Ned Rorem

Words and music are inextricably linked for Ned Rorem. Time Magazine has called him "the world's best composer of art songs" (which number in the hundreds), yet his musical and literary ventures extend far beyond that specialized field.

Photo: The Official Ned Rorem Website

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About

Born in Richmond, Indiana, on October 23, 1923 to Quaker parents, Ned Rorem was raised in Chicago, where his father became a co-founder of Blue Cross and his mother espoused activist pacifist causes. He demonstrated an early interest in composition and piano, studying with Margaret Bonds, who introduced him to American music, and Nuta Rothschild, who awakened his Francophilia. Rorem then pursued advanced musical studies at Northwestern, the American Conservatory, Curtis, and finally at Juilliard, from which he took his master’s degree in 1948. He also worked privately with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood and Virgil Thomson in New York.

In 1948 Rorem traveled to Morocco and in 1950 to Paris, where he remained for seven years, achieving international recognition and recording his experiences in a candid diary published to literary acclaim in 1966. The first of several books Rorem would publish, The Paris Diary, for all its gossip, shed valuable light on the musical and intellectual climate of the post-war era. His subsequent diaries and essays offer elegant and erudite analyses of aesthetic questions.

Since his return to the United States in 1957, Rorem has divided his time between Manhattan and Nantucket. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for his suite Air Music. He has composed three symphonies, four piano concerti, an array of other orchestral works, music for numerous combinations of chamber forces, ten operas, choral works of every description, ballets, and other music for the theatre. He is the author of sixteen books, including five volumes of diaries and collections of lectures and criticism.

With more than 500 songs in his catalog, Rorem is one of the most prolific composers of the American art song. Heavily influenced by his interest in poetry, he has described the song as “a lyrical poem of moderate length set to music for single voice and piano.” In choosing texts, Rorem has the innate ability to select those of exquisite craftsmanship. While he has set the texts of British poets, including Edmund Spenser, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Alfred Lord Tennyson, he has also favored American writers such as Theodore Roethke, Paul Goodman, Kenneth Koch, and Walt Whitman. Indeed, Rorem has turned to Whitman’s writings as inspiration for a number of his compositions, including Five Songs to Poems by Walt Whitman (1957) and War Scenes, both for voice and piano (1969); Whitman Cantata for men’s chorus, brass, and timpani (1983); and Goodbye My Fancy for alto and baritone soloists, mixed chorus, and orchestra (1988).

Sources
–Thomas Hampson and Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold, PBS I Hear America Singing
–Stephanie Poxon, Ph.D.
–Ned Rorem Web site

Time magazine dubbed Ned Rorem “the world’s best composer of art songs,” and the appellation certainly fits. There are 500 songs in Rorem’s catalog, which easily tops the efforts of nearly every other American composer (Charles Ives is perhaps the closest second, with nearly 200 songs). But Rorem’s output also includes three symphonies, four piano concertos (including one for the left hand alone), numerous choral and chamber works, ten operas, ballets, and other music for the theater. And then there are nearly twenty books, including a series of diaries and collections of lectures and criticism.

Rorem was born in Richmond, Indiana on October 23, 1923. As a child he moved with his family to Chicago, where he began piano lessons. Through this early instruction, he was exposed to the music of Debussy and Ravel, which heavily influenced his craft, especially in song composition. When he was seventeen, Rorem entered the Music School of Northwestern University to study piano. In 1943, he was awarded a scholarship at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied counterpoint with Rosario Scalero and Gian Carlo Menotti. Further study in composition took place at the Juilliard School in New York, where Rorem obtained his B.A. degree in 1946. In 1948 he received his M.A degree there, along with Juilliard’s George Gershwin Memorial Prize in composition. Following graduation, Rorem worked for a time as Virgil Thomson’s copyist; as compensation he received $20 per week plus orchestration lessons.

In 1949, Rorem moved to France, where he lived for almost a decade. Experiences from this time were later chronicled in The Paris Diary (1966), the first in a succession of published diaries. Although notorious for their candor, the diaries have received critical acclaim as some of the foremost examples in the English language of the contemporary diarist’s art. Rorem returned to the United States in 1958, where he held several teaching positions, including appointments at the University of Buffalo (1959-61), the University of Utah (1965-67), and the Curtis Institute (1980-86). He remained active as a composer, and in 1976 was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his suite Air Music. Other honors bestowed on Rorem include a Fulbright Fellowship (1951), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1957), an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1968), three ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards, and an ASCAP Lifetime Achievement award (2003). In 1989, the Atlanta Symphony’s release of String Symphony, Sunday Morning, and Eagles won the Grammy Award for Outstanding Orchestral Recording.

