What is it about Yehudi Menuhin?.....

September 12, 2006 at 10:42 PM · By many "objective" standards and comparisons with other violinists (living and deceased), Yehudi Menuhin left much to be desired. His bowing, intonation, precision, tone, vibrato - all became a struggle. Yet his violin voice is so compelling, so exceptionally unique, so authentic, so emotional, that it is playing that I find myself returning to again and again for something that I just haven't heard with anyone else. Maybe his "flaws" are at the heart of his genius. Maybe a Menuhin performance is an experience in overcoming obstacles, "playing through pain" (in the words of athletes), triumphing over our own limitations.

If you feel the same way, what is it about this artist that you believe made him so compelling?

Replies (51)

September 12, 2006 at 11:03 PM · Sander, thanks for this thread. I will listen to Yehudi Menuhin any day over most others. I feel like he makes the music move the way it is meant to, nothing sounds forced or artificial, I can hear exhuberence. Like I mentioned on the Aaron Rosand thread, even though R's Sarasate is clean and in pitch all the time, and the bow does the same stuff in a way, Menuhin's Sarasate just rollicks along, notes are pushed and pulled, and its like he just KNOWS in his spirit or something what the music is about, rather than just what the score is about.

Anyway, my admittedly unsophisticated 2c worth.

September 12, 2006 at 11:13 PM · Greetings,

Sander, I know this is one of your favorites ;)

When I was a brash arrogant stupid kid (now I`m an adult, don`t know about the rest) I thought Menuhin was complete garbage. I don`t think I was completely at fault there. He was a kind of well known cultural icon and very telegneic so he often apepared on lunch time chat shows and so forth and of course, it would be silly if a violnist dd not play, so he played , and at that time in his life what came out almost invariably was bizarre scratching noises. I still have images in my head of rather puzzled interviewers thanking him politely and wondering if next time the Osmonds and David Bellamy woudlN@t be a better choice.

My views began to change with exposre to his Elgar but I didn`t rteally get into him until I heard the early Sarasate recordings, his recordings of Lekeu, Bach and Beetyhoven sonatas and so on. The ther eis that recoridng of the Beethoven with Furtwangler which he reputedly heard many years later and remarked whistfully that he wished he could have played like that.

-Nobody- has the answers as to what went wrong and why (or even if it did). Pointing to thigns one doesn`t like is meaningless. I can do that with Heifetz or Oistrakh if I really wish. What`s the point?


I have tentatively come to belive that there was a qualitative difference between Menuhins appraoch to the violin and music compared to say Hiefetz and Misltein and within that , to my mind lay part of the reasons for the way his life went. To my mind, every truly great player i borderline insane. But that insanity is just a term for somehting out there which is so unknowable and vast it is just plain scary to the rest of us mortals. For me Heifetz and Milstein (keeping those two as a contrast) worked outwards from very self conatined and `ordinary` technique towards the madness. It was only hinted at, keeping the listener on edge. Sort of liek catching a glimse of Helen of Troy in a crowd and then lsoing it again. The classic Milstein cas eof where he lets one glimpse this for longer than usual is his recording of the Dvorak. When i listen to that in a dark room it bothers me a lot (in a good way). In a similar vein, Hugh Bean once commented that the most striking thing about Heifetz was `how ordinary every aspect of his playing was.` What he meant by that was that by avoiding extremes of anything his force could emerge under control.

Menuhin on the other hand had a reverse approach to creation that he describes in some of the accompanying jackets to his CDs. He always began with extremes and distortions, beyond the linits of what music could tolerate. tehn he worked inwards to the absolute maximum point of toleration. Thus his playing was born of musch greater spiritual tension, emotional, psycholgical tension and that would also be true of the condition of his body. Mind , body and emotion are all of one thing. One can find echoes of this in his writing on practicing. he defined it as the art of safetly ding just a little more than one is cpapable of so that ones limits are continually stetched. To do this one`s whole life and ignore the cycl;es and rythms of nature is just too heavy a burden for any one.

So, for me, all good comments about differnt syndromes and the like, all accuarte foir sure are subsumed under the idea that a body an inhabit the universe, but the universe cannot ultimately inhabit just one mans body.

Odd thoughts from a prune eater,



September 13, 2006 at 12:06 AM · Menuhin sang stuff in his head, then played it on the violin.

