I have been a professor of Composition at the Milan Conservatory for 33 years and six more in Vicenza, Mantova, and Brescia. Yesterday was my last day of school. I resigned. I am tired of being in an environment in which I do not recognize myself, which is not suitable for me, which has never been suitable for me since I was a student, since 1973. As a student, I did not compose in the Avant-garde style desired by the great majority of the teachers of that generation and for which I was even disdained and estranged from some composition companions. As a teacher, I was considered a traditionalist because I continued to teach harmony and counterpoint by adopting the disliked Dubois treatise and letting each student express himself in the style he felt his own, even during the end-of-year school concerts. From the 1980s onwards, the old Avant-garde teachers were supplanted by a new Avant-garde, made up of students of the previous ones, even more intolerant of anyone who used tonality in their compositions, even if inserted in a much broader context and individualistic.
In a very short post last year on FB, I mentioned an exam which I had just witnessed about how a very unfair failure was given by a particular exam commission, without mentioning names. It was another professor’s pupil, not even mine. I was officially informed by the director that I shouldn’t tarnish the good name of the Conservatorio and cancel the post otherwise, I would be denounced for defamation. The post had become viral and the names which I had carefully avoided, were mentioned by other musicians in Italy with all sorts of negative comments on the teachers in question. It took nothing away from all the other branches of Music, and concerned only the Composition classes and not even all of them. I wrote it because I thought it right that it should be known that there were major injustices which, furthermore, I had lived through personally since 1973. It was typical to lower the grades to hit both the teacher and the pupil. Years before another pupil of mine had been failed twice so that he had had to repeat the year, despite being a particularly musical pupil. Another pupil, very musical too, had then realized that he would never have obtained a diploma without changing radically, so he started composing as most of the Avant-garde wanted, then graduating with 10/10 cum laude (the old system). This had then been told to me with malicious and ironic smiles. The last straw was when in June 2017 two of the most musical and compositionally inclined pupils of mine failed very heavy and difficult exams, so they decided to change conservatorio where two years later they got their Master’s degree with 30/30 cum laude (new system under the Reform of Musical studies) and one of them even a special mention.
I suffer because I think about good music and the possibility that young musicians may cultivate it and I am unable to do anything for them because my colleagues do not allow me to. The worst time for me is during exams. I never know how they end up and the dislike and malice that is shown to me is heavy going. I see many young students who are bewildered and forced to make music that they do not like. So, I have directed all the best students to go and study elsewhere. I will leave my class totally empty when I leave. They will be forced to close it. The only thing that gives me a little confidence is that Italy is not all like this; it is a situation that is found especially in our conservatory. I feel like I’m battling windmills. It is for this and for my health that I am really happy to leave.
21st January 2018
My dear students,
Today, the 9th of October 2018, is my last day of school. On November 1st, I retire from the Milan Conservatory. Only this year have I realized the time that had passed because for me it has always seemed like a continuum et sempiternum. Looking through the lists of all the students from year to year I have remembered the good and the bad moments. With sadness, I have recalled those moments when some of you were subjected to the evil and indiscriminate will of some colleagues and although I had tried very hard to defend you, I was not allowed to do so. I was the real target, not you.
Now I realize that I have less energy than before and more nostalgia. However, I have always loved and believed in teaching until the very last lesson and I have always done my best to teach you everything I knew. I have always corrected each exercise or personal work trying to adapt myself to each of you and not dictating prescribed dogmas, apart from the essential rules of Harmony, Counterpoint, and Orchestration. Above all, I hope to have taught you the love for Music and for “Beauty” in the Arts. My hope is that you will try seriously and with energy to pass on both the Love and the “means” so that others after you will continue to seek this “Belief” and create further “Beauty” in music.
A big hug to you, my dearest and most talented students,
Yes, they have finally managed to get me to leave, along with 5 of my students, very saddened at not being able to continue with me. They have moved to other classes and conservatories, where there are teachers with more open views. Now, I will be free to continue composing in peace, to travel, and do what I want with greater serenity, albeit with nostalgia for my students and for what the Conservatorio of Milan could have been in a different historical moment.
1st November 2018
I have always been taught to distinguish the musical, beautiful and natural compared to the unmusical, ugly and unnatural. Technique must always serve as a means to create “Beauty” and not be an end in itself. A good teacher from the beginning will always say ”but can’t you hear that this is ugly even if it is correct?” One must always cultivate Beauty. Only from “Beauty” can one create “Art”.