Rorem’s songs display a wide variety of styles. They are set to a vast number of poets, and range from short miniatures to lengthy cycles. The earlier settings feature texts from different literary periods, but for songs composed after 1950, Rorem generally preferred the texts of American poets, including Walt Whitman, and, from the 20th century, Howard Moss, Paul Goodman, Theodore Roethke, and Kenneth Koch. A master at text-setting, Rorem learned early in his craft how to manipulate square phrases in the poetry, and how to make the text flow smoothly and naturally by means of syncopation, meter changes, misplaced accents, and other rhythmic devices. Equally important are his accompaniments; Rorem is a first-rate pianist and this is reflected brilliantly in his songs. Rorem’s harmonic language mirrors those of Debussy, Stravinsky, and Hindemith; his songs often include complex chords, such as seventh, ninth, and eleventh chords, which account for the “jazz” flavor found in some of the songs. In addition, Rorem is particularly fond of using contrapuntal techniques–ground bass, ostinatos, imitation, and contrary motion–in his songs.

In 1998, in celebration of Rorem’s 75th birthday, the New York Festival of Song gave the premiere performance of Rorem’s Evidence of Things Not Seen, a song cycle featuring 36 poems by 24 authors, and a repeat performance was later held at the Library of Congress’s Coolidge Auditorium. In 2003, in honor of the composer’s 80th birthday, a “Roremania” festival, essentially a two-week celebration encompassing Rorem’s works in every genre, was held at the Curtis Institute of Music. And in 2006, Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music presented the premiere performance of Rorem’s opera Our Town, based on the acclaimed Thornton Wilder play of the same name.

–Stephanie Poxon, Ph.D.

Related Information

Videos

Songs

A Child Asleep in Its Own Life

Ned Rorem

Wallace Stevens

Song Collection: Last Poems of Wallace Stevens

A Clear Day and No Memories

Ned Rorem

Wallace Stevens

Song Collection: Last Poems of Wallace Stevens

A Dead Statesman

Ned Rorem

Rudyard Kipling

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

A Dream of Nightingales

Ned Rorem

David Bergman

A Glimpse

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

A Learned Man

Ned Rorem

Stephen Crane

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

A Night Battle

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Song Collection: War Scenes

A Specimen Case

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Song Collection: War Scenes

A Terrible Disaster

Ned Rorem

Paul Goodman

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

An Incident

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Song Collection: War Scenes

Absalom

Ned Rorem

Paul Goodman

Aftermath

Song Collection

Ned Rorem

John Scott of Amwell

William Blake

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Richard Eberhart

A. E. Housman

Randall Jarrell

John Hollander

William Shakespeare

Walter Savage Landor

Muriel Rukeyser

Are you the new person?

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

As Adam Early in the Morning

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Boy With a Baseball Glove

Ned Rorem

Paul Goodman

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

Chromatic Fantasy

Ned Rorem

Anthony Hecht

Clouds

Ned Rorem

Paul Goodman

Come In

Ned Rorem

Robert Frost

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

Comment on War

Ned Rorem

Langston Hughes

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

Conversation

Ned Rorem

Elizabeth Bishop

Do I Love You

Ned Rorem

Jack Larson

Song Collection: Poems of Love and Rain

Even Now...

Ned Rorem

Paul Monette

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

Evidence of Things Not Seen

Ned Rorem

William Penn

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

Faith

Ned Rorem

Mark Doty

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

Five Poems of Walt Whitman

Song Collection

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

For Poulenc

Ned Rorem

Frank O’Hara

From "The Rain"

Ned Rorem

Donald Windham

Song Collection: Poems of Love and Rain

From Whence Cometh Song

Ned Rorem

Theodore Roethke

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

Gliding O'er All

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Song Collection: Five Poems of Walt Whitman

Gods

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Song Collection: Five Poems of Walt Whitman

Grief

Ned Rorem

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Song Collection: Aftermath

His Beauty Sparkles

Ned Rorem

Paul Goodman

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

How Do I Love Thee?