September 13, 2006 at 12:11 AM · Greretings,

my impresison is God sang in menuhin`s head and he happened to pick up a violin first. he could have been a legendary tuba player...



September 13, 2006 at 12:24 AM · So many of our great violinists of the "Golden Age" wouldn't even make it past the first round of most competitions today. Menuhin had his occasional sloppiness, Szigeti had his strange bow arm and unusual vibrato, Stern sometimes had definite intonation issues....but listen to them play and tell me, who honestly gives a ****? Their playing was so incredibly immediate, so organic, so HUMAN that their technical shortcomings become absolutely irrelevant.

PS Buri--nicely put. :)

September 13, 2006 at 12:28 AM · Listen to Menuhin play the Bach Chaccone and all doubts about his ability will disappear.

September 13, 2006 at 01:30 AM · Hi,

Menuhin was genius expressing itself through a violin. Was else is there to say? I think that Gitlis said it very well in the Art of Violin: "Yes, Heifetz was a sort of a God... Menhuin was closer though in a way. He was like the angel that came down on earth."


September 13, 2006 at 02:01 AM · "There is only one word I can use to describe Yehudi: magic."

--Ida Haendel (on Art of Violin)

September 13, 2006 at 02:39 AM · Thank you all for your wonderful, wonderful comments. You are putting in words what one would have thought is impossible to put into words.


September 13, 2006 at 03:20 AM · "What does music give me? It gives me a language which is in some ways more precise and more emotionally certain and more revealing than words can ever be, unless they are words used by great poets. What I have, what I feel I have, is a vibrating bond with my fellow men and women, a vibrant connection with everything that vibrates. For me, then, music is very much a meeting with and in a common humanity."

-Yehudi Menuhin, "The Compleat Violinist" 1986

September 13, 2006 at 03:59 AM · Hey,

Menuhin has long been my favourite violinist. I'm drawn to his playing - my biggest inspiration - I always find myself returning to his renditions of the great works eg Bach, Beethoven and his Bartok. To put it simply, I adore his playing because of the warmth and humanity it has, it reflects a man who was so incredibly deep, emotional, thoughtful and giving. Menuhin saw technique as merely a means of achieving his end - to sing through the violin, to express his individual voice which IMO he achieved so incredibly.

Menuhin's playing is the only type which really hits a chord with me, he touches with his sincerity those deep feelings that make us human. Virtuosic show seems so boring and dull in comparison with a man who was totally emotionally absorbed in his work. His technique of course declined in later years however he always retained his personal stamp. A genius...


September 13, 2006 at 12:31 PM · I've seen reviews of concerts that butcher the playing of the Rosands and Haendels as eccentric. Oddly they never get on Perlman or Kremer even though those players are just as "eccentric" as the previous ones are - but then Perlman and Kremer have "the rep" in the classical music industry.

Were Menuhin to come up today, there's no way he'd be playing in big classical concert venues because his style is not acceptable by modern day classical standards. He doesn't sound like a modern violinist at all, as his style is too raw and too technically spotty by modern violin standards. Juries and critics would politely applaud him before saying "Next". If he came on as a young man and posted on violinist.com, he'd get flamed off the board for his "incorrect" (at least by modern jury standards) playing!

But this much I say with 100% certainty: General audiences today would adore Menuhin just as much now as they did when he first came up, no matter what kind of music he was playing. That's because Menuhin was a truly good person and that light shows in his music making no matter how off his technique is. And that's why there's nothing he played that I don't adore.

I've said this about many a great violin talent of yesteryear. It would be "Yehudi Menuhin, Jazz Fiddle Wizard". Or "Yehudi Menuhin, Country Fiddler Supreme". Or "The 3 Violinists Featuring Menuhin, Kennedy and Bell". Or "Yehudi Menuhin, Music Mogul".

September 13, 2006 at 12:37 PM · I'm sorry, but I don't under¨stand all this "We would not let him win a competition" or "He sucks by todays standard" talk!

I can tell you that if you do this test at ANY past low grad student, say Tchaikovsky concerto + type of student you WILL get the same result as I do!

Play Daishin Kashimoto's Tchai from 1996 Thibaud-Long competition back to back with Jennifer Kohs and other excelent competition winners Tchai and let the student the hear Menuhin and Fricsay and let the student say what Menuhin's flaws where.

