MY ORIGINS

I was born in Milan on the 3rd of April 1954. My mother Joyce Mary Hansford, English by birth, was a housewife but during the war she worked as specialist linguist at Bletchley Park, the famous code-breaking centre in England. My father, Giuseppe Ernesto Brusa, instead was Italian, and an indefatigable worker, originally a writer of novels, short stories and thoughts, later a businessman and still later a writer and a Horological historian, amongst the most learned in the world. I have no siblings. When I was only a few weeks old my mother discovered that she could stop me crying by simply playing a few tunes on the piano which she had inherited from her own mother; not much later my Father would hold me in his arms quiet and happy while listening to classical music. Nobody inspired me or pushed me into becoming a composer; it just naturally happened. When I was 4 years and 8 months old I composed my first piano piece in B minor.

 

Musical strains ran through the family: my maternal great-grandfather was the leader at the Carlo Felice Opera House in Genova. He was the youngest of eight children of a fairly successful genoese businessman but, as well as his violin and Paganini he loved a drink and a game of cards after the Opera and even before. For this reason my grandmother Laura, from quite an early age would be sent by her mother, often unwell, to the theatre in order to see him safely home! She would sit in the orchestra pit and of course came to know complete parts of operas by heart and was kept on her toes by some of the uncles, also quite musical, who would suddenly whistle an aria and expect her to say from which opera it came. She was studying piano and at 17 took her Diploma. Unfortunately great-grand Papa Luigi fell asleep one evening and his bow slipped and squeaked on the strings for which he was promptly kicked out. Undaunted he became leader of the Orchestra of the beautiful Teatro Salone Margherita and kept on with his favourite pastimes that included shooting. On 1st September 1913, the opening day of the shooting season, he was in his summer villa in Piedmont with a cousin shooting pheasants. The cousin came back with the dogs saying they had lost each other in the woods: three days later Luigi was found at the bottom of a deep ditch with a bullet in his head and to this day we don’t know what really happened! However, he left so many debts that my grandmother had to sell all he valuables and let out the rooms of her large house. Years later my English grandfather Sidney Laurence Hansford, who had been sent to Genova by the Edison Company, rented a room and my grandparents met and married. My mother and her sister Elizabeth were born and lived there till they were about three: My grandfather got posted to Milan so the whole family moved and they lived there on and off till the beginning of the War when they had to leave. The voyage to England is another long story. However, My grandparents thought that their two children should have a healthier life living in the country, so they rented an apartment in a very large U-shaped villa in a countryside town called Malnate between Como and Varese where many English people lived and commuted by train to Milan. This villa so happened to be that of my other grandparents, the Brusas, and the two families go to know each-other. This was their summer villa, with fireplaces everywhere and no central heating, a beautiful patio with columns, a courtyard with typically Lombard, rounded, tightly fitted cobblestones and a small garden. This is where my grandparents left all their belongings before fleeing to London the day after the War was declared. This is where my parents met when they where about seven and where my father took a beautiful photo of my English family the day before leaving. My mother by then was 20 and my father 19. There are painters, sculptors and architects in my family. My grandfather Gaetano was a very well-known architect and drawer in Milan, my father’s brother, Ambrogio, excellent sculptor, drawer and architect painted the pictures on both my first two Naxos CDs.

 

