THE HANS KELLER YEARS (1978 – 1985)

Without Hans Keller’s spiritual and musical help I would never have

written any music after my juvenile works. I met Hans Keller at the

Dartington Hall Summer Music Courses in 1978. I wrote what I considered my

Opus 1, the “Belsize String Quartet” in 1981-82 and dedicated it to him

with all my gratitude. I also dedicated him my 1st Symphony for large

orchestra in 1990, but he never got to know it. I took private lessons with him

from 1978 to 1985 and we corresponded quite a lot when I would go back to

Milan. I would see him for two or three lessons every Xmas, Easter

and summer for 7 years. They were very difficult times for me. I seemed to

be living like a fish out of water. I just felt I could not compose in an

“Avant-garde” way and was very worried about it. I tried to become ”more

modern” and I was just uselessly complicating my harmonies, though this

was helpful to mature. Hans understood this till one day he said, ” It’s

no use you thinking about writing like these other composers because you

would never be as good at it as they are. You are inclined in a different

way and have to go on developing in your direction. Your Harmony will

become clearer”. “What!”, I thought, “oh, dear how can I make my harmony

clearer?” In fact, I did it later without thinking. For some people, my

harmony may still seem a bit complex, but I think that as time goes by

this will lessen as they listen to my works as emotional surges.

The first private lesson I did with him lasted 4 hours, the successive

ones 2+ hours each. We would sit in front of each other and in front of

the window next to the piano. I sat in an armchair that had a cover and

every time I use to feel for the hole on the inside of the left arm-rest.

He had burnt it with his cigarette after having fallen asleep once. It was a

special hole for me. And it was a special position because the sun shone

in my face for every single lesson except once. 21 times approximately for

2 or 3 times each period. Approximately 60 lessons? 60 talks. 60 thinking

times. 60 moments of pure joy. 60 moments of awe. In 1978 when my

grandparents had died and left a small inheritance to my mother she had

bought a two-bedroom flat in the Belsize Park area which happened to be

just below Hampstead and 15 minutes walk uphill to Hans’s house. For 7

years it seemed to me that Destiny had decided this meeting and our

lessons. I have always been a slow composer and a lazy one too and I would

bring him a part of a work. I felt that I had to continue composing just

for the sake of having a lesson with him. The first time I took him the

1st movement of my string quartet (which was actually the last movement I

wrote) he saw that I was very uncertain about the result and he told me to

start it all over again!! I came back home very, very demoralised and I

thought “I’ll never be able to do something that satisfies him!” Yes, he was

right because it turned out to be better. The quartet won the 1st prize of

the 1982 Washington String Quartet Composition Competition because they

didn’t just read the work but actually performed all the works to judge

them. Hans had a capacity of understanding the thoughts behind a musical

work even if he had never seen it before. I always found it awesome and

yet illuminating. He once told me “You know everything already. I am only

here to clear up your ideas and guide you.” He taught me musical and

personal free-thinking (though my father had taught me the latter too) and

yet one day he told me that my “Fables” for orchestra wouldn’t have had a

musical meaning to exist unless there had been the text to it. I was

terribly shocked because I thought I had written some pretty pieces, but

then I understood the truth of the musical context, of the musical meaning,

of course not of the “foreground” but of the “background” as he had taught

me. He talked of his ideas, his theories, his anecdotes, and his Functional

Analysis which couldn’t have suited me better. In the compositional world

those days, and still in the academic world nowadays, one would have to

explain in fanatical detail how one had composed a work. He would comment

on the composers of the past and the present times. He was always reactive

and peremptory with an immediate answer. He would even say, “I have 5/ 6/ 7

answers to your question,” with his typical Austrian accent which was

overwhelming for my poor slow brain. There was never a moment when

he wouldn’t tell me something new and exciting which I would think over

and over again with great joy as I walked downhill towards my home.

He had so much knowledge, so much memory, and his brain

was so organised and so quick that I was always inspired by his lessons. I

always had to be careful with my facial expressions because he could see

right through me. I also learned how to listen and to understand through

people as well as music. He was my mentor. It took me a very long time

after his death when speaking with Milein Cosman his wife to call him by

his first name, so much was my respect and admiration for him. Nobody

else, except my husband, has had such a musical role in my life.