The answer is NOT: "Menuhin sucks, I don't understand how he could be so famous".

WE love Menuhin and WE see through a few imperefections and WE se the genious, why would not the Jury of major competitions do???

I heard a student play the second theme in the second movment of Beeth, and the student played it perfectly, but Bron told him "No, no no no - more like Menuhin - Love EVERY note!"

Menuhin was one of the greatest, not by or grandfathers standards but with OURS. And we live in this time, and that can ONLY mean that he would be one of the greates NOW as well. And it is not like we on v.commie has discovered a truth that is hidden for the rest of the world!

I got a bit agitated there, but thanks for listening!

September 13, 2006 at 12:54 PM · When you say “violin voice”, Sander, you’re pointing to a key element. To me, the greatest violinists (in the all-encompassing artistic / expressive sense, and this is of course not only true for violinists) are the ones whose instrumental voice is so distinctive that the actual instrument is transcended. What emerges from it is no longer a violin sound (beautiful or not, that’s not primarily relevant and to a certain extent subjective), but purely a voice, with its unique timbre, intonation, peculiarities, all a direct reflection of the person’s character, background and experiences. This is something visceral, epidermic, that comes from the pit of the gut or from the depths of the soul, or both, but anyway not something that can be affected with even the most sophisticated nuances. For example, Francescatti’s voice is joyous, sunshine; Oistrakh humane and noble, Heifetz perhaps the most complex because both tender and aggressive (and it seems that’s he was like as a person). Menuhin’s is suffering, full of compassion, joy but I feel essentially sorrow for the human condition. There’s a late recording of Frank Martin’s Polyptique for violin and 2 string orchestras, a depiction of scenes from Jesus’s life, where the solo violin is heard as the voice of Jesus: somehow it’s made for Menuhin and his performance is, not surprisingly, very moving. (The spiritual message should of course be taken in the most universal sense). The technical difficulties he had to overcome later on (let’s not forget that in his early days, he was also technically fantastic) reflected this sense of music as an expression of human struggle, endeavour, achievement and failures. This is also true about Enesco’s late recordings of unaccompanied Bach, far from perfect, and far greater than perfection. This kind of soul-laid-bare expressiveness hasn’t flourished for some time, and for all the wonderful playing one hears today, it’s dubious whether the current social/cultural conditions will allow it to emerge that extent any time soon. There’s an important connection with Menuhin’s teachers / mentors, Enesco certainly, and possibly also Persinger, because however personal, his sound does have strong roots there. To a lesser or greater degree, there is something of that humane and sad voice in virtually all of Enesco’s greatest disciples, but with Menuhin and Ferras it takes on a tragic quality; with Gitlis it’s similarly intense, but less deeply humane, I feel (much as I love him). Besides Menuhin, Persinger taught Camilla Wicks, who also has one such Voice, with an intrinsic underlying quality of soulfulness verging on sorrow. It’s amazing to hear that at age 14 or so, Menuhin, Ferras and Wicks already sound completely identifiable, all from completely different backgrounds, yet with in common something both visceral and soulful, just less charged with the baggage of existence than later on. Amazing how instinctive that is. When I once asked Wicks something about the expressiveness of her playing, she was bemused and replied it was never something she ever thought about. She’s a Californian of Norwegian origin, yet in something like Nigun she becomes a cantor (not just sounding like one). In relation to Buri’s very interesting points about Heifetz and Milstein in relation to Menuhin, I think Milstein’s quote “I love music but I love the violin even more” applies to both and is telling.

Best, Nathaniel

September 13, 2006 at 01:51 PM · Nathaniel: You have said so eloquently what I think I have been trying to say about Menuhin and the others mentioned. I liken it to a writer's voice or a speaker's voice. It is not like music being played; it is like words being spoken by a unique individual with a unique point of view, a story to tell, a vision to share, and a unique way of projecting their emotions. Violinists like Menuhin and Francescatti and the others have a way of sounding like people talking, rather than musicians playing music. It is hard to describe, but you know it when you hear it.

And, yes, a violinist like Menuhin may or may not be viewed as competitive and rise to the top in today's world. But the memory of his playing and his recorded legacy certainly will stand for a long time to come.

Anyway, thanks again to everyone for your thoughtful and insightful (and passionate) comments.