Ned Rorem

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

I Am He

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

I Saw a Mass

Ned Rorem

John Woolman

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Song Collection: Three Calamus Poems

I Strolled Across an Open Field

Ned Rorem

Theodore Roethke

Song Collection: Two Poems of Theodore Roethke

I Will Always Love You

Ned Rorem

Frank O’Hara

In the Rain

Ned Rorem

E. E. Cummings

Song Collection: Poems of Love and Rain

Inauguration Ball

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Song Collection: War Scenes

Last Poems of Wallace Stevens

Song Collection

Ned Rorem

Wallace Stevens

Life in a Love

Ned Rorem

Robert Browning

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

Look Down, Fair Moon

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Song Collection: Five Poems of Walt Whitman

Losses

Ned Rorem

Randall Jarrell

Song Collection: Aftermath

Love Cannot Fill

Ned Rorem

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

Love's Stricken "Why"

Ned Rorem

Emily Dickinson

Song Collection: Poems of Love and Rain

More Than a Day

Song Collection

Ned Rorem

Jack Larson

Nantucket

Ned Rorem

William Carlos Williams

Song Collection: Nantucket

Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself

Ned Rorem

Wallace Stevens

Song Collection: Last Poems of Wallace Stevens

Now is the Dreadful Midnight

Ned Rorem

Paul Goodman

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

O You Whom I Often and Silently Come

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Of Him I Love Day and Night

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Song Collection: Three Calamus Poems

Of Mere Being

Ned Rorem

Wallace Stevens

Song Collection: Last Poems of Wallace Stevens

On His Seventy-Fifth Birthday

Ned Rorem

Walter Savage Landor

Song Collection: Aftermath

Orchids

Ned Rorem

Theodore Roethke

Song Collection: Two Poems of Theodore Roethke

Pippa's Song (The Year's at the Spring)

Ned Rorem

Robert Browning

Poems of Love and Rain

Song Collection

Ned Rorem

W. H. Auden

E. E. Cummings

Emily Dickinson

Howard Moss

Jack Larson

Kenneth Pitchford

Theodore Roethke

Donald Windham

Reconciliation

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Song Collection: Five Poems of Walt Whitman

See How They Love Me

Ned Rorem

Howard Moss

Snake

Ned Rorem

Theodore Roethke

Sometimes With One I Love

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Song Collection: Five Poems of Walt Whitman

Song for Lying in Bed During a Night Rain

Ned Rorem

Kenneth Pitchford

Song Collection: Poems of Love and Rain

Songs of Sadness

Song Collection

Ned Rorem

Mark Strand

Sonnet LXIV

Ned Rorem

William Shakespeare

Song Collection: Aftermath

Stop All the Clocks

Ned Rorem

W. H. Auden

Song Collection: Poems of Love and Rain

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Ned Rorem

Robert Frost

That Shadow, My Likeness

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

The Air is the Only

Ned Rorem

Howard Moss

Song Collection: Poems of Love and Rain

The Apparition

Ned Rorem

Theodore Roethke

Song Collection: Poems of Love and Rain

The Auden Poems

Song Collection

Ned Rorem

W. H. Auden

The Candid Man

Ned Rorem

Stephen Crane

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

The Comfort of Friends

Ned Rorem

William Penn

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

The Dance

Ned Rorem

William Carlos Williams

Song Collection: The Nantucket Songs

The Dove in Spring

Ned Rorem

Wallace Stevens

Song Collection: Last Poems of Wallace Stevens

The Drum

Ned Rorem

John Scott of Amwell

Song Collection: Aftermath

The End

Ned Rorem

Dana Gioia

The Fury of the Aerial Bombardment

Ned Rorem

Richard Eberhart

Song Collection: Aftermath

The Lordly Hudson

Ned Rorem

Paul Goodman

The Nantucket Songs

Song Collection

Ned Rorem

Theodore Roethke

Christina Rossetti

William Carlos Williams

The Open Road

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

The Park

Ned Rorem

John Hollander

Song Collection: Aftermath

The Planet on the Table

Ned Rorem

Wallace Stevens

Song Collection: Last Poems of Wallace Stevens

The Real War Will Never Get in the Books

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Song Collection: War Scenes

The River of Rivers in Connecticut

Ned Rorem

Wallace Stevens

Song Collection: Last Poems of Wallace Stevens

The Sick Wife

Ned Rorem

Jane Kenyon

Song Collection: Evidence of Things Not Seen

Then

Ned Rorem

Muriel Rukeyser

Song Collection: Aftermath

To a Common Prostitute

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Song Collection: Three Calamus Poems

To You

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Two Poems of Theodore Roethke

Song Collection

Ned Rorem

Theodore Roethke

Tygers of Wrath

Ned Rorem

William Blake

A. E. Housman

Song Collection: Aftermath

War Scenes

Song Collection

Ned Rorem

Walt Whitman

Women's Voices

Song Collection

Ned Rorem

Emily Dickinson

Christina Rossetti

Elinor Wylie

Recordings

Love Comes in at the Eye

(Ned Rorem)

