Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Rabbi Moshe Cotel

In today's New York Times, there is a moving obituary of Rabbi Moshe Cotel, whom I met when I belonged to the West Side Minyan (an independent minyan that is part of congregation Ansche Chesed on the Upper West Side of Manhattan) in the late 1990s. I never got to know him very well, but his fierce dedication to Judaism was apparent when he led services or gave a d'var Torah.

He was a well-known composer who taught at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University for many years. Many of his compositions were on Jewish themes - and I would love to find them and listen to them now. Those listed in the obituary include "Deronda," an opera based on George Eliot's novel Daniel Deronda, "The Fire and the Mountains," which commemorates the Holocaust, and "Night of the Murdered Poets," about poets and intellectuals murdered by Stalin in 1952. He also wrote an opera on the Dreyfus Affair, which apparently led to his return to Judaism.

There is one cute story involving a cat in the obituary. In 1996, while he was playing the "Well-Tempered Clavier," his cat, Ketzel, pounced on the keyboard, and he "grabbed a pencil and inscribed a descending paw pattern from treble to bass." This work he named "Piece for Piano - Four Paws," and he later wrote a longer composition based on the original piece, which was only one-minute long. This longer composition was named "Mews' Muse."

Another account of his life appears at his website - Bio.

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