Why C# was my favourite tonality in my youth.
My first piano teacher, Professor Ferrari, taught at the Scuola Civica of Milan and lived near me. I was five when I had my first lesson and my father searched for a good teacher who would come home as I was so small. I studied, that is, I didn’t study with him for five years. He used to play me the little pieces I should have learned to read and I played them back by memory with all the wrong fingering. This went on for years until I started learning more seriously for the grade 5 exam which I took when I was 21 (really late!). In fact, I really got fed up and stopped studying the piano (against all my teachers’ and parents’ wishes), at 24 when I was very near the grade 8 exam, but what horrified me were the scales in double thirds and sixths, which were just terrible and impossible for me because of the technique and fingering that I couldn’t memorize!! I can’t remember in what way he started teaching me, but I can well remember how I had a little stool for my feet since they couldn’t reach the ground. I played on my grandmother’s piano that my mother had received back once she returned to Italy when the II World War was over. She played the piano a little and must have taught me the names of the notes. She later told me that when she invited little children from my school, the International School of Milan, for my birthday parties, she would play some nursery rhymes and sing them all together, but I would refuse to sing. Actually, my mother told me that I learned to whistle before I could even walk without leaving my hands from the wall. However, I was very in tune and later on had a 3 octaves range, which my singing teacher found quite rare and compared it to the Callas range. I studied singing only for one year at the Conservatorio of Milan and I was so stressed with the amount of studying that I had 4 spells of strong vertigo and once had to rush to the bathroom to vomit. That was it. I stopped and never sang a note from that moment. I lost my voice obviously. Anyway, though as a child I would refuse to sing, I would then go to the piano and play the nursery rhymes back by memory. My old teacher was desperate and didn’t know what to do. My father told my mother that since I didn’t like playing the piano (I still don’t), then I should stop. My mother would reply that she and her own mother, who had a piano diploma, thought I was very musical and that I should go on playing, rather than studying. The first thing I enjoyed doing at the very beginning, and I was only five when I took my first lesson, was to play complete cadences (I, IV, V4/6, V5, I) on all the white notes of the piano (the baseline with my left hand and the other three notes of the chord with my right). Every lesson I would start with this. I remember the joy and satisfaction of doing each complete cadence and turning around to look at my teacher’s face and then the tediousness of trying to look blankly at a piano score, however easy. I clearly remember that one day my teacher said that I should do cadences on the black notes, for example, C# (he chose the most difficult with the most sharps on purpose to spur me). The next time I played it to him without difficulty and fumbled the other cadences a bit, but soon knew them. In this way, Tonality, both melodic and harmonic, was literally absorbed by my body and mind and I have never been able to get rid of it.