Mozart on His Kegelstatt Trio

Quite recently I wrote a little trio
While wasting time at skittles with some friends.
We needed something for the clarinet,

Something not dolorous, but not con brio—
A trifle which, their being at loose ends,
Would keep my buddies occupied and set

Them on an easy course: not one’s a Leo,
A firebrand who quickly apprehends
How music’s higher claims are to be met.

No violin had we—just viola (O Dio!).
For this lack it was tough to make amends,
But try it out. You’ll like it fine, I bet.




Brahms’s First Violin Sonata on the Air, from Its Midpoint 

for Conor Kelly, 1

Just after three breaks in a solemn lay
Of pain, in heavy chords and lines confessed.
How comes this somber song now to protest
Against the brilliance of a summer day?
None hearing it would be inclined toward play,
Nor turning from it would find easy rest.
Endless the weight seems to the hearer pressed
So urgently by all Brahms has to say.

But then at length the laden sorrow lifts,
Replaced by gentle, livelier rainfall:
A dance rife with remembrance, where each cadence
Helps mark a faint path on through cloudy shifts,
Minor to major, back and forth, withal,
Supplying glimpses of the bright sun’s radiance.



Julian D. Woodruff was a teacher, orchestral musician, and librarian. He served for several years as librarian at the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA. He now resides in the area of Rochester, NY, where he writes poetry and fiction, much of it for children. His work has appeared in Frostfire Worlds and on the websites of Carmina, Parody Poetry, and Reedsy. His GPS poem placed tenth in the last riddle contest of The Society of Classical Poets.

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42 Responses

  1. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Julian, what a wonderful poetical and musical treat – thank you!

    I am particularly intrigued by the form of the first poem. It’s abc, abc… rhyme scheme points to a trilonnet but without the dd closing couplet. Trio/con brio/Leo/O Dio! is inspired.

    “Brahms’s First Violin Sonata on the Air, from Its Midpoint” is simply beautiful. I especially like that laden sorrow lifting to produce these lines; “A dance rife with remembrance, where each cadence/Helps mark a faint path on through cloudy shifts”… just lovely!

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you for your kind and encouraging words Susan.
      From time to time I find myself using a repeating rhyme scheme, ABC … ABC … It seems to help when my aim is descriptive or contentive/ argumentative.
      If you listen to the Brahms, I hope you can follow my sonnet’s rather vague description of the finale.

  2. C.B. Anderson

    Both the musical and the verbal compositions were wonderful, Julian. Your musical expertise was quite evident in the way you measured out the wry narratives. I suppose we might regard these as ekphrastic poems.

    • Cynthia Erlandson

      C.B., you responded to the question I was about to ask: Can poems about music be classified as ekphrastic? I’ve looked at definitions and have only seen one that includes music with visual art. I’m glad you think they are.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you so much, C.B. Generous words, again from a source whose work I greatly admire and respect. This application of ekphrastic poetry to music is something I’ve tried only one or two other times. It’s easier when, as in the case of the Brahms, there is a story behind the music.

  3. Yael

    Poems on musical compositions, how interesting.
    Thank you for sharing your talents, I enjoyed reading and hearing this.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you, Yael. I’m glad you enjoyed the poems and especially the music.
      a while back I gave myself the project of listening to all the Beethoven duo sonatas. Now I’m thinking of doing the same for Brahms.

  4. Margaret Coats

    Very nice pair of poems to celebrate Saint Cecilia’s Day! Mozart’s cute conversational invitation to the trio seems a bit tongue-in-cheek. If the clarinet is going to be the featured instrument, it’s far better to have a lower-voiced viola than a violin. The trio gives all three players complementary shares of music, but the clarinet is clearly the high voice.