September 14, 2006 at 11:18 AM · If Menuhin didn't recorded any other piece

than Ravel's Kadish, that only would be enough

to recognize him as one of the greatest of all


September 14, 2006 at 01:38 PM · BTW guys, I watched part of Art of Violin again yesterday, and I think we can pretty much put to rest the suggestions that he had a lousy technique.

September 14, 2006 at 03:26 PM · His bowing technique got worse, essentially self-destructed, when as he aged(as did his ability to play in tune, not surprisingly). An article some years ago in Commentary magazine claimed that the reason his bowing technique self-destructed was that he had been taught by Louis Persinger, who in turn had been taught by Ysaye, whose bowing techinique similarly self-destructed later in life. Whatever the reason for this, he clearly had major technique problems that got worse as he aged. However, the younger Menuhin had no peer.

September 14, 2006 at 03:36 PM · I actually liked the old Menuhin more than the younger one!

For me, technical accuracy is far more unimportant than I even realized. What's more important is the SOUL of the performer, and Menuhin had that more in his later years than his younger years. I love the clean honest simple spirituality in the old Menuhin's playing. Not all older violinists demonstrate the wisdom of the years, by the way.

As far as the bowing thing goes, Ysaye had diabetes. It got so bad that he could barely lift a cup of water to his mouth without spilling it. Those were the days when insulin wasn't available, so the diabetic neuropathy got to him. Though Ysaye's bowing did deteriorate, I attribute that more to medical reasons than technical ones.

Also, Ruggiero Ricci studied mainly with Persinger and he's STILL active at bowing. I didn't perceive the old Menuhin to have trouble with bowing in the few videos and CDs I heard him in, but failing health can shake the arms of the best violinists. There's none of that in "Art of the Violin", where he plays that Chaconne as well as anybody could play it. That's a nice sound he gets out of that lovely "Lord Wilton" Guarnerius.

Menuhin had more than adequate technique for bringing audiences to their feet - or to their knees. But he (as well as most of the violinists on Art of Violin) do not play "the style" that academic violinists today expect people to do.

September 14, 2006 at 04:11 PM · Great discussion - thanks for starting it, Sandy, and thanks, everyone, for such insightful, thoughtful comments.

September 14, 2006 at 05:43 PM · the thing about menuhin, was that when he could make everything in his mind and heart sound out on the violin exactly the way he wanted, he had no peer. I believe his intelligence and natural instinct on how to play music far surpassed anyone else. It's just that physically, it sometimes didn't gel too well as he got older.

September 14, 2006 at 06:52 PM · Hi,

I'm glad to see many comments in this discussion that have helped me to better articulate why I am so drawn into Menuhin's playing. I think above all it is because what he offers is an interpretation, or more precisely an emotional distillation of a particular piece. Many times it seems to me he is doing so much more than simply playing the notes on the page; he is almost re-interpreting the piece on strictly emotional terms. In other words, he's not playing the music, he's playing what the music is about. It is hard to quantify how he does this, but I've noticed that in his portamenti, he is by the far the most unusual violinist. His slides have more of the in-between mesh of notes rather than just the first and last, than anyone else. In the last line of the second movement of his Bruch with Susskind, for example, listen to how he shifts down from the high b-flat to the e-flat. It's extremely sloppy, and no one else shifts like that, but it captures the nostalgic ending of the movement better than anyone. Beyond that, he makes certain kinds of sounds on the violin that are not taught, that no one else makes, yet are calculated nonetheless and come from his imagination. The main difference for me between Menuhin and other violinists is that he opts to evoke various emotions rather than consistently create a beautiful sound (however we may define it). The fact that his imagination outstripped the limitations of his instrument probably had something to do with his declining technique.

September 14, 2006 at 07:41 PM · I love Menuhin's unique tone, but to those who talk about his later playing having more soul than his earlier recordings, I must wonder, that may be true for his live performances, but what of the late recordings that were spliced together from hundreds of separate takes? Sure, his tone is still there, but can something like that still have soul and still have credibility as a single work?

September 14, 2006 at 08:34 PM · No, in my opinion, it can't. I hate the whole concept of splicing. Recording individual movements separately is usually OK although not ideal, but splicing together separate takes of the same movement is just disgusting and a revealing commentary on our modern age that values cold perfection over soul and expression.