2018

The Soul Fox

(Amy Marcy Beach, Lori Laitman and Ned Rorem)

2017

Notes from the Asylum

(Ned Rorem)

2016

Stopping By

(Mark Abel, Samuel Barber, Amy Marcy Beach, Leonard Bernstein, Charles Wakefield Cadman, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, Celius Dougherty, John Woods Duke, Stephen Foster, Charles Griffes and Ned Rorem)

2013

An American Kaleidoscope

(William Bolcom, John Woods Duke and Ned Rorem)

2012

Something to Sing About

(Samuel Barber, William Bolcom, Aaron Copland, John Corigliano, John Harbison, Charles Ives and Ned Rorem)

2011

Wigmore Hall Live: Songs By Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky & Ned Rorem

(Charles Ives and Ned Rorem)

2007

Evidence of Things Not Seen

(Ned Rorem)

2007

Songs of Ned Rorem

(Ned Rorem)

2006

[email protected] Live '03: Innovation / Evolution: The Unfolding of Music 1720 - 2002, Vol. 5 (Voices of Our Time)

(John Corigliano, John Harbison and Ned Rorem)

2003

For Your Delight... - New American Art Songs

(Chris DeBlasio, Ricky Ian Gordon, Daron Aric Hagen, Richard Hundley, John Musto and Ned Rorem)

2002

I Hear America Singing

(Ernst Bacon, Jean Berger, Paul Bowles, Henry Burleigh, Stephen Foster, Ernest Gold, Charles Griffes, Richard Hageman, Sergius Kagen, Charles Martin Loeffler, Edward MacDowell, Charles Naginski, John Jacob Niles, Hermann Reutter, Frédéric Louis Ritter, Ned Rorem, William Grant Still, Hugo Weisgall and Tennessee Williams)

2001


View recording

Ned Rorem: Selected Songs

(Ned Rorem and Walt Whitman)

2001

Susan Graham - The Songs of Ned Rorem

(Ned Rorem)

2000

More Than A Day

(Ned Rorem and Jack Larson)

1999

American Anthem: From Ragtime to Art Song

(Samuel Barber, Lee Hoiby, Charles Ives, John Musto, John Jacob Niles, Ned Rorem, Traditional, Aaron Copland and William Bolcom)

1998

To The Soul - Poetry Of Walt Whitman

(Ernst Bacon, Leonard Bernstein, Henry Burleigh, Gerald Busby, Philip Dalmas, Charles Ives, Charles Naginski, Ned Rorem, Robert Strassburg, Michael Tilson Thomas, Kurt Weill, Elinor Remick Warren and Walt Whitman)

1997

Sure on This Shining Night

(Samuel Barber, George Whitefield Chadwick, Charles Ives, John Corigliano, Aaron Copland, William Bolcom, Ned Rorem, Richard Hageman, Charles Griffes, Victor Herbert, Horatio Parker, John Musto, Amy Marcy Beach, Theodore Chanler and Virgil Thomson)

1997

The Listeners

(Ernst Bacon, Theodore Chanler, Lee Hoiby, John Jacob Niles and Ned Rorem)

1977

Paul Sperry Sings an American Sampler

(Samuel Barber, Robert Beaser, William Bolcom, William Billings, Elliott Carter, Celius Dougherty, John Woods Duke, Stephen Foster, Charles Griffes, John Musto, Ned Rorem, May Swenson, Louise Talma, Hugo Weisgall and Kurt Weill)

1995

Where the Music Comes From

(Lee Hoiby, Celius Dougherty, Ned Rorem, Henry Burleigh, Samuel Barber, Arthur Farwell and Charles Griffes)

1991

Songs of America

(William Bolcom, Charles Wakefield Cadman, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Stephen Foster, Charles Ives, Carrie Jacobs-Bond, Sergius Kagen, Theodore Roethke, Ned Rorem, Carl Sandburg, William Jay Smith and Gertrude Stein)

1988

American Songs: Copland, Rorem, Sessions

(Aaron Copland, Ned Rorem and Roger Sessions)

1971

Rorem: Poems of Love and the Rain

(Ned Rorem)

1965

Songs by 20th Century American Composers (Vol. I & II)

(Ernst Bacon, Samuel Barber, Paul Bowles, John Alden Carpenter, Theodore Chanler, Aaron Copland, Charles Griffes, Charles Ives, Otto Luening, Edward MacDowell, Virgil Thomson and Ned Rorem)

1962

Books

The Paris Diary and The New York Diary

By Ned Rorem

Ned Rorem: A Bio-Bibliography

By Arlys L. McDonald

Knowing When To Stop: A Memoir

By Ned Rorem

Leaves of Grass

By Walt Whitman

Audio

Track:

