Music Educators Association of New Jersey

Serving teachers and students since 1927

November 2021



Claudia Knafo - Piano Gems from the Southern Hemisphere
Highlights, November 2021

Claudia Knafo arrived at the Madison Library with a copious collection of sheet music from Latin America that she had assembled over the years. Friends share new works and their musical finds with her, and she loves to travel in search new and unknown music to add to her collection. For more about Claudia Knafo, see Claudia Knafo Website

MEA President Yudit Terry introduced Claudia with a warm in-person welcome as I kept watch over our Zoom online connected guests. Claudia gave us some insight into her passion. “The genesis of my obsession goes back to getting my doctorate.” Her teacher was a very elegant, introspective, and reserved pianist, “and... I was not!” They had very different approaches to the piano, and mutual respect for their differences. He suggested that she look at Alberto Ginestera’s Piano Sonata No. 2, and that discovery sparked her interest in music from South America. She noted there were many Brazilians in her doctoral class who would bring music from their country to her. She visited Brazil often, always stuffing her suitcases full of music to bring back home. During a trip to Ecuador, Claudia managed to find “the only musicologist around, way up on a mountaintop.” In exchange for $10 cash, he printed out from his computer over 1,000 piano pieces and choral and chamber works for her. This was the catalyst for her love of seeking out and programming South American music. Today’s presentation, entitled “Gems from South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean,” featured a collection of music suitable for really young beginners, intermediate, and beginning advanced students.

We began our journey in Ecuador, with composer and violinist Enrique Espín Yépez’s (1926-1997) Pasional. This piece showcases the very important pasillo musical style of Ecuador: rhythmically down-tempo, played on guitar, with sentimental, poetic lyrics. The tone style and tempo vary from village to village as does the feedback she receives from Ecuadorians after each performance. Next, we heard a favorite of Claudia’s, El Espantapajaros (The Scarecrow) by Gerardo Guevara (1930-). The music first reflects his sadness of leaving his home and child while going through a divorce. At some point he notices a scarecrow pointing back to his house, and in the music we hear the contrasting revelation that he needs to go back home. “Everybody In Ecuador knows this piece, and everybody has an opinion about this piece. When you go as a North American down to Ecuador and play this, you will instantly have fans!” Claudia then played Anhelo (The Wish, or The Desire) and Nocturnal by Humberto Salgado.

We traveled to Brazil for the music of Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (1907-1993), “an interesting character.” Born in Sao Paulo Brazil, he is the best-known Brazilian composer after Villa-Lobos. Known for his art songs and dance pieces, in the tradition of Bartok and Kodaly, he was a devoted nationalist. Aaron Copland was quite excited about Guarnieri, and most loved the “healthy, emotion expression” in his music. Claudia played Acalanto para Tania (Lullaby for Tania) and Todata para Daniel Paulo, and noted these are wonderful teaching pieces in the spirit of Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood. “Students will learn a lot about legato and voicing as well.” Next, we heard two pieces from his collection of 48 Ponteios (Preludes). We were reminded of Chopin’s Preludes. Ponteio No. 1 had a jazzy idiom to it; Ponteio No. 34 was filled with Debussy-esque textures. She noted the change in meter could “really drive a student crazy!” and could be a fun exploration into the concept of the downbeat. Next came Luis Cosme’s Cancao do Tio Barnabe, (Song of Uncle Barnaby), an intermediate student’s piece.

Now on to Bolivia to explore some children’s beginner-level pieces by Jamie Mendoza Nava (1925- 2005). Born in La Paz, he explored the pentatonic native music of the Andes in some of his compositions. We heard El Amanecer (The Sunrise), La Escuela (School), La Noche (Night), and Duerme Nino (Sleep My Boy).

In the Dominican Republic we discovered Rafael Enrique Landestoy (1925-2018). He wrote many interesting and beautiful character pieces similar to Chopin’s, and is internationally known for compositions for piano and guitar. Claudia performed his charmingly beautiful Prelude in F Minor.

On to Mexico to hear Manuel Ponce’s (1882-1948) contributions to the literature. Ponce developed a very strong nationalistic style based on Moderato Manuel M. Ponce (1882-1948) A la memoria del escultor Jesús F. Contreras Mexican origins, and was a true Mexican voice of the day. Claudia played his Intermezzo for Piano, and then shared the story behind one of her favorite Ponce pieces, Malgré tout (Despite All). Ponce wrote this left-hand piece for sculptor and friend Jesus Contreras, who had the unbelievable misfortune of having to have his right arm amputated. Ponce’s message to his friend: Malgré tout, despite all, even with only one hand, you can still make art. Many of his compositions are strongly influenced by the harmonies and the forms of the traditional Mexican culture. Most of Ponce’s music is available on IMSLP for download.

“We’re going to Paraguay now” for La Catedral (The Cathedral) by Augustin Barrios (1885- 1944). Barrios was a virtuoso classical guitarist and composer who loved music and literature as a child. He became one of the youngest university students in Paraguayan history, and was quite a Renaissance man. He composed in folkloric, imitative, and religious genres. La Catedral is considered his magnum opus, even winning the approval of Andre Segovia in 1921.

Costa Rican composer Manuel Matarrita (1972-) recently completed this collection of pieces for children “fresh off the press,” Claudia announced. She played Where the Mangos Grow, The Beach, and a little calypso piece. Martarrita, one of Claudia’s “friends in music hunting,” has an extensive collection of pieces he has discovered and shared.

Argentinian Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992),“the greatest tango writer ever,” was introduced next. Claudia chose a piece that is not well known: Fracanapa. We were then treated to an up-tempo Cuban finale: Tres Preludios en Conga, No. 3, by Hilario Gonzalez (1920-1999).

President Yudit Terry and Programs Chair Sofia Agronovich thanked Claudia for the wonderful presentation of graded pieces showcased beautifully for us today. Claudia noted how very hard it has been for us as musicians to be locked down during this pandemic, and gave special thanks to MEA’s Ana Berschadsky for the invitation to present today. She commented, “That kind of brought me back to what I love the most.”


Lisa Gonzalez - writer and layout
Bertha Mandel - editor