I feel happy now to be over fifty and to have the humanity and experience to understand the world a little better. I now find myself in the position not to be able to need moral and musical help from anyone anymore except composers of the past but I once needed it terribly and if I had not found it in the figure of Hans Keller I surely would have stopped composing. I also feel terribly gratified that now students other than my own want to know me, having heard my music on the Naxos CDs. People of all ages with different jobs and activities and from all over the world have written to me. They have also contributed to giving me more confidence and peace of mind than I previously had. But real peace of mind can only be reached in an afterlife. One has only to learn to live with the difficulties as best as possible. However, since I have reached a good point, I now feel the urge to help others, particularly young students, to reach their confidence and peace of mind as much as possible.
I teach Composition and Orchestration at the Conservatorio of Milano. I pass alternate periods in Composition, Analysis, and Proofreading. I use the piano only to compose and I orchestrate directly at the computer. I hardly ever go to concerts because my husband has a collection of over 23,000 CDs with orchestras of superior quality than the ones we have in Italy and about three thousand scores. We go when a friend performs or conducts. We listen to a lot of music together and exchange comments. Admittedly, however, I enjoy live music very much and wish I could go to concerts more often. Every day I also write a certain quantity of letters and sometimes thoughts.
We live in a block of flats on the third floor but my studio with my piano, books, and a Macintosh is on the ground floor facing a garden which is rare in Milan. He reads my emails and sends them down to me but sometimes I read them upstairs and send down only the interesting ones I want to keep or I write emails directly on his computer. This sometimes creates a little confusion.
We have no children because I love composing too much and I want to dedicate my life to Music, which also includes teaching. My parents are old and they often need a lot of attention so I’m not always free to do what I want nowadays. At the moment I am dedicating a lot of time to self-promotion, writing a lot of emails to public radios in the States, eight of which have recently broadcast quite a number of works. The Altenburg Gera Theatre in Germany has just written to say that they will perform Adagio for string orchestra three times in May 2004. This is the first concert that derives from the sale of CDs.
As soon as I have finished with these emails I will begin the first movement of my Second Symphony (I have already finished the second and third) and after I have composed the fourth I will have to orchestrate them. The quantity of work I should do is enormous. I should also revise the orchestration of my First Symphony, written in 1988-1990, and correct some old scores. I do not have a publisher that could help me and I feel helpless. Sometimes, I even secretly hope that no commission will come for at least a couple of years because I wouldn’t be able to cope with it. Furthermore, I’m a slow composer and all these thoughts give me anguish.
Actually, I wrote the 1st movement and when I had finished all the movements I exchanged the 1st with the 4th. The 1st was finished in 2010 and the 4th in 2006.
I have to get back to composing the first movement of my Second Symphony. This means tomorrow morning since today I have to teach at the Conservatorio. I haven’t got the faintest idea how to start. I shall just have to put my hands on the piano and then…go! if I’m lucky, otherwise I might have to stare at the blank page for a couple of days or so, which is very frustrating. Anyhow, I’m quite used to staring. I think I do more of that than actually writing the music down. In the end, it doesn’t worry me so much because staring for me means composing too.
It is 5 o’clock and it is a couple of hours that I can’t sleep, despite the fact that as soon as I woke up, I took another 5 drops of a sedative after the initial three. My husband sleeps peacefully throughout this period, instead, my head is on fire, my shoulders and neck hurt and I toss and turn all the time. Thoughts wander to all the sadness of my life, those of my loved ones and of the world going from bad to worse, thoughts that include those of continuing to love my husband so much even though he has given me only a part of what I would need in my life for total happiness and peace. It’s nobody’s fault. We are both very different with different needs and therefore I know that I too give him only a part of what he would need. We have to adapt, help and please each other. That’s life. I have constant thoughts that always lead me to miserable sadness. I would like to sleep and never wake up again so as not to inflict my torments on my loved ones as well as on myself. My congenital masochism is fueled by all the sad components that have afflicted me in recent years but especially in recent months. My spirit is unstoppable and thirsty for everything negative in my life. It revels in its torment, enjoys and thinks of death as the last moment of unbridled ecstatic liberation from it. Only sleep can calm it and keep it under control, and only drugs can keep the plague of insomnia at bay. If I don’t sleep, I will go mad. If I’m not surrounded by balanced, understanding, and loving people, I have nothing left to live for. It is 6 o’clock and I would love to sleep ……. and wake up to discover that I am another person without sadness and full of joie de vivre. Otherwise, I would like to sleep and never wake up. Drops, drops, drops … food for life and death.