Aged 5 I started my first piano lessons and continued until I was 24, never studying seriously. In the early years, realising that I didn’t like studying the piano, my father thought I should stop, but thanks to my mother and to my pianist grandmother, I continued. I am grateful to them now since the piano is essential to compositional studies. As a child, I dragged along, never learning how to read properly and playing all the works by heart. At 5 I used to like composing cadences on all the keys of the piano, which is why I mush later wrote a few pieces in C sharp, in defiance towards my piano teacher. When very young my desperate piano teacher would play them to me beforehand and I would then memorise them. I was born with perfect pitch. However, what kept my enthusiasm going were not my piano studies, but the fact that every year I composed works for the piano, usually before Christmas so as to take them to my grandmother in England. In fact, I composed and memorised 32 pieces by the age of 19 (not yet having learnt how to write them). By then, having finished school (the International School of Milan with British studies and GCE exams), I had the option of studying Archaeology at Reading University or Composition at the Conservatorio di Milano. I chose the latter because I preferred it without doubt, but Art and Archaeology have remained amongst my highest passions. From the moment my father realised how serious was my interest in Composition and how I studied hard he backed me without slackening, even during my most difficult moments when I wanted to give up because the exams were difficult and I didn’t feel up to the standards. Of course my mother joined him, but they never interfered with professors or promoted me to anyone. I later did my career without recommendations. Since I was a child I always had an exceptional intellectual relationship with my father. Though I never had any formal scholastic training in the history and appreciation of paintings, sculptures, architecture or archaeology, during innumerable evenings, often till 1 o’clock at night, I would go into his study to talk about some aspect of the Arts, including Literature, his main interest, and he would patiently allow me to interrupt his studies and his writing. We would talk about Music too, though he had never studied it. We would compare composers or talk about the essence of a composer’s creative thought and often about Vivaldi whom he loved. I feel he understood Music far better than most people, even fully-qualified musicians. We also travelled a great deal and I was lucky to have direct experiences with the Arts through the museums and the architecture of the cities and ancient sites we visited all over Europe and the Middle-East. Later, with my husband, also India and Sri Lanka. I believe that this overall view of the Arts and Ancient Civilisations has deeply affected my way of thinking and of composing. For two years I studied Composition privately with Bruno Bettinelli, took my grade 4 exams and entered his class at the Conservatorio of Milan in 1975. In October of the following year I met my husband who joined the same class. In 1978 I took my grade 7 exams and in 1980 I obtained the Diploma in Composition. My husband also obtained a Diploma in Composition and carried on studying Conducting. In 1977, he conducted a short scholastic work of mine with me at the piano, the first and last time I ever performed in public. I missed out several bars because I was so nervous! In 1978 I was very relieved to drop my unfinished piano studies. By then, of course, I had learnt to sight-read but I only became proficient after I had been teaching for several years. During the last year at the Conservatorio Bruno Bettinelli retired and I finished my Composition course with Azio Corghi, an ex-pupil of his, later professor at the Accademia of Santa Cecilia in Rome. My teachers were Avant-garde composers and never approved of my style of composition. They actually contested me, even more when I became teacher of Composition at the same Conservatorio. The only musician who taught me to understand myself and gave me the courage to go on composing in a world which then was very hostile to non Avant-garde composers, was Hans Keller. I met him in 1978 at the Dartington Hall Summer School of Music in Devon. He liked one of my then short and rather convoluted, more or less Dodecafonic pieces (after my initial naturalness the Avant-garde trend of the Conservatorio had made me become very musically confused) and on our return to London agreed to give me lessons in Analysis since I felt that that was the subject I was most lacking in. This lasted for a year each time I visited relatives and friends in London about every four months during the holidays. We also exchanged views by letter. After that first year he continued to give me lessons but in Composition and this lasted until his death in 1985. This was a great loss for me, however, by then I was on my own two feet and had learnt how to fight my uncertainties and to battle with the rest of the world. His lessons were not about musical technique, for I already had a Composition Diploma. They were something more for he taught me how to understand, to evolve and to believe in myself as a Musician. He was a great thinker and analyst. Without his musical, spiritual and moral help I would never have continued to compose.

 

Since 1976 my husband and I were very good friends although I would have preferred a deeper relationship. Finally, in 1988 we got together and every year he would ask me to marry him. By then I was quite happy the way I was. I had never wanted children because I had always known I couldn’t cope with being both a composer and a mother, for me two full-time jobs, and furthermore I liked to be independent and have my own time. However, Love triumphed and we married on the 3rd of May 1997. My husband is a conductor and teaches Conducting at the Italian Conducting Academy in Milan <www.italianconductingacademy.it> and at the Conservatorio of Brescia. Several of his pupils are achieving world-wide success. Some have had the opportunity of conducting my works and recording my three Naxos CDs. My Second Symphony for Naxos will come out soon with Daniele Rustioni again. The last time my husband conducted a work of mine was in 1994 on our visit to Tirana in Albania. We often listen to music together. We like to compare and comment a short passage in many versions, even up to 34 in one case. His collection of CDs amounts to over 20,000. Through his all-embracing musical knowledge and intuition I have learnt a great deal about the art of interpretation. My husband and I have continued travelling yearly. We have made many friends both on our musical and holiday travels.
 

2017