    The Brahms sonnet is superb, with the weight and the pain in the octave, succeeded by weather clearing in the sestet. Laden sorrow moves to livelier rainfall, through cloudy shifts, and on to glimpses of the sun’s bright radiance. Good use of images in both parts of the poem, to describe the character of the music. Minor matter: it seems line 2 should end with a comma instead of a period.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you, Margaret. I feel so honored to have earned favorable comments from writers whose work I so admire.
      You make a good point: the clarinet-violin-piano combination is most unlikely in Mozart. Beethoven used a cello in his clarinet trio, Brahms likewise in his. Schumann, in his Maerchenerzaehlungen, followed Mozart. But in Mozart’s day there were still a large number of treble-bass pieces being produced. All but one of Haydn’s early string trios are for 2 violins and bass (cello), as are most of Viotti’s and Boccherini’s. Mozart himself wrote one such.
      On the Brahms, please see my response to Mr. Anderson. My intent, grammatically, at the beginning of this sonnet, was: declarative sentence, interrogative sentence. If you’d be willing to share your thinking about these lines in detail, I’d be interested in your thinking.

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        Oops! This comment should read: … treble-treble-bass pieces.
        Scusi and Entschuldigungen,
        My typing is again verstunken!

      • Margaret Coats

        Please find details about the punctuation in a new comment below. Lines are getting short!

  5. BDW

    After reading your Italian sonnet, on Brahms’ “Rain Sonata”, and then listening to it, I composed a tennos on the overall piece, from the vivace non troppo through the adagio più andante to the allegro moderato, From your sonnet, I drew the words “rain” and “play”, as a central motif of the tennos, but the “pain” and “radiance” I held at bay. I must admit that Brahms’ music has not had much of an influence on my poetry, so I was glad to have a chance to think upon another unfamiliar piece of it. Here is my spontaneous reaction to it.

    On a Sonata of Brahms
    by Ewald E. Eisbruc
    for Julian D. Woodruff

    They play together— violinist and the pianist,
    a spraying fountain shooting, splaying airward in a mist,
    so peacefully displaying pools and puddles rip-pl-ing,
    as birds there tipple dewy drops, aslant on supple wing.
    They preen themselves there at the gray edge of the plashing rain,
    and quake and quiver friskily again, again, again;
    they shake and shiver in the splashing, washing thoughtfully,
    a simple, dimpled act, a pause from searching constantly.
    And then enough—it’s time to fly—to go off—fluttering,
    dismounting the sonata, songless, soft, and scattering.

    In retrospect, I could have added more melancholy than “gray” and “searching constantly”, and thought more about the three-note dotted rhythm; but my hearing kept out the tears and a rainbow. Perhaps because I have come from the place I happen to be at, Brahms’ piece worked a subdued magic on me. I know many @ SCP prefer to have no poems in the comments, and though I am liking my prose, more and more as the years pass by, I tend to respond more what? —profoundly, deeply, completely, vigourously? in poesis.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Dear Mr. Eisbric,
      How gratifying to have elicited a poetic response to my own effort! (On your warning about posting poetry in the responses: you may be right and I take your caution under advisement, although I have been defying discretion in this way without finding recriminations tossed my way.)
      Your tennos is resourceful in all its interior rhymes alliteration, assonance, and near rhymes; inventive in its imagery; even unshackled: in your use of “tipple” as a transitive verb.
      The poem stands as a generic, generous reaction to music unspecified except in the title, whereas my poem mentions the rainfall, alluding to the title by which the sonata is informally known. If you haven’t done so, please take a minute or two to read the Wikipedia article on this piece. The circumstances of its composition are rich, and explain my experience when I clicked on the radio after picking up my car from the repair shop. (Not that any of that has anything to do with the quality of your lovely poem.)
      By the way, when I read your poem to my wife, she immediately supposed you were attracted to Hopkins’s poetry. Is she correct?

  6. Margaret Coats

    I suggested a comma for the end of line 2 because lines 1 and 2 do not make a complete sentence. There are three phrases:

    Just after three breaks — telling when
    in a solemn lay of pain– telling where
    in heavy chords and lines confessed — telling where

    There is no subject or main verb. You could say, “the heavy chords and lines confessed,” with “confessed” as verb, but this seems to need a direct object. What did the chords and lines confess? “Confessed” in not quite clear even in the phrase of location, I’ll admit. Perhaps you need to clarify what you mean the initial declarative sentence to say.

    I thought the whole quatrain could be clarified (into one interrogative sentence) with a comma at the end of line 2, because then the three phrases would tell where and when “comes this somber song.” Your question still makes perfect sense, because you are asking “how.”