2nd November 2018
It is well known how many difficulties the great painters, composers, and writers have had in their lives in the past centuries in Italy; without money, without a home, without a family, without patrons, perhaps having to flee from one duchy to another due to constant wars. I think I am part of a lucky generation that was born just after the war, whose parents have seen so many deaths, atrocities, and starvation that those times seem very near us. More than 70 years have already passed, and my generation has never seen a war in their country!! Once upon a time, a maximum of 20-30 years would pass from one war to the next. Many people today don’t think about this fact; to live with fear and with so many difficulties.
Try never to be depressed. One must always try to smile because we help others and ourselves. My father used to tell me: smile because the movement of the face alone, the position of the lips and eyes will make you feel better and I have found this to be true. It is incredibly true. We should go for a walk when we can, possibly among the trees and flowers that give us oxygen to be alive … and live even better. And with a smile on our face, take 10 long breaths like Napoleon before a war Our war against adversity.
24th May 2019
Tautogram for myself with B
Brawny, beamingly bright, battling Brusa beats bitchy, bullish, bossy brutes. Beautiful bischromes blessed by Bach, Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Borodin, Bruckner. Boohs, banters, banishes Berio, Boulez, Babbitt, Bussotti. Blessed by bravura, balks bumfs: blemished blobs, blotchy, botchy bubbles, bulky blots. Boohs batty, barmy, boring bedlam: blaring bleating bleeps, booming burps, blattering bullshit. Bordering bonkers Brusa bitterly bears brunt. Bravely bawls “Bring Back Beauty”! Becomes Brit!! BBC broadcasts Brusa: Bene, Bravo, Bis!
14th February 2019
Fiorella Brazzale was my director the first year at the Vicenza Conservatory in 1980-81 and I owe it to her if I started my teaching career. It is she who chose my music and my tiny c.v. indeed almost non-existent because I had just graduated had had only a few end-of-school conservatory performances of my music. Compositions that were chosen from packs of other compositions that came to the conservatories every year by aspiring new substitute teachers who hoped for a teaching post. She gave me my first place as a teacher of Harmony and Counterpoint, years later transformed into Composition. Perhaps already in my first compositions, it was evident that I knew Harmony well even if only just after graduating from high school. She liked me very much and she spoke to me with great sympathy and lively enthusiasm. She had great energy, enthusiasm, presence, and strength of character. Instead, I was shy and clumsy, but despite this, it was clear that she liked me a lot anyway. Unfortunately, the following year she was sent to a distant conservatory. I understand it was all a political thing. Not long after, I heard that she had died of cancer. I was very, very sorry. She only thought about Music, while the next director of the Conservatorio, Zotto (horrible person, a fanatical Avant-garde) hated me. He would have liked to put a friend of his who taught Complementary Harmony in my place (a mediocre fellow both as a person and as a musician) and therefore he did nothing but insult me all year round and especially during the exams they both demolished my students, criticizing them unfairly, lowering their votes to the minimum, but above all criticizing me as if I were incapable, absolutely at a very bad level, so much so that for the only time in my life I cried. It’s very difficult for me to cry. Then, obviously, they didn’t confirm me as a substitute teacher the following year and so I went to the Conservatory of Mantova for two years, where I found myself much better under the human aspect. The first year there was also Gilberto who taught Orchestra Exercises for performers and I was very happy because I was already in love with him, but he wasn’t with me. Then Gilberto ended up in Como for a year and I in Brescia for a year, where I was very happy with many nice teachers and students. I finally ended up in Milan, while he continued to wander until he settled in Brescia for the last 24 years. I had a hard life as a teacher in Milan for 33 years, as explained in my other thoughts, until last year I said to myself “enough” !! And I left. Now I have a pension because I qualified for the 100 quota and my pension (I don’t know why) is identical to my last salary! I have been lucky and feel happier and more relieved than in the last two years at the Conservatory. Despite all the difficulties and spanners in my wheels, I believe I have given my students a lot in 39 years of teaching. I have students who have teaching positions in conservatories, four in Milan, others who work in other positions, and others who are also traveling the world as conductors. I am proud of it and have no regrets.
26th August 2019