In trying to communicate it is fundamental to transfigure one’s emotions into one’s Art. The emotions of human beings are the only vehicles for artistic creativeness.
A music-loving family will always be united. It gives me great joy to instill a love for music in all the people I meet, in particular my pupils. I love teaching and for me, it is the only medicine that is capable of curing momentary depression. I just forget everything when I teach, just as when I am in a good composing mood.
Under certain aspects, I am a very elastic musician, so it doesn’t absolutely bother me to hear Turandot with an English accent as it doesn’t bother me to hear a pianist like Rubinstein play a series of wrong notes or a record that isn’t DDD. It’s the quality of the music and the musical phrasing that count for me.
Praise in these times comes to me as light in darkness after so many years of solitude and ostracism on the part of the local Avant-garde.
Paragraph written for the Dictionnaire Universel des Compositeurs de Musique by Edmond Maitre
As regards my musical ethics in a few simple words it is the exact opposite of that of the intellectual Avant-garde composers of the last five decades but also of the repetitive and aimless music of The Minimalists. I don’t believe that Music is a purely intellectual exercise or an easy way to please the ear. I believe in expressive music that communicates emotions at deeper levels as all forms of Art have always done throughout the centuries.
The most agonizing moments for a musician are when he repeatedly keeps on realizing that he is not good enough. For someone reaching out for perfection, enough is never enough and that feeling of helplessness is agonizing.
The lack of freedom of musical expression in Composition
For forty years there has been a double course of Composition: Traditional and Experimental. The Traditional will be abolished from November 2010. For thirty years, with the retirement of Bruno Bettinelli, the last figure of a more traditional generation, the Avant-garde has tried to force the students of the Traditional course to graduate with Experimental techniques. This means that more or less since the 1980s, students, instead of composing with techniques derived from traditional harmony, counterpoint, phrasing, and orchestration, have had to use music as “material” to build “ex-novo” pieces without connections with the past. It is only allowed to compose in a traditional way up to the middle course and in the upper course, it is never allowed to compose and perform pieces with a style that is not dictated by the Avant-garde.
There are 18 teachers between those of the lower and middle courses and those of the higher courses, but only 4 of these are Traditional in the true sense of the word. Instead, Traditional pupils would be inversely proportional if they were allowed to compose however they want. Many students have given up their studies or have asked to be transferred to other Conservatories or have had to “obey blindly and plug their ears” to the teachers of the higher course in order to obtain the old diploma or the new degree in order to work.
There are very few pupils per class and so few admissions that one ends up with only one more pupil each per year. Yet, they do not close the classes and they always keep the number of teachers high both for prestige and because the last ones in the ranking order are precisely those who cannot be sent away because they are in positions of power. They have a maximum of 2-3 students per class and do not teach other subjects for the Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, for example, Orchestration like I do. They never go to the Academic Board meetings and look for all kinds of excuses for not being part of exam committees. It’s a real shame because they often don’t come to the Conservatorio at all and sometimes they stamp their entrance card, but they leave without giving a lesson.
When I composed Florestan I was actually inspired by Hamlet, but it was such a famous title that I never really thought of calling it that. I’ve been thinking about metaphysical suicide since I was 14! I’ve always wanted to be in control of my life as much as possible. I have succeeded quite a lot. I have now understood how I want to live, and I have tried as much as possible to keep faith in myself with the minimum of compromises. Similarly, my Messidor was inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I went back to Florence on purpose to see Botticelli’s paintings again. I had never seen Excalibur and so I watched a couple of scenes with Merlin which are quite fascinating. I had a musically visual idea of Merlin completely free from any visual representation, and have always been fascinated by the personage. I have to admit that Harry Potter triggered off my composition. I also went to see Tintagel, but many years after having finished the work. Like Florestan and Messidor, it has been a one-off musical fantasy of a literary character, but I doubt I will write more works of this kind.
