Winter Toccata (I can’t believe you want to die) —1993

Featured on Robert Maggio’s debut album, Seven Mad Gods, Winter Toccata (I can’t believe you want to die) was commissioned by Philadelphia Orchestra cellist John Koen. It received a wonderful review in American Record Guide.

Program Notes

Winter Toccata (I can’t believe you want to die) grew out of my AIDS volunteer work, beginning as a musical response to the polemics by Larry Kramer in his book REPORTS FROM THE HOLOCAUST: THE MAKING OF AN AIDS ACTIVIST. Initially I strove to make the cello into Kramer’s voice, imitating the driving rhythms of his writing, creating melodies out of favorite sentences, with the words written above the cello line. In doing so, I found a connection to the rhythm and passion of my own voice. What resulted was a vocal piece, especially at the start of the firs t movement: long, slow, singing lines—arching, lyrical, yearning.


Winter Toccata (I can’t believe you want to die), for solo cello, typifies the chamber music of Robert Maggio. It is lyrical, passionate, melodic, and rhythmically charged. The piece is a response to the composer’s work as an AIDS volunteer and the polemics of AIDS activist Larry Kramer. The two movements move back and forth between passages of long, arching lines and driving, almost frenzied rhythmic drive. At 23 minutes, it is very long for a solo piece, but not too long at all. Winter Toccata is a personal, deeply felt response to the AIDS tragedy. John Koen’s performance is nothing short of heroic.

Stephen Hicken, American Record Guide, January 1, 1997

The highest praise I can give this brilliant debut disc [Seven Mad Gods] is to say that the solo cello writing of the opening Winter Toccata is worthy of comparison with the finest string works of such masters as Biber and Boccherini.

Harry Hewitt, Penn Sounds, July 1, 1997