Ode to a Musical CatPublished August 24, 2011
Flickr User End of Level Boss
You don't have to convince a passionate felineophile that all cats, no matter what breed, size or shape, are blessed with many skills. There are cats that excel in jumping, climbing, pilfering small items from table tops and dresser drawers; cats that fetch and cats that open closets and pantries quite adeptly. In fact, there are many kitties, such as Nora, who are famous for their outstanding musical talents.
The other day, I was saddened to learn of that Ketzel, the famous one-hit only, black and white feline composer and musician, passed away last Wednesday at the ripe old age of 19. Ketzel’s (Yiddish for cat) musical career began one morning in 1996 when she jumped onto the Baldwin Grand Piano belonging to Professor Morris Moshe Cotel. Professor Cotel, a retired chairman of the composition department at the Peabody Conservatory, went on to become a rabbi. He passed away in 2008. Professor Cotel’s wife, Ms. Cheskis-Cotel said, "He said she was his best student and her fame surpassed his."
Ketzel's career began while Professor Cotel was playing a prelude and fugue from Bach's "The Well-Tempered Clavier.” According to the article in the New York Times, playing Bach's work was his daily warm-up exercise routine. Ketzel jumped onto the treble section of the keyboard and starting working her way down to the bass. While the professor was somewhat startled, her interesting pattern of notes, and being fascinated by its “structural elegance,” inspired him to transcribe them onto music paper. Ms. Cheskis-Cotel said, "He said, 'this piece has a beginning, middle and an end. How can this be? It's written by a cat.'"
Much shorter than Zez Confrey's Kitten on the Keys, or Leroy Anderson’s famous Waltzing Cat, Professor Cotel put the piece aside until he received the Paris New Music Review's One-Minute Competition announcement asking for entries for pieces under 60 seconds. Cotel then sent in Ketzel's small gem of musical purrfection.
Although Professor Cotel shared the identity of the composer, this writer suspects purrhaps to preserve anonymity, keeping the contest free of any political influence, the judges only were shown the music. With no idea who wrote the piece, Ketzel received special mention for the piece titled, Piece of Piano, Four Paws.
In 1997, Guy Livingston, co-founder and editor of the review said, "We gave the piece serious consideration because it was quite well written. It reminded us of Anton Webern. If Webern had a cat, this is what Webern's cat would have written.”
In 1998, Piece for Piano, Four Paws was premiered at the Peabody. It was also purrrformed in Europe, aired on public radio, and with the composer in attendance, at the Museum of the City of New York.
So, regretfully, upon Ketzel’s death, now the world is devoid of one less mewsical genius. But maybe there is a budding mewsical talent on the horizon. Purrhaps it could be one of your cats.
Do your kitties exhibit an interest in mewsic? Share about it in a comment.