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We perform a completely perturbative matrix model calculation of the physical low-energy quantities of the N = 2 U(N) gauge theory. Within the matrix model framework we propose a perturbative definition of the periods a i in terms of certain tadpole diagrams, and check our conjecture up to first order in the gauge theory instanton expansion. The prescription does not require knowledge of the Seiberg-0Witten differential or curve.We also compute the N = 2 prepotential F(a) perturbatively up to the first-instanton level, finding agreement with the known result. 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.