September 14, 2006 at 08:37 PM · EVERYBODY splices in the studio nowadays, young or old.

That has been so for the last 100 years.

September 14, 2006 at 08:27 PM · Kannan Mahadevan wrote:

"The fact that his imagination outstripped the limitations of his instrument probably had something to do with his declining technique."



A man has never been born whose imagination can outstrip the limitations of a fine Cremonese violin that has never been "spoiled" by some zealot who thought he could "improve literal perfection" wrought out by the hands of Antonio Stradivari, or Bartolomeo Joseph Guarneri del Gesu, or his, (hitherto denied as having lived), older first cousin Joseph Guarneri, who was probably the son of Pietro I(of Mantua) Guarneri. This (other) Joseph Guarneri made violins equally as fine, if not finer, than Joseph Guarneri del `Gesu.

Men like Yehudi Menuhin, Jascha Hiefetz, and ALL the other great violinists, only "set the bar" for members of the next generation.

KEVIN HUANG, in my considred opinion, is the FIRST ONE to do achieve that level of ability.


I know, because I've heard him play. Trust me.

September 14, 2006 at 08:56 PM · I think it was his charm. Not kidding! The man was charming and was a very thoughtful musician.

September 14, 2006 at 09:39 PM · Aquiline nose and sleepy eyes will take you far ;^)

September 14, 2006 at 10:51 PM · Greetings,

heck, I`m getting by on nose hair and a yellow tinge.

As far as the splicing is concerned, although it is true that a certain amount always takes place, even in so called live recordings, it was be dishonest to equate this with the terrible situation occuring with Menuhins last recordings. Some places did have to be piece d together note by note. So much so that orchestral player s at that time actually joked that if you screwed up in a concert you were immediately put at the top of the list for the next Menuhin recording session.

However, this consideration does not negate anything previosuly said about the man and artist.

Incidentally, I wonder if anyone here played under himas a conducter and could offer some comments on that experience?



September 14, 2006 at 10:53 PM · should read:

it would be dishonest to...

September 15, 2006 at 12:13 AM · I didn't mean his particular instrument, I meant the nature of the violin itself. My point was that for him the violin was just a medium for making music, so maybe he wasn't as aware of its physical limitions as people like Heifetz or Milstein--masters of the instrument whose playing rarely strayed from the realm of 'the beautiful sound.'

September 15, 2006 at 12:52 PM · I listened to his complete Bach solos recorded at age 10, then the same music recorded again some 30 years later. He's something! And I agree about his Choconne, which is my most favourite among my favourites.

September 16, 2006 at 02:29 AM · His first recording was made when he was 11 turning 12 - first bach was at 13

October 5, 2006 at 05:38 AM · When I see this picture I always see Yehudi's alter-ego there. Shame they never met. One of you writers should arrange it. Train breaks down outside of Atlanta in 1930. A passing chicken farmer gives the passengers a ride to the station in his truck. Yehudi notices a violin case in the front seat. The farmer smacks a chicken off of it... Ok, well that's just the start of it.

October 5, 2006 at 06:06 AM · Dueling fiddles?

This could get dark in a hurry.

October 5, 2006 at 06:14 AM · Yes. And Yehudi accused Fritz of never visiting the dark side. You could fix it so Yehudi had a right to talk.

October 5, 2006 at 06:31 AM · Carlos, don't forget his recording of Songs my mother taught me. Everytime I hear his playing on that recording, I say to myself, how does he produce the color in that tone. Perlman says it beautifully, he says his tone had many layers to it.

October 5, 2006 at 06:39 AM · I think some of the answer to the Yehudi's greatness and perhaps weakness, too, is visible in his own response to Ysaye's advice to him as a boy to practice more scales and arpeggios.

Menuhin says: "I felt I could not accept his advice...Music was something very alive for me, an essential means of expression, and I suspect that unending hours of work on dull material might well have blunted rather than polished my interpretation of it... I have seen how very rigid teaching of music...can steamroller individual expressiveness into anonymous brilliance...Mine was an inspired way, shown me by inspired teachers, not mastery of scales and arpeggios; it was recognition of greatness and response to it." (Unfinished journey, 68)

October 5, 2006 at 11:03 AM · Not long before he died, Yehudi came to Australia. I went to a masterclass he gave to some students at the Queensland Conservatorium.