Reply to a letter:
The dissonances that you mention are intended on my part (the orchestra was very good, in tune, and emotionally involved – the conductor was most professional). For a certain period in my life, I experimented with the superimposition of, for example, D, D#, and/or Db at a distance of an octave. However, there are one or two points in Requiescat where I left the dissonances at a distance of a semitone (sounds rather off-tune!), even after having revised it last year and having thought about it carefully. It is a very acute bichord of the violins that at a certain point meet and it has a contrapuntal/intellectual sense, but it clashes with the ear. In those days I wanted to keep it …. and I still think about it today, but it was put on a CD in 2001 and it’s there forever …. but the strange thing is that even today I don’t know which one I prefer …. the most dissonant or the harmonious one? However, one will notice that there is nothing of this in later works, though in Messidor, to avoid a far too simple and boring ending, I added a dissonant Trombone which sounds off-tune but still fits in with the concept of a pastoral scene. Be assured that everything you hear is exactly as I want it and I take full responsibility for my musical choices. I think, however, that it will take much longer than a first or second hearing for the public to fully understand what I’m trying to say in my music.
Reply to a letter:
Of course, there is some dissonance everywhere in my music! Let me explain my musical procedures in more detail. I like superimposing traditional chords, usually bichords or trichords (somewhat Strawinskian). Furthermore, my baseline alternates from the traditional sort which touches the tonic, dominant, etc. to a baseline that is totally independent of the chords above it. I also compose with the reverse process but these are only techniques/procedures of Composition. They are a means, not an end. Above all, I think about creating a musical idea, emotion, or atmosphere, and the inspiration to create it comes by itself. One of the greatest faults of most of the composers of the second half of the 20th century was that they gave too much (or even exclusively) importance to techniques and far too little (if none) to the Music itself. So, I can assure you my music shall always have plenty of dissonance in it but that it will be derived exclusively from the musical idea. As regards Poulenc, I cannot say that he is foremost in my thoughts. If I were to mention some composers that I love there would be Prokofiev, Strawinsky, Ravel, Shostakovich, Strauss in the 20th century, and Brahms and Bruckner before them, but my list would be never-ending because I love all music and I don’t have any particular “hates”. However, I do not like Avant-garde music and other Atonal music created in the second half of the 20th century.
God is not in the Creation. It’s in your head; in your humility and compassion. God is Empathy.
I like Pope Franciscus very much, but I must say I was rather disappointed when he put the football and T-shirt on the altar!! Somehow it seems so inappropriate. I was really moved when he put that little posy of beautiful flowers on the alter just after he was elected! And what about this flash mob? Maybe it’s not so bad because there is no altar or service, but……..
I know that the Church must get nearer to the people and this is a good way to do it. I know that this works with ignorant (and maybe not so ignorant) people, but there is a lack of spirituality and seriousness that shocks me. I’m probably too old-fashioned. I can’t conceive Rock in a Classical Music Venue, nor the performers dressed any old how. I loved what was called Pop Music when I was a teenager and still have some original 45s and LPs which I don’t feel like getting rid of because the music is good, but I used to hear and sing them in my own room, on the beach or at parties and I wore jeans in the places that they were suited for. If I go to a concert or am part of a concert, I feel that I have to be suitably dressed and my behaviour must be according to the circumstances. Just fancy if a nurse or a doctor (actually the Italian doctors leave their white coats open to show how they are well or shabbily dressed underneath since it is like a label for others to understand their political and social views) were to go around dressed in normal clothes, maybe even dirty! At this point, even the Pope could discard his white tunic and the world would end up topsy turvy. I don’t know what to think anymore.
I understand that Pope Franciscus has been in the midst of people much more than other popes, so in a way, I may be wrong. It is natural and good for him and for us to behave the way he does, but I still can’t understand what this gesture means….give such importance to a plastic football, even if it is the symbol of a culture, a passion, a way of life for many people! It is encouraging a lower kind of cult, not a spiritual one. It’s OK when he plays football, goes on buses, eats with people, mixes in the crowds, and lets people touch him, though it could be dangerous for him. This is wonderful, however on the alter I would put only something that represents pure religion and spirituality. He should put the football with other presents in his own rooms as private gifts. If the cardinals have fun with a public flash mob it’s ok, but I feel it’s inappropriate if it is done at the end of a Mass. I know that there are wonderful and moving Negro Spirituals, but this is a unique culture of its own that does not belong to other spiritual cultures: Islam, Buddism, etc.
It is all very new, confusing, and a bit depressing for me because all the boundaries between the deep and the superficial seem to be disappearing. I’m not religious but now I am getting nearer to Faith and this is something deep, serious, and mysterious. Even in the Arts for a long time now Classical Music has become Entertainment, Ethnical and Rock have become Classical, contemporary literature, music, and art have no more boundaries. Things are getting worse and worse after so many decades of experimentalism which have allowed rubbish to be compared to masterworks, but that the Pope should put a plastic ball onto the altar, is really a bit too much for me.
