Thoughts about my student years at the Conservatorio – 1973 to 1980

            When I was a student at the Conservatorio of Milan from 1973 to 1980 many of the recurring phrases I used to hear were that ” Classical Music is dead” and that “everything has already been said in the tonal classical world”. When one loves Music, one simply cannot bring oneself to believe such things and with my youthful drive I just went on studying with passion and zeal, composing and experimenting with my works, but always within a Tonal world, even at its extremes. For years it was ups and downs for when I lifted my head and looked around at what my companions and the rest of the world were doing, I felt I was a black sheep, or worse, an ugly duckling. However, I held on to my beliefs and then had the immeasurable luck to know Hans Keller at the Dartington International Summer School, my future musical mentor and enlightener, the only person who taught me to understand not only what music was about but the secrets of good Music and also how to analyse my own works and have faith in myself. Gradually, year after year, during the period I studied with him from 1978 to 1985 when he died, I regained all the faith and the naturalness I had had as a child when I had unconsciously started to compose my pieces at the age of 4 and a half on my grandmother’s piano. Gradually I realised that during the period at the Conservatorio and those few years afterwards, my experiments within my own musical language had been distorted by the desire and the preoccupation of being “more modern” at all costs, of trying to adhere to and to mimic what were (and still are) the contemporary techniques without which a student or a young composer was not taken into consideration, was derided and even heavily denigrated. Hans Keller cleared and quieted my troubled mind from these distressing preoccupations with his memorable lessons, particularly one during which he shocked me saying that “it is perfectly useless of you trying to be an Avant-garde composer because there will always be others who will be better at it than you since it is within their disposition and not within yours”. Gradually, having the good fortune of travelling a great deal, I also realised that the world was changing, that it was becoming more eclectic and that thus there was also a little place for my kind of music, which furthermore was being performed more and more often, particularly in Britain, the States and Canada.

            My grateful thanks also go to my Harmony and Counterpoint teacher, Bruno Bettinelli and my Orchestration teacher, Azio Corghi, without whose fundamental help I would never have reached the point of questioning what Music was about.

However, other thoughts persuaded me that I was on the right road. Human memory hardly ever remembers distant perspectives other than those of its own lifespan or little more. In a few hundred years or more, will it matter that Bach lived approximately a hundred years before Beethoven? If the Earth still exists and Humanity with it, maybe all that will be remembered is that in the second half of the second millennium AD there were composers who wrote Music mainly using a language called Tonality and that some composers used Tonality in a different style from one another. Will it ever matter then that Bach came before Beethoven? Artistically, does it matter even now? Will it matter in what decade a composer was born and what further use of Tonality was made in the total complexity of the last 500 years if the music that was written was worthwhile composing and listening to?

            Time is only Relative and Irrelevant as regards the Arts.

            I consider my music part of the natural continuation of the Classical Tonal era before the advent of 12 Tone Music and its aftermath. I consider that it is part of what may today be called Neo-Tonal Music, notwithstanding the great confusion between the current simplistic and banal misuses of tonality. My music arises from an emotional necessity, sustained, however, by rational forms and techniques, but without technical, graphical and emotional complacency. Furthermore, I think that this conception of Art should be valid not only for Neo-Tonality but also for the Avant-garde and Post-Modern languages. A distinction must be made between live artistic innovation and experimentation as an end in itself. I wish and hope for a period of New Humanism in the future: a revaluation of established Forms but with new internal structures – certainly not a mere return to past models. I don’t believe in Composition based on formulas, designs and doctrines of pre-established techniques that do not allow wide flexibility; that cannot be modified or even radically changed according to the interior necessities, both conscious and subconscious, of the composer. Neo-Tonality (which as well as pure Tonality may include moments of Atonality or Polytonality) on the whole has intrinsic logical qualities and a flexibility that allows a good balance between rationality and artistic intuition (spiritual and creative, at times elusive even to the composer himself). I believe in the necessity of an organic system of Composition, not only applicable to a single work but to the entire artistic conception peculiar to the composer. I have a preference for Symphonic Conception, above all orchestral and often in cyclic form. In my compositions, I use recurring rhythms that are clearly distinguishable and that can be memorised or at least are recognisable to the ear. I am not inclined towards countless complex rhythms, either superimposed or in succession, which in reality only sound like clusters or as a succession of equal values to the ear. Consequently, I believe in well-defined themes. Tone clusters may be used as an accompaniment to themes. My conception of Composition stands at an equidistant position between the world of symmetry and that of asymmetry. I believe in the contextual use of various techniques of the past and of the present (including the Minimalist superimposed rhythms, which I only use as an accompaniment). I believe in a clear harmony, well defined and consequential: that is, structural. My harmony is essentially Pan-Diatonic with Pan-Chromatic moments. Generally, I use a principal tonal centre (but often without all the traditional functions of tonality) and one or two subordinate centres that create different levels of tension. Individual harmonies may be identical to traditional ones but are set against each other in an unusual way and have directional forces of a different type. Though my bass line sustains the harmony, it often does not generate it. The combined use of these chords and tonal centres creates ambivalent tonal, polytonal and even atonal effects. My thematic ideas are often conceived in blocks and consequently, also the orchestration is conceived mostly in great masses rather than rarefied timbres. I use many doublings. I have a preference for masses of woodwinds, brasses and strings meant as unities that are well distinct and can also be superimposed. I like to force instruments towards their extreme registers so as to obtain particular expressive tensions, but without making use of instrumental virtuosity as an end in itself.

            My choice of literary subjects as a source of inspiration for symphonic poems is strictly connected to my choice of widely different musical and personal feelings and states of mind (as in my abstract music) and to the necessity of expressing them emotionally. This is in contrast to the voluntary lack of emotion that many composers of previous decades professed. I believe that Humanity cannot live without emotion and without Art in general, in the noblest sense of the word which in the last decades has been extended to far too many other forms of entertainment, artisanal or technical forms of expression. In this new Millennium of uncertainty, anxiety and even anguish, I hope that my music will convey a steadfast and solid message of Faith and Hope for a positive and peaceful future.