentioned) legato, stacatto, tenuto, accent, some dynamic range, a repeat, dotted rhythm, one octave jump in the left hand, combination of crotchet and quavers ( oh yeah, quarter note and eighth note?), crescendo. So you come away developing quite a few skills.

5. The Organ Grinder by Vladimir Rebokoff

Does anyone else know this piece? I am absolutely in love with it! The tempo is Valse Moderato, and it's in F major. It has a continual left hand motiff of only two different notes (crotchets C Bflat Bflat) which in written in treble. Phrasing is so important in this piece as is dynamic shading. It has a bar or two of harmonics, and the melody splits into two voices in a few bars. It has some hefty leger lines to tackle, good use of rests AND importantly has the left hand placed directly under the right hand in Theme A. a consistent and even legato tempo must be maintained and the melody is truly touching!!! I wish I could find an Op. No for this little work - but I can't find it anywhere on the web, or in any other of my books. It's in one of my very old compilation books that used to belong to my uncle - and the front cover has been ripped off. But the piece is beeoootiful and beneficial, and definitely deserves to be on my 'indispensible' list for beginners - maybe a years lessons before it's tackled.

6. Bourree (op.17, No.5 by Le Couppey

Simple piece easily handled with six months of practise under belt (maybe even less). I chose this because it's full of different touches - accent, legato, stacatto, has dynamic variance, repeat signs, second ending, fermata, (and I have a young student working on it at the moment)




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Postby LK123 » Thu Aug 24, 2006 4:18 pm

This was a very interesting discussion to read. As a student and a beginning teacher I don't have an indispensible list yet (give me time...). The number of pieces that I love to play or hear or that I feel are important are too many to list here. As was noted earlier It is hard to pick just 10.

I did want to add to the discussion on beginning listeners though. Do you mean beginning to listen because they are beginning to play? Or just listeners for the first time? I will relate the following experience I have had with two of my daughters (ages 3 and 5). I played a lot of classical music for them whenever I could so they would have some exposure early in life. I found though that they were getting somewhat bored with long pieces or a whole CD at once. I bought some of the classical kids series (Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery etc) to play for them. I found they were more willing to listen to those because of the story aspect; however they were also starting to listen to the music more carefully. I should note that my teenage son LOVES these CDs even though he is into heavy metal most of the time! As time went on the girls were more willing to listen to non - storied classical music for longer periods. My five year old recognizes one of "mommy's songs" when she hears it on the radio and gets very excited. I am hoping that they will continue to listen and enjoy the music I love - and that their baby sister will follow suit.

It is worth mentioning that the girls get a lot of exposure to other music, not just classical, so hopefully their musical experience is well rounded!

Thanks for reading!
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Aug 24, 2006 5:54 pm

LK123 wrote:The number of pieces that I love to play or hear or that I feel are important are too many to list here. As was noted earlier It is hard to pick just 10.

I did want to add to the discussion on beginning listeners though. Do you mean beginning to listen because they are beginning to play? Or just listeners for the first time?

I try to pose questions and start topics in Topic of Note which will be conducive to people having to think hard about their answers. When compelled to list just ten works, we all have to mull over why we believe various works are important and what it is about them that merits inclusion on such a small list. It's not of paramount importance which works people choose, but their thought process in choosing them that is important and instructive to all of us.

For example, my list was driven by a desire to include a broad sampling of works and styles such that anyone who had never heard classical piano music could spend a few hours and have a good chance of finding something they liked. I hope this would motivate them to further discovery. Note that I would not argue that everything on my list is necessarily the greatest piano music ever written, although I would suggest that these are all good examples of music worth knowing. I can tell you that I left out many of my personal favorites from the list for various reasons.

My list was directed to first time listeners. Others in this thread have given us lists directed to new players. I hope the thread will continue to develop along both lines (or more). :)
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Postby Mins Music » Thu Aug 24, 2006 8:50 pm

I bought some of the classical kids series (Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery etc) to play for them.


Aren't these FANTASTIC! I have the whole series and the video on Beethoven, as well as all the instruction booklets - i had planned to offer a holiday course based on them, but haven't got around to it yet!

LK123 I have to say I'm very impressed with your efforts with your kids! I so wish some of my students' parents would be as diligent with exposure to music - but I guess you have to personally love the stuff yourself first, hey? And your headbanging teenage boy sounds like he's going to grow up to be a VERY interesting, well rounded person.

I try to pose questions and start topics in Topic of Note which will be conducive to people having to think hard about their answers.


At first I thought this was impossible, but having done it (for listeners because that's what I've found easier to write about) I've benefitted HUGELY from testing myself. Thanks Dr John for posing the challenge!

LK123, what is one of your favourite pieces to listen to? You don't have to give reasons, just that you like it is reason enough.




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Aug 25, 2006 7:37 am

Mins Music wrote:At first I thought this was impossible, but having done it (for listeners because that's what I've found easier to write about) I've benefitted HUGELY from testing myself.

Yes, it is tough to do when you begin to think about it. I originated the topic and it took a lot of consideration to prepare my list.

If it helps any, let me suggest that one can cut the task down to size if he first breaks classical music into periods (Classical, Romantic, Baroque, etc.) and considers what works he might want to include from each period. Once that's done, you can then whittle down the resulting list to the final choices. The criteria you use to make these choices are entirely up to you (but please tell us what they are!).

Please note that you needn't be a piano teacher or other music professional to do this. We're just as interested in hearing the thoughts of those who are avid listeners, of any degree of knowledge, as we are in getting the views of professionals in the field. :D
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Postby LK123 » Fri Aug 25, 2006 12:08 pm

A reply to minsmusic....

I would have to say that one of my two favorite listening pieces is Mozart's Piano Concerto no 21 and Beethoven's "Emporer" Cocerto. When I need to REALLY relax, I love to listen to Ravel's Bolero - I know it isn't piano music but it is so soothing!

School is just around the corner, perhaps then I will have a minute to myself to think about my top ten list and why they made the cut...
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Postby LK123 » Fri Aug 25, 2006 12:08 pm

Oops I meant my two favorites, not one!
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Fri Aug 25, 2006 2:04 pm

Still thinking on this - listening is one catagory and playing is another. In general I try to have students listen to a wide variety of composers, time periods and styles.

I loan a lot of tapes and CD's - sometimes to catch their interest and sometimes for them to hear a piece or pieces they are learning.

It is rewarding when a student brings back the tape and says, I like - and names off 2 or 3 pieces he enjoyed and would like to learn.

I encourage giving information about composers and periods of music, and loaning books. One young artist was especially inerested in looking at the development in music and art together. (Yeah!)

I am working on some lists - but also trying to learn this new computer!

:p
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