Technique in music is nothing without good harmonic ideas. Harmony, which forms the basis to musical ideas (whether they be more harmonic or melodic or contrapuntal), is what conveys the spirit of a composition and thus the spirit of mankind; not so much Counterpoint or Orchestration, which, however, may complete and enhance a good musical idea. Melody without good Harmony, and/or Counterpoint, cannot give rise to a masterpiece. Bach’s counterpoint would have been mediocre if his harmony had been poor. Many wonderful orchestrators or counterpointists may not have original and good musical ideas.
Life from 2010 to 2014
So much has happened in these years that I don’t know where to start. My parents were very sick and then died in 2010 and 2011 (my father stopped eating after my mother’s stroke and died in less than 10 months). I had been after them so much that I had Stress Fibromyalgia and 14 episodes of Atrial Fibrillation that I then had to have cardiac ablation in 2011 just a few days before he died. The last two years have been tragic for me even though I have taken them all head-on. It was also heavy for Gilberto because he lost his father only a few months before my mother died. Now we are calm and we have moved house. From the 3rd floor, we have gone to the 7th with a beautiful terrace full of flowers that I take care of assiduously. I take life with ease, even too much. We live a rather socially withdrawn life with some friends though over time they have increased, however, we never go to a concert other than a friend’s, we almost never go to a cinema, never to the theatre or society events. On the other hand, once a year we take a long trip. Last year we did a very beautiful trip on the west coast and also some of the interior parts of the United States. In a few days, we will go on a 13-day tour of Israel and Jordan, always by car. Then we will go to London for 12 days. We always go to London three times a year, Christmas, around Easter, and 40 days of summer. We have friends there too. Our life is a mixture of home and travel when the hours of the Conservatory allow it. We consider ourselves very lucky. It is a full and satisfying life, but sometimes I have severe pain at the 4th and 5th vertebrae because in 2010 a neurosurgeon put two plates and 4 screws to block them and I later discovered, after seeing many neurosurgeons, that it wasn’t necessary. It was enough just to remove the cyst that occluded the spinal canal and that would have brought me to paralysis. However, after a terrible winter, I am now much better, especially because of the good weather. I am now able to walk for a longer time and enjoy my beautiful terrace.
26th May 2014
Old age, increase in poor health, and post-retirement.
Man lives longer, but health does not improve proportionately. On the contrary there are further problems and sickness due to more years, always of worse quality. There are more people with Diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Osteoarthritis and Cancers of the old age, just to mention some diseases that have increased in recent decades due to longevity. These and other diseases, despite research and scientific discoveries, have not been eradicated and, although there are more palliative remedies, they continue to make people suffer and weaken even more. Nowadays, life is longer but most people age in a bad way.
Despite this, the government, looking exclusively at the tables of longevity and not those of the diseases and illnesses of the people, has increased the retirement age by two years. A few years ago, women retired at 60 and now they find themselves having to retire at 67! But what do politicians know about the illnesses and disabilities which people have even before the age of sixty? Taking drugs for different kinds of health problems can help but can also create conflicts and repeated intoxications with abdominal and stomach pains. Some health problems do not give the right to official disability or even a shortening of the years towards retirement. Everyone says they have back pain, but the pain of someone cannot be felt or measured by another, not even by doctors, and the government continues to increase the years towards retirement. As much as one can love one’s teaching job and to be with young people like I do, there are moments that make life really difficult; even climbing the high steps of a tram, the stairs of the Conservatorio, or keep the balance with the jolts and brakes of a bus to go to teach ……. and there are still seven and a half years before I retire!!
My medical visits and tests increase with an aggravated cost to the government, sick days increase, and therefore hiring a substitute teacher increases the cost to the government. I assume that when I can’t manage anymore, I will stay at home 9 months out of 12 as the law allows, so the government will have to pay two salaries before I retire, but in the meantime, I risk worsening my health and therefore there will be further expenses for the government.
I believe that the retirement age should return to 65 and/or 40 working years. The elixir for a long life with good health has not yet been invented, much less that of a longer youth.
I would not call Bruckner a Minimalist but a Maximalist. His repetitions have a formal and emotional direction while the repetition of the Minimalists does not lead anywhere, lengthens the form depriving it of meaning, does not contain emotionality, spirituality, just boredom, and can be even annoying. Bruckner raises the spirit and over time, listening to a piece again, we understand its highest meaning. By listening to minimalist music, you are led to a sort of auditory numbness and after a while one is not even able to understand the form which, in Music, as in all Arts, is substance and vice versa.
