After having finished school, 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 Composition 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.
My parents lived in one rented room as soon as they married but later moved to a small apartment where I spent the first 6 years of my life to move to a larger apartment for the subsequent 4 years and to a still larger apartment where they have been living for the past 39 years. My grandparents’ furniture had been brought back to Milan soon after the War was over and so my parents’ house was not empty from the start. This included my grandmother’s piano. My mother soon found out that I would stop crying if she played. At my birthday parties she would play and my little friends would sing…but I refused to do so. She still does not understand that I do not like to externalize my musical expressions in public. However, she was also surprised to notice that I would repeat carols and children’s songs on the piano, harmonizing them reasonably well too. I was closed and timid. I have changed very much during the years. I started studying the piano at the age of five when at the age of four and 8 months I wrote my first composition in B minor. Did I say