I sat in the front row, by myself. There weren't many people at the masterclass. After about an hour Yehudi suddenly looked weak, and whispered to the coordinator that he wished to leave the stage. He turned around and straight away walked down a very narrow and steep set of stairs right in front of me, coming down off the stage.

He tottered momentarily, on the way down the stairs. I started to rise in my seat to help him, but he recovered and reached the floor without problems. He immediately headed for a door that led to the outside. The coordinator was busy talking to the audience, and no one else was with Yehudi, so I went out with him to make sure he was OK. I was just a member of the audience. It all happened very quickly.

Yehudi walked out into the sunlight, and just stood there taking in the peace and the light. I got the impression he just needed some fresh air. He looked very tired, but contented. I was overcome with the enormity of standing there alone with someone who meant so much to me. I was going to talk to him and shake his hand but to do so seemed insensitive and unneccessary.

I was happy just to stand there with him, the two of us in the sunlight, until the coordinator and assistants came out to him. It was the first and last time I ever saw him.

October 5, 2006 at 02:58 PM · In 1972, I heard Menuhin in a recital of Beethoven sonatas and the famous solo Bartok violin sonata...Ida Haendel was sitting just next to me ...In the first half of the program, he played quite well with a pure tone Beethoven`s first and seventh...He was in shape that day...Then, after the intermission, the Bartok...A miracle occured!! Sounds never heard before, virtuosity, musicality, yes ,it was magic indeed!!! This is how Menuhin played when he was a teen said everyone...the real Menuhin, the angel from heaven...I still remember how he sounded that day and will never forget how strong the impression was on the audience...


October 5, 2006 at 03:16 PM · ...and I would add that such a talent today would certainly made quite a stir in the musical world of today...Winning a first prize in a competition does not mean much in my opinion...Ehnes and Hahn are today considered as major talents and were not into the circuit of competition...It is not a question of style that must be considered, but talent...I disagree with such affirmations that a Szigeti or a Menuhin would not pass the first round today...If they were born into our era, Menuhin and Szigeti would probably be among the top players, I am sure.



October 5, 2006 at 04:18 PM · Jon, that is a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing that image.

October 5, 2006 at 10:32 PM · menuhin had a way of reaching into your soul with every note. he didn't just hit notes, he told stories.

not only have i never had a problem with later menuhin, i prefer the old menuhin to the younger one and in fact i prefer old menuhin to a lot of other players in their primes.

October 6, 2006 at 02:43 AM · I love his recording of Paganini concerto No.1 with Alberto Erede conducting the Royal Philharmonic. It was made in 1961 I think and Yehudi's playing is sometimes just a bit rough in places but it is my favorite recording of this concerto.

As you say D Wright, he tells a story with his playing.

Thanks Anne!

October 6, 2006 at 03:59 AM · Hi Jon, Did you ever hear Yehudi's first recording of Paganini's violin concerto recorded in 1934 with Monteux? If not, purchase a copy!

October 6, 2006 at 08:37 AM · Hi Rick,

I'll get a recording of that one too. I haven't heard it yet. I've also got the one with Anatole Fistoulari conducting the LSO but the last time I heard it I preferred the later version for its dramatic,'over the top', operatic treatment.

October 6, 2006 at 08:52 PM · Greetings,

the version with Monteux is from another planet...



October 6, 2006 at 09:07 PM · Menuhin's Paganini's second with Fistoulari is

just incredible. How he sings the second mouvement

will made you cry.

October 6, 2006 at 09:44 PM · Carlos: That's one of my all-time favorite recordings. Menuhin doesn't "play" it, he "speaks" it. With a little imagination, you almost hear words. It is indeed incredible. Anybody know if that particular performance (Paganini 2nd, Menuhin/Fistoulari) is on CD?


October 7, 2006 at 02:18 AM · To my knowledge Sandy, Menuhin's 2nd recording of the Paganini No.1 is not available on cd, only his first and third recordings are. By the way his first reading of my favorite concerto, to me, is the best ever recorded.

October 6, 2006 at 10:24 PM · Hi Rick: Maybe I wasn't clear. It's the Paganini 2nd Violin Concerto (La Campenella) with Fistoulari. But the 1st Concerto recordings are also great. He plays Paganini as real music, not just as a technical vehicle.


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