Between Bach and Haendel I couldn’t say who I like best because for me they are both great though in different ways. The former composes in an introverted way for his little surrounding world. He turns to God in a quiet and personal way with greatness of expression. The second composes in a more extroverted way and is aimed at the worldly society in which he belongs. God is publicly exalted. How can we choose between two worlds so different but equally sublime, both necessary for our spirit?
Bach – quiet greatness of expression
Haendel – outspoken expression of greatness
Handel is splendid and sumptuous, Ravel is brilliant and enthralling, but Bach’s thought, his musical logic, is like a non-lethal virus that takes over your soul and never leaves you. It is true that there are works that are too developed and repetitive, but which composer does not have “minor works”? Hindemith does not have a profound and sublime musical logic like Bach’s! I stopped listening to Hindemith many years ago because I became bored. For me, his logic does nothing but turn on itself and is arid, while Bach’s brings the soul towards elevated emotions. When I listen to music and become bored, I automatically remove everything from my memory. However, Mathis der Mahler is what I like best because it has more character and form.
I don’t like Sofia Gubaidulina’s music, but it’s also true that I’ve only heard four works. But I find that she is a bit cunning when she writes for a large orchestra because she writes for only a few instruments at a time in those pieces, therefore making very little effort and frankly cheating a bit. I think Stockhausen is another cheat of many. Ligeti and Penderecki are better because they think more about the phonic result. I also don’t like Minimalists because they too are cheaters in the opposite way and have no depth of thought and no sense of Beauty. I haven’t read Christopher Hitchens’ “God Isn’t Great” and I don’t know yet if I will read it in the near future. At this time in my life, I only want to read books that amuse me. I have two parents aged 89 and 90 who have had myriads of health problems since 1998 and although they are doing well right now and have a caregiver, there is always a lot to do, so as well as not composing, I feel I cannot commit myself to books that are too difficult for the moment. A few days ago I finished Muriel Barbery’s excellent Elegance of the Hedgehog. It struck me a lot because I identify with the three main protagonists. Now I’m reading four funny stories by Alan Bennett. I had already read The Sovereign Reader. It is really worth it! I already bought Patrick Dennis’ Aunt Mame which they tell me is hilarious and similar to Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt I had read when I was a girl. I read all these books in English because I only went to an English-speaking school, the International School of Milan. My mother is English and in fact, I am bilingual. I too have always wanted to be cremated, like my parents who are members of Socrem society. But since my father-in-law died a few days ago, I’ve been considering a different choice … I don’t know. I don’t really care if I rot or burn! You can’t feel anything! Instead, I would like someone to come and see me once I’m gone. I am always fascinated and deeply grateful by the graves of Musicians. I’ve seen a lot of them, especially in Russia. Even though I don’t have children, I still have many students who are fond of me. I also think that the coffin is really a waste of good wood, but can one do without it and use only a sheet and one of those black zippered envelopes that one would take off when burying? I won’t have an important funeral anyway, maybe I won’t have it whatsoever and certainly without music, but if I had to choose music for my funeral I would choose a string quartet that would play Albinoni’s Adagio, Barber’s Adagio, the Rodriguez’s Adagio, Mahler’s Adagietto (in transcription) and, why not, my own Adagio or Simple Largo. I too would like to give some part of my body for useful use, but above all, I would be really curious to know how my brain is made. I am slightly bipolar, I was a child prodigy in Composition and I am still considered a musician with remarkable inventive skills. Who knows what my brain is like, which also has extremely striking shortcomings in other ways !!? A bad memory, for example !! What a macabre letter!
2009 (The only year I had a bit of respite from problems from 1998 to 2011.)
I scattered the remains of my parents over those of many others under the roses on the right in the Garden of Remembrance in the Lambrate Cemetery. That’s what they wanted. My father was an atheist. I would like to be cremated too, but I don’t know what I am, because I don’t understand anything about Infinity. All in all, I have been happy to have been born and have enjoyed most of my life. I would like to be remembered through my music. I hope my parents will be remembered through their small and large works. I hope they don’t go into oblivion for many more years. 2011
Since my father died in July 2011 I have been searching for him and in doing this I have been inadvertently searching for God. I have never been able to believe in God, as much as I would wish to. I still don’t. At one moment I thought I would like to go with them too…
6th February 2011
Many times we lose faith in life with its countless difficulties, with our own art and the artistic/commercial world. The comparison with the greatest and most unreachable composers, who continue to give us so much joy and are so fulfilling, is hard to accept. However, in recent years it has consoled me a great deal to hear so much bad contemporary music that this has given me more confidence and faith in myself. I have recently realized that I have some kind of visual memory in the Visual Arts and that when I compose certain works I have a similar visual memory in my music and the great Music I listen to. Strong and essential visions that derive from a great emotional and spiritual impact that I perceive through the fusion of the Subject/Content, which is the Drawing/Drawings and the Colours, within the Form. These correspond in Music to the same sort of Idea/Content, which is the Theme/Themes (consisting of the fusion of rhythm, harmony, and counterpoint) and of the Orchestration (the Colours) within the Form.
