A Mother's Musical Sacrifice

'When the Music Stopped' -- A Son's Remembrance

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Listen: Hear the Thomas Cottle Interview

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NPR's Fred Child talks to Dr. Thomas Cottle, son of the late pianist Gitta Gradova. Cottle's mother was a rising star of the piano in the 1930s and '40s, widely considered one of the most gifted pianists of her generation. Among her most vocal fans were composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, conductor Arturo Toscanini, violinist Jascha Heifetz and pianist Vladimir Horowitz.

But in 1940, after a successful tour that included a national broadcast of her debut with the New York Philharmonic, she announced her retirement from the concert stage to raise her son.

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Cottle has just published a book about his Gradova, When the Music Stopped: Discovering My Mother. In the book, he describes a childhood spent under his mother's Steinway grand piano, listening as she practiced for hours at a stretch. His adolescence was much more contentious — he and his mother often argued, saying cruel and spiteful things to each other.

The author tells Child how the two eventually reconciled and about how in 1984 Gradova, at the age of 80, decided to make a return to the stage with the Chicago Symphony. Sadly, Gradova died from a heart attack just three months before the scheduled concert.

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