When the Music Stopped

Discovering My Mother

By Thomas J. Cottle

Subjects: Psychology, Music, Family Studies, Autobiography, Biography And Memoir, Women's Studies
Paperback : 9780791459980, 296 pages, January 2005
Hardcover : 9780791459973, 296 pages, March 2004

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Table of contents


1. Hawthorne Place

2. The Pianist

3. My Mother's Couch

4. The Physician

5. On Soirees and Skirmishes

6. Identical Sensibilities

7. Gone in the Moment

8. Merely Two People

9. Giant Shadows

10. Final Concert


About the Author

A son’s coming to terms with his mother’s decision to abandon her career as a concert pianist in order to raise her children.


This is the story of one woman's decision to forfeit a brilliant career for the sake of motherhood. Once a child prodigy, Gitta Gradova traveled the world as an internationally acclaimed concert pianist, performing recitals as well as appearing with prominent orchestras of her era. Her son Thomas J. Cottle uses written records, interviews, and personal reminiscence to reconstruct her life, as well as their own mother-son relationship. He is at times a storyteller, at times a psychologist, at times a son seeking to uncover those aspects of his mother's life he could never know, or perhaps, chose not to know until it was too late.

A clinical psychologist and sociologist, Thomas J. Cottle is Professor of Education at Boston University. The author of thirty books, published in several languages, including At Peril: Stories of Injustice and A Sense of Self: The Work of Affirmation, his articles have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and the New Republic, as well as the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the London Times, Chicago Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.


"This book is a work of extraordinary brilliance. Cottle brings his mother to life mainly through the use of her dialogue, including her colorful Yiddish expressions. In addition to being a remarkable writer, Cottle is a clinical psychologist, and he offers us a complex view of his mother, one that incorporates psychodynamic, cognitive, and familial explanations. It is a story I will never forget. " — Jeffrey Berman, author of Risky Writing: Self-Disclosure and Self-Transformation in the Classroom

"Anyone who studied or enjoys classical music will feel privileged for these glimpses into the personal and professional lives of our beloved musical icons … Cottle's writing in this biographical book is lyrical … It is musical, like a piano concerto … Compared to other personal memoirs, this one is right up there with the best. " — Massachusetts Psychological Association

"…a poignant exploration of the conflict between love of art and love of family in any significant artist. " — Ploughshares

"This is more than a profoundly moving tribute of a son to his mother. It is a bittersweet portrait of the conflict in the life of an artist … I was knocked out. " — Studs Terkel

"Amazing, delicate, and blunt. " — Susan Cheever, author of As Good as I Could Be: A Memoir of Raising Wonderful Children in Difficult Times

"A deep and sensitive look at human depth and artistic sensitivity itself. Cottle somehow reconciles talent and love on 'Hawthorne Place,' a twentieth-century American 'Bloomsbury' for the most gifted musicians of our age. " — Jonathan Alter, Senior Editor, Newsweek

"This is a heartbreaking but ultimately life-affirming story of an extraordinarily talented woman told by her son with grace, empathy, and staggering insight. " — Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian

"After decades of listening, witnessing, and documenting the life stories of others, Thomas J. Cottle turns the light and lens on himself and his family, producing his most beautiful and courageous work yet. Balancing the voices of a fiercely loving son, a skeptical social scientist, and a masterful storyteller, Cottle captures the remarkable life of his mother, Gitta Gradova, a world-renowned concert pianist. His writing itself is music; a deft blend of passion and restraint, light and darkness, pain and life-giving humor. " — Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, author of Balm in Gilead: Journey of a Healer and Respect: An Exploration

"Thomas J. Cottle has written a fascinating book about a remarkable woman. It couples an intimate insight into the artist's life with a warm memoir of a musician's world, with a cast of characters from Toscanini to Isaac Stern. The chapter on Vladimir Horowitz is a gem. Read this book for edification and sheer pleasure. " — Gary Graffman, pianist and author of I Really Should Be Practicing

"This book is a biography of a pas de deux. Mother and son caught in a tortuous tango, in which each one defines and simultaneously distorts the other. It's also a triumphant concert played by the royalty of classical music surrounding the author's mother. A complex psychological study of the demons and glory of the creative process. And, mostly, a love poem from an angry adolescent for the mother he hated, as he rediscovers her in the process of mourning. " — Salvador Minuchin, M. D., coauthor of Family Healing: Strategies for Hope and Understanding