It is not difficult to assert yourself as well as be esteemed and well-liked by students. This will not happen with teachers who are naturally envious and unsatisfied with themselves. A teacher must try not to be too demanding with students who are less good because in any case one will not get much out of them and it is risky that they go and speak badly of you with others, which should still be avoided, even if sometimes it is not possible. Backbiting is always as harmful and dangerous as the plague. I know this from experience because I have suffered a lot from it. With a firm but nice way and patience, one can get more than with intolerance. Then when there is an unacceptable case, he must be thrown out. A pupil who merits 6 out of 10 can sometimes give even more satisfaction than a pupil who merits 9 because the progress he will make will be greater and it will be more thanks to you than to himself. You will have students of all kinds and you will have to learn to be very patient.
I believe in Man. I believe in his spirit when he is alive and in the memories of his loved ones when he dies. This is why I like photographs of the dead. I believe in the outcomes of his soul and his mind. Above all, I believe in artistic ones, from a beautifully embroidered handkerchief to a great masterpiece. I believe in the conviviality that is part of life. I believe in life and I don’t care where it comes from. I am not interested in knowing if God exists. I am not interested in the afterlife when dead and the afterlife of the universe. I don’t believe in God even if I don’t know how to give an explanation of this. I live for myself, for my affections, interests, passions. I am self-centered to the point of being selfish at times.
Nowadays there are too many composers in this world, most of which take up the time and the space that only good ones should have and there is no solution to this. At the beginning of the 80’s when I said to Hans Keller “ but many bad composers should make it easy for good composers to emerge?”, to my surprise, he answered, “ no, unfortunately, many bad composers confuse the ideas of people, most of whom are incapable of distinguishing and, in particular, it confuses the ideas of those who hold the reigns of power.” I was too young, inexperienced, and full of passion and enthusiasm to really understand what he meant, thank goodness, otherwise, I would have stopped composing, let alone thinking of making a career. He is the only Musician who helped me to survive musically and spiritually then…..and even now, so many decades after his death.
In my life, I have always chosen to be modest and often to stay in the shadows. Now I’m emerging in every sense because I think it’s time to assert myself. Even having a portrait painted is obviously a hint of self-centeredness and vanity. I bought myself some nice dresses this year; nothing really expensive, indeed all on sale, but in London, there are sometimes extraordinary prices if you know when and where to look for them. Anyway, Gilberto and I chose to remain with a simple and small car and when my parents died, I bought a relatively small apartment where my parents’ furniture and objects just barely fit, even if the terrace is almost as large as the apartment. Being modest, despite your means, is a life choice. It also scales down your expectations and makes you happier. It’s all relative because I know I have much more than most people. Before I die I would like to create a Foundation to help young composers record their compositions for orchestra, but this is not easy because the first thing is finding those who are really good and not only technically.
15th November 2015
Since I have never considered Art to be compatible with Politics, I do not believe I can make any contribution to any questions about the matter.
As regards my musical ethics in a few simple words it is the exact opposite of that of the intellectual Avantgarde composers of the last five decades but also of the repetitive and aimless music of The Minimalists. I don’t believe that Music is a purely intellectual exercise or an easy way to please the ear. I believe in expressive music that communicates emotions at deeper levels as all forms of Art have always done throughout the centuries.
One must not live a messy life composing or writing words in the middle of the night. The night is for rest and even if you can’t sleep well, lying down and closing your eyes is good for your brain. I am a messy person but, luckily, I have my husband who keeps an eye on me, otherwise, I would get even sicker. However, since I was a student and I couldn’t sleep because my head was full of harmonies, I forced myself not to compose after eight in the evening, and later when I had the internet Gilberto always dragged me away from the computer at around 11.