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Dear Margaret,
      Thank you for your close attention to the sonnet and its grammar. I think it is my vocabulary that is causing confusion.
      “Just after three [o’clock] breaks in (v.i.) a lay of pain (subj.) … confessed (=told or sung; modif. “pain”). … song (subj.) comes to protest (v.) against … (modif.). I hope that makes my intention clearer.
      At the moment I’m going through Paradise Lost, where word order and multiple possibilities of grammatical function often give me long pause. Milton can get away with such things. Perhaps I cannot.

      • Margaret Coats

        Looks fine now, Julian. I would suggest a comma after “three,” to make it clear that “three” does not modify “breaks.” I had no idea that “three” meant time of day. As the immediately preceding title indicates a point in the music, I thought “breaks” might do so as well. In vocal polyphony we sometimes call a long stretch of rests for one voice a “break.” Another way to clarify the poem would be to use a two-syllable verb (such as “begins” or “resounds”) instead of “breaks in.” Or start the poem, “At three o’clock.” This makes it clear at once that there is a story behind the music. Again, you deserve great credit for bringing the stages of the story to life in the poem. Moving from narrative to sonata (Brahms) to sonnet (you) is not an easy task. You are not going back to the story line after the music, but employing the new genre of lyric with the story told through imagery.

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        Thank you for the suggestions, Margaret. The comma is the most suitable (although I’d sooner do without it): your suggestion of replacing “breaks in” with something else is attractive, but I need to hit on something that conveys the immediacy of the moment that I switched on the radio. “At three o’clock” is very precise, but it violates the acrostic tribute to Brahms in initial letters.
        Anyway, you’ve given me incentive to rethink this opening, and I’m grateful.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Milton got away with a lot of things, including the perpetration of the myth that he was England’s greatest poet. I’ll give him this, though: he was certainly England’s most long-winded poet. If this be heresy, then I will gladly die on the stake of your own choosing. I, too, have found Milton nearly impenetrable, but I am willing to admit that this is due to my own literary shortcomings when it comes to deciphering our great masters, if I would only be presented with a good bit of cogent evidence to support that case. Clarity above all else! I think that Housman summed up the problem rather succinctly:

        And malt does more than Milton can
        To justify God’s ways to man.

        John Milton should have gotten out on the town a bit more than he did, and thereby have overcome his TRUE blindness.

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        Oh, C.B., he may be hard to put up with, but (as far as I’ve gotten in P.L.) some passages show imagination for the spectacular. With seeing eyes I think he would have loved a good war epic movie. I suppose some of his descriptive passages rely a lot on Homer, Ariosto, Tasso, and other guys I’ve never read. (And of course, it’s the kind of thing that’s rather fun to spoof and ridicule.)

  7. Margaret Coats

    Thanks for pointing out the clever acrostic. I didn’t notice it earlier, which means it isn’t forced, but quite natural.

  8. BDW

    Mr. Woodruff’s wife’s question is an intriguing one to me, because the question leads to so many other questions; but to answer her question: I was profoundly influenced by Gerard Manley Hopkins in my youth. In my early twenties, I walked around with a guitar (which I did not play well) and a copy of the collected poems of Hopkins. I was in awe of his dazzling verbal pyrotechnics. He helped make English alive for me in very real ways. In those days I wrote over a hundred sonnets under his tutelage. What I most liked of his was the dramatic, dynamic tension he discharged between words. At one time I liked every poem I read of his, which must have been close to all of his poems in print.

    But now, since his influence on my work has diminished enormously on my writing, I wonder what Mr. Woodruff’s wife got from “On a Sonata of Brahms” that suggested Hopkins.

    Though Mr. Woodruff could speak to his own literary influences, I would be more interested in his musical influences? tastes? passions? etc.