    Sheet Music

    15 Art Songs by American Composers (High Voice)

    Composer(s): Dominick Argento, Leonard Bernstein, Theodore Chanler, Aaron Copland, John Duke, Richard Hundley, Ned Rorem

    Voice Type: High

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    15 Art Songs by American Composers (Low Voice)

    Composer(s): Dominick Argento, Leonard Bernstein, Theodore Chanler, Aaron Copland, John Duke, Richard Hundley, Ned Rorem

    Voice Type: Low

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    50 Collected Songs

    Composer(s): Ned Rorem

    Song(s): Clouds
    Love
    Alleluia
    The End
    Chromatic Fantasy
    For Susan
    Orchids
    Psalm 150
    The Nightingale
    Absalom
    A Birthday
    A Child Asleep in Its Own Life
    Conversation
    A Journey
    The Land of Fear
    Little Elegy
    The Lordly Hudson
    Nantucket
    O Do Not Love Too Long
    On a Little Bird
    Poem for F.
    The Serpent
    Shelley's Vision
    The Sick Wife
    Spring (Hopkins)
    Spring (Koch)
    The Waking
    What if some little pain...
    While Sodom was occupied
    A Glimpse
    He Thinks Upon His Death
    Philomel
    Rain in Spring
    You, the young Rainbow
    Early in the Morning
    Are you the new person?
    Catullus: on the Burial of His Brother
    Ferry me across the water
    I strolled across an open field
    I will always love you
    Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair
    Look down, fair moon
    Love in a Life
    On a Singing Girl
    Sometimes with one I love
    Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
    Such beauty as hurts to behold
    That shadow, my likeness
    To a Young Girl
    Visits to St. Elizabeths

    Voice Type: High & Medium/Low

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    As Adam Early in the Morning

    Composer(s): Ned Rorem

    Buy via Edition Peters

    Evidence of Things Not Seen

    Composer(s): Ned Rorem

    Buy via Boosey & Hawkes

    Five Poems of Walt Whitman

    Composer(s): Ned Rorem

    Song(s): 1. Sometimes With One I Love
    2. Look Down, Fair Moon
    3. Gliding O'er All
    4. Reconciliation
    5. Gods

    Buy via Boosey & Hawkes

    "For Poulenc" (from "Four Songs")

    Composer(s): Ned Rorem

    Buy via E. C. Schirmer

    Last Poems of Wallace Stevens

    Composer(s): Ned Rorem

    Song(s): 1. Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself
    2. The River of Rivers in Connecticut
    3. A Child Asleep in Its Own Life
    4. The Planet on the Table
    5. The Dove in Spring
    6. Of Mere Being
    7. A Clear Day and No Memories

    Buy via Boosey & Hawkes

    More Than A Day

    Composer(s): Ned Rorem

    Find at your Local Library

    Poems of Love and Rain

    Composer(s): Ned Rorem

    Voice Type: Medium

    Buy via Boosey & Hawkes

    Six Songs For High Voice

    Composer(s): Ned Rorem

    Song(s): Pippa's Song (Robert Browning)
    Cradle Song (16th Century Anonymous)
    Song for a Girl (John Dryden)
    Rondelay (John Dryden)
    In a Gondola (Robert Browning)
    Song to a Fair Young Lady Going out of Town in the Spring (John Dryden)

    Buy via Edition Peters

    Songs of Sadness

    Composer(s): Ned Rorem

    Voice Type: Low

    Buy via Boosey & Hawkes

    The Nantucket Songs

    Composer(s): Ned Rorem

    Voice Type: High

    Buy via Boosey & Hawkes

    Three Calamus Poems

    Composer(s): Ned Rorem

    Song(s): 1. Of Him I Love Day and Night
    2. I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing
    3. To a Common Prostitute

    Buy via Boosey & Hawkes

    To You/Epitaph

    Composer(s): Ned Rorem

    Buy via Theodore Presser Company

    Two Poems of Theodore Roethke

    Composer(s): Ned Rorem

    Song(s): 1. Orchids
    2. I Strolled Across an Open Field

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    War Scenes

    Composer(s): Ned Rorem

    Song(s): 1. A Night Battle
    2. A Specimen Case
    3. An Incident
    4. Inauguration Ball
    5. The Real War Will Never Get in the Books

    Voice Type: Medium

    Buy via Boosey & Hawkes

    Women's Voices

    Composer(s): Ned Rorem

    Voice Type: High

    Buy via Boosey & Hawkes

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