In 2001 I read two very good books on Bipolar Depression by the world-renowned psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison are titled: Touched by Fire and An Unquiet Mind. I first read the latter, her autobiography, in a very short time. It fascinated me a lot and then immediately led me to read Touched by Fire, her most important and fundamental book in research on Bipolar Depression. If one has little time but is interested, I recommend reading the first part which explains what Bipolarism is (or Manic Depression) and the chapters on artists, skipping the more “medical” parts. It is extremely fascinating, especially for those who suffer very much or even a little from this congenital (and even hereditary) “syndrome” and in many or some cases, we find ourselves reflected in the various characters of the book. Not only is it an interesting reading but I think it is instructive for those who want to look for remedies to feel better without giving up their creativity and artistic life. I have been taking lithium for 6 years but now I would not recommend it to an artist with mild bipolar depression who cannot do without his art, but a secretary, a businessman, a shopkeeper, people without much artistic imagination. I have come to the conclusion, analyzing myself and also reading articles on the internet, that lithium dulls creativity and therefore I no longer intend to take it. The antidepressant, on the other hand, can be taken for limited periods and has a good effect without taking away creativity. Also a good anxiolytic, to help sleep, especially when one wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. One must not forget that manic depression is a cyclical syndrome throughout the year, for me particularly in spring and autumn (which is why my light form is called cyclothymia), and therefore one moment one is too energetic and another too apathetic, and both give one the desire to renounce to everything. However, most suicides occur in the manic and non-depressive phases. My husband defines lithium as a social medicine because it helps society to live better overall but those who take lithium have to take it for a long time (even for life) to see a positive effect. Who is affected by manic depression (or bipolar depression, because it is always depression even when you are only in the manic phase) is not necessarily an artist. Some psychologists and psychiatrists have studied these branches of medicine precisely because they are themselves bipolar, like my psychiatrist and the psychologist mentioned above, and therefore are able to understand their patients better. Bipolar people often don’t understand people who aren’t and have delusions of grandeur and disdain for others. They believe they have a right to be who they are and that others don’t understand them. They always believe they are superior to others. In the cases of exceptionally artistically gifted people, it is also like this (remember that even secretaries can be bipolar) but this “syndrome” always tends to distort the reality of the life of those who suffer from it and disturb or ruin the lives of others. It is precisely during the extreme peaks of suffering that one is not able to analyze and control oneself in a balanced way. It is however well known that during these depressive and manic peaks even the most creative person fails to give his best and often gives nothing at all: the famous “silences” of some great artists. We need to find a way to calm the extreme symptoms of one way and the other, just enough to be fully conscious but full of this vital energy to “create” the best without self-destructing and destroying the people who live near you. It is not okay to be “flattened” by Lithium but it is not okay to stay too long in acute depressive or manic phases. This balance of extremes is what I call “the devil’s pact”.
(There are much better medicines for sleeping nowadays and antidepressants which one can take over a lifetime to live a well-balanced life without problems but always under the guidance of a psychologist or psychiatrist. 2022)
About a work by Luigi Nono: hearing it now, it makes me laugh, especially the absurd, senseless interventions of the piano! ….. then, in my youth, ignorance, immaturity, naivité, I was just amazed, incredulous, depressed …… I thought that maybe Nono was crazy, maybe they were all crazy, but now I have no doubts! They are ALL incredibly mad!! An era that has done terrible damage for years, unfortunately ours, but which perhaps, in the long run, will produce some good and fortunately will leave almost no trace of itself in history. History cancels in a few lines the ugly, the absurd, the senseless, the useless …..
Two exam commissions?
This year have I decided to carry on teaching to the three students who are doing their 5th-grade exam of the Experimental Old System. I don’t know for how long, but certainly up to the penultimate year of the Bachelor’s Degree. Nobody in my class wants to write with avant-garde techniques and languages. They all want to graduate in a Traditional way, study Variations, compose in Sonata Form, compose their own pieces with their own styles, etc. If they won’t be allowed to do this, some will graduate elsewhere to the detriment of our Conservatorio, as has already happened. I know that two colleagues of mine and their pupils think the same way. There are more and more students who want and have the right to graduate in a way that suits them best. I believe that at a certain point two commissions must be created: one for Avant-garde graduates and one for Traditionalist graduates. It has become a necessity so that the two stylistic strands do not conflict with each other and that a fair judgment and serenity can be maintained in both commissions.