    In reference to Mr. Anderson’s comment on Milton, these days it is Milton’s poetry’s strength that I go to time and again.
    In some ways his poesis is the most powerful and revolutionary in English.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      My musical leanings are first and foremost to the European court and urban traditions, which engage both amateur and professional practitioner and frequently acknowledges folk an rural traditions. At least as far back as Dufay and as far forward as Prokofiev. The string chamber works of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert (1820-28) would form my personal core of all that. (It would be quite different if I played oboe or trumpet )

  9. BDW

    After reading your comment this morning, I listened to some chamber music, Schubert’s “Trout”, Beethoven’s “Archduke”, Haydn’s “Emperor”, and Mozart’s “Gran Partita”. The pieces were very nice. I am not a musician in any sense of the word, unlike my daughter, an aural pianist, my son, a high school trumpeteer, and my wife who played both; but I have been interested for half a century in music of innumerable styles and periods.

    Ah, four from the classical era! While in Germany I fell under the spell of Beethoven and Schubert; but my emphasis then was on the symphonies and various pieces. My best friend in Germany and I would get in heated discussions about Mozart’s and Beethoven’s music. I, too, like yourself, have first and foremost in my mind the European tradition, from Medieval and Renaissance periods, Baroque (particularly Bach) and Classical, Romantic and Modern. It does seem as if after Puccini in opera, and Shostakovich in the symphony, that there was a real falling off; though there are many interesting 20th century pieces.

    There are so many things we writers can learn from the composers. One writer, among many others, who took music serious in his writing was T. S. Eliot in works, like “Preludes” and the “Four Quartets”.

    • Cynthia Erlandson

      Yes! There is so much music in Eliot! I love “Four Quartets” and “Preludes” — and the Choruses from “The Rock” are exquisite!

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Dear Ms. Erlanson,
      I am neither literate enough nor possess a strong enough memory to contribute much on this topic. I do find works of Stevens and Roethke very musical (in German, Stefan George in his way, although he was not sympathetic to music or to settings of his work, of which there are many), and thought of setting individual poems.
      There are also writers who are clearly appreciative of music of one sort or another (Sandburg, Walker Percy). More I’m not prepared to say.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      That sounds like a wonderful listening tour, BDW. The Gran Partita is truly a miracle. It, along with Mozart’s piano-wind quintet and serenades for wind octet, are the pieces I’d have been most anxious to play had my instrument been of the reed variety.

  10. BDW

    It is nice to hear Ms. Erlandson highly regards the works of T. S. Eliot. Though I argue with his poetry in my own work, it was to his “Four Quartets” that I turned to as a model in my Spring poem “Coronal” in four sections. It may be through music, as Mr. Woodruff’s poems (as well as those of Mr. Hartley), that some of us may derive our future work. Eliot succeeds in his handling of motif, but he lacks the ear of Tennyson and the grand poetic, musical vision of Shakespeare. Still, he remains, in my mind, the greatest literary critic in English, and he at least attempted, in works, like “Four Quartets”, “Murder in the Cathedral” and his criticism of “Hamlet” to suggest new, undeveloped regions and possibilities for the future of English poetry.

  11. BDW

    A Mozartian Air
    by Waldi Berceuse

    Viola, Clara, Pia—no net, in the open, there—
    a group of three fine ladies playin skittles in the air.
    It is the afternoon, nine pins are standing on the lawn.
    One listens to a lovely spinet, sprinkled with a yawn.
    Some little melodies are intersperse amidst the throws,
    beyond the lovely lavender, aromas of the rose.
    The balls are tossed, the pins are dropped, the sun continues on;
    The tiny birds are singing songs, as if it now were dawn.
    But it is dusk, and twilight lights upon the company.
    It’s time to pick the pieces up, like twinkling timpani.

    Waldi Berceuse is a poet of Central European music. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was a Classical Austrian composer. It is the “Kegelstatt Trio” referenced in this tennos.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      WHERE’S WALDI?? Dear Waldi,
      Dear Waldi,
      The lines writ hereunder
      To fill the with wonder
      Fly only to thee:

      Perhaps the presence of Ma Kettle-
      Drum would lend some flair
      To the sylvan tones, too settled,
      Of the dainty trio there.

  12. BDW

    First, it should be “interspersed”; that was a typo that has been corrected for its next printing elsewhere on the Internet tomorrow.

    Waldi is a town in northern Switzerland of approximately 1,000, right near the border with Germany; that makes it a perfect name for my Central European musical
    critic who is not German (Ewald E. Eisbruc).

    In Old English, as in Walden, it means “wooded valley”, another of its “meanings” I was happy to embrace in a poem of “sylvan tones”; though my poem takes place on a lawn near a garden.

    Of course, Berceuse, as a last name works well too, as it is a musical composition, which works for the name of a musical critic. Of course, all of my names are just my letters scrambled.

    Yes, timpani is the most jarring word, placed exactly at the end. What is so nice about the Mozart piece is there is no percussion, one of the central, destructive qualities that moved the Classical to the Romantic, and the Romantic to the Modern, Postmodern and New Millennial musical arenas. That’s why I liked the word timpani quietly placed at the end of the tennos. It jars, I imagined, to the stars; but it was not in the “Kegelstatt Trio”; and, though it was fun, I thought some of your local-colour dialogue was also missing from the Mozart piece as well.

    I was not sure you would come back to read the poem. Actually, I had no desire to even listen to the Mozart piece; but having written over four hundred poems this year on so many horrible events and complex issues, it was a pure joy to listen to the piece, and imaginatively play off of it. The tennos flowed slowly and naturally, enjoyably and fascinatingly. It was as if I were indulging in a lovely harmonious picture, with only jarring things, like timpani, at its edges.

    For me, what is most surprising is how it comes from Mozart himself. I very rarely give myself up to a musical piece completely through imagery and imagination, as opposed to intellect and knowledge, allusion and literary history.

    I doubt very much if I shall write another poem like it; but I wonder what it will lead me to. I am thankful that music that Mr. Woodruff enjoyed inspired my poesis.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      I have to think, BDW, that Mozart would be disappointed that your delight in his trio is largely because it lacks timpani. Of course scoring for drums predates Mozart’s day significantly, I want to recommend to your ears (unwarrantedly assuming they have not heard it) that master’s Serenata Notturna, composed 10 years before the Kegelstatt Trio.
      I will say also, and obviously, since I also praised Brahms in the Kegelstatt post, that I do not denigrate out of hand the musical aesthetics of later style periods. Maybe you’ll be reading appreciations from me of Stravinsky, even Stockhausen, one of these days.
      By the way, great, fun lines from Waldi (the poet, not the town).

  13. BDW

    No, it is not that at all. That is not what I meant at all. When I wrote “What is so nice about the Mozart piece is there is no percussion”, I meant that I was thankful for that, and I still am, not that that “largely” caused the appreciation at all. In fact, that is only an afterthought, an historical in-sight.

    The final couplet of the tennos:

    But it is dusk, and twilight lights upon the company.
    It’s time to pick the pieces up, like twinkling timpani.

    Almost like a sonnet’s couplet, it counters the opening eight lines with “But”. The setting changes to “dusk, and twilight”. The t’s and p’s in the alliterative “It’s time to pick the pieces up” echoing in “timpani” suggest an ending to the musical mood and playing; and I was trying to suggest, in the simile, “as twinkling timpani” the image of many glistening glints, like the stars coming out, but also shiny bits of dismantling the day. The key point is it is a simile.

    Although I have written poems on individual Mozart pieces before, and those I like better than this, what I liked most about this piece is how deeply I got in to it; it simply took over, as I tried to explain above. Mr. Woodruff’s poem on the “Kegelstatt Trio” was about performing the piece, which he does with an almost joking elan; I simply wanted to write about the piece per se.

    I did notice that Mr. Woodruff did not list Stockhausen as one of the composers he had in the list he most liked, nor in this last comment did he recommend listening to a particular piece by Stockhausen.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Dear BDW,
      Sorry for being so long in replying. Very busy and victimized by ridiculously uncooperative email security.
      In case it matters, I admit to losing track of Stockhausen after getting my AB (1970). At that, I paid more attention to his works from the ’50s than those from the ’60s. If I had a pile of S recordings before me ( and little else) I would listen to the 3rd, 7th, and 9th, and 11th piano pieces (though the last of these I remember thinking a less successful musical “mobile” than the the “Mirroirs” movement [I think it is] from Boulez’s 3rd Sonata); and also his Kontakte. No tunes to whistle here, I admit, but more to grap into than i find in the latest 2 volumes of Poetry Magazine.
      I’d be interested in your short list of Mozart favorites.

  14. BDW

    Actually, I don’t have time to think about music. It is just too absorbing. In the same way that Keats thought Milton’s poetry would destroy his own, so too do I think about Mozart’s music. It is just too great to absorb. On my shelf before my eyes I have 170 CDs of Mozart’s complete music [resting on top of Bach’s complete music]. Each single CD of Mozart’s [or Bach’s] could take me down so many avenues, I could only get lost. In younger days, when I was stronger, more enthusiastic, and more focused [narrow-minded], I could chase his symphonies, hundreds of pieces; but now even thinking about his music, is too overwhelming.

    However, I will return to music, but only smaller pieces, like those you wrote on, Brahms and Mozart. I learned something extraordinary about those two pieces; I could go amazingly deep into them , and the music could take hold of my writing in ways it had never done before. O, it was breathtaking. That anyone would notice, I doubt, especially in these times when literary criticism is so benighted, even @ SCP.

    I thought your comment on my early November poem “Anecdote of the Box” showed you had a fine, critical mind; but now I think not. It was a poem rejected by so many, including Mr. Mantyk, and now I see Ms. Bryant (who is the latest craze @ SCP) has a poem on a similar topic, and that gets printed. But this has been my entire poetic life. I’m just thankful I can even voice my unwonted [sic] opinion, even if nobody really cares about it, the poem, or my poetry generally.

    The reason I dared to write on your musical selections was because I thought your musical knowledge might be valuable. I still think it maybe does, but I am not so sure. Anyway, thanks for keeping the conversation going, as I am frequently forthright, though no more so than Nietzshe, Pound or Eliot. [By the way, I notice that nobody really picks up on my points to develop them.] Let me stop there with my typical rant.

    I might be interested in any short pieces you might recommend to toss my way, as a place to continue, with the caveat that they might not work for me.

  15. Julian D. Woodruff

    You’re right, BDW, I’m not nearly well-read enough to hold critical opinions that are worthy of much attention. But when so moved, I spout them anyway, in part to see if my betters have anything of interest to add to a particular thread. I, too by the way, and I would guess most whose work appears here, have had poems rejected
    by Mr. Mantyk. Still, for my stuff, this is the most welcoming site I’ve found.
    As for Ms. Bryant, she’s fluent, funny, and marvelous at alliteration (maybe even too good?), so why shouldn’t she be celebrated here? When I can crack a joke in verse as crisply as she, I’ll know I’ve accomplished something.
    For your delectation of musical miniatures (assuming these are unknown to you), try the pieces of Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana Suite, the Beethoven Fugue for String Quintet, and Haydn’s part songs. Oh, and Josquin’s “El grillo” and Dufay’s Gloria ad modum tubae (but look for a peppy rendition).

  16. BDW

    I remember the poem on Joseph Lange’s portrait of Mozart. I think my comment on that poem wasn’t worth much.

    Perhaps I shall look at one of the recommended pieces, perhaps not. But I think I might address Lange’s portrait of Mozart. I imagine his German name is Lan-ge pronounced with two syllables.

  17. Julian D. Woodruff

    Yes, 2 syllables. A portrait with an interesting history (well, early history, anyway). It seems to have been much Frau Mozart’s favorite among the portraits of her husband–for likeness, at least. (It’s my favorite as well.)
    A little while back I did a whole pile of poems on portraits of composers for my grandkids, of which that was the 1st. I wish Mr. Mantyk had seen fit to publish the one on Kokoschka’s portrait of Schoenberg. It was one of my best. Mr. M may have decided it was not of enough interest.

  18. BDW

    Why don’t you just print it right here in the comments. I would be interested in it.

  19. Julian D. Woodruff

    As it happens, I am away from my desk until ca. March 1, so the world will have to wait for all the masterpieces quietly gathering dust on my desktop, with the unlikely exception of 2-3 now out on submission.
    But I think the world could use more of that sort of thing–on writers, artists, pop stars, politicians, whatever. (Tom Lehrer did entertaining songs on Alma Mahler and on Lobochevsky [sp?].) Mr. Wise, Ms. Bryant, Mr. Anderson, are you ready?


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