My father taught me to look at Greek Art, as opposed to Roman Art, Renaissance Art as opposed to other contemporary manifestations such as Islamic or Oriental Art. He also taught me to draw lines as to what was “Classical” music and what was “lighter” (Jazz etc.) and definitely “light” music, i.e., popular (Pop) non-Classical music. He was an “Absolutist”.
However, my husband taught me to appreciate what was good music whatever the style, the epoch, whether “Classical” or “Pop”. I did this naturally when young and was a great fan of the Beatles, by far more than the Rolling Stones because I thought the quality of the music was better, and I did not need to be older and more educated to understand this intuitively. However, I hated the Italian soppy, melodramatic “light” songs and did not like Opera till time taught me to distinguish which were the better parts. As I grew up, I understood the difference in intent of Eine Kleine Nacht Musik and Don Giovanni, The Nutcracker and Tchaikowsky’s Symphonies, Midsummer’s Night Dream, and Mendelssohn’s Symphonies. The quality is the same but neither Bach, Beethoven nor Brahms composed music with these ambivalences because of the same basic reason why they never wrote an Opera. They are free from Symphonic Thought and Classical Form.
In my father’s classroom Gino Negri, a very talented and skilled composer, who however during his lifetime got lost and became a bit of an all-rounder, was his companion and friend. Obviously, Gino had many companions and friends in the Conservatory of Milano such as Fiorenzo Carpi, composer for theater and for television, and Giovanna Carpi, who had been the secretary of the director of the Conservatory, at that time Marcello Abbado, Claudio’s brother. They had frequented my house since I was born. My parents were very hospitable and I have videos of dinners with all of them which I remember with great joy. They were also friends with Giorgio Strehler, the theatre director, Gianfranco Rivoli, conductor, Arrigo Tassinari, flutist, and Cesare Ferraresi, violinist, as well as Bruno Bettinelli, composer and professor of Composition at the Milan Conservatory, but he was older than them and never came to our house. There were two other people who were not musicians, but slowly, slowly this group broke up and met only a few times over the last few years until Gino died first, then the two non-musicians, then Fiorenzo, then my father, and then Giovanna. I often saw Giovanna in the Conservatory both as a student and as a teacher, as well as at home. It was she who phoned me one morning and anticipated my transfer to Milan as a Composition teacher. Unfortunately, the skilled pianist of the Scala Ballet School who is 94 years old at this date, wife of one of the non-musicians, is still alive. I had also met the well-known Italian painter Aldo Carpi, father of Fiorenzo and Giovanna, at a personal exhibition at the Rotonda di Via Besana. He had been to the Mauthausen Concentration Camp during the War and had lost a son because they had Jewish origins. From birth, I have always been amongst artists because my uncle was also a sculptor, draftsman, and architect and is now 91 years old. I go to see him often to talk about art. My father wanted to be a writer and poet, but he had to support a wife and a daughter and therefore he became a businessman and then a scholar of Horology, a field in which he became an international historical and scientific expert. Sometimes life doesn’t give you exactly what you want. However, I have been lucky so far, even if I don’t belong to any musical group, and even if I don’t have a publisher and no longer even look for artistic opportunities, Naxos gives me the opportunity of circulating my music all over the world. I feel lucky because I’m free to do what I want and I don’t answer to anyone. Freedom in all ways!!
Having met Bruno Bettinelli in his youth, and on the advice of Gino Negri, one day, when I finished the International School of Milan at 19, my father phoned him (and I was there excitedly next to him) and immediately afterward I started private lessons of Harmony. In two years, I took the grade 4 exam and he made me enter the Conservatory. I remember the entrance exam in front of a huge L-shaped series of desks with all the Composition teachers (and not two or three as in today’s times). Bettinelli introduced me and talked about my compositional skills and the fact that I was the daughter of Peppo Brusa who had hung out with various musicians as a young student, even though he was not a musician. Everyone started talking to each other and wanted to know about my father and when he was born etc. I remember that the only thing I said during that exam was “1921”. I was admitted with that one word.
Many people ask me for free scores. Whilst this was Ok many years ago when there were few requests, now it is no longer possible for me. Furthermore, it is not just a question of asking people to pay for just the photocopies, binding and postage, which could be solved easily via Paypal, but it is a problem for me because it involves a lot of time (I do not have a publisher) and I have very, very little time for innumerable reasons, both musical and not. I am really sorry about this because I am a very caring teacher and know the importance of discovering new scores, particularly at an early stage of one’s musical life. However, please try and understand my music just by listening to it. If you have learned all the musical techniques and have a good ear, you should be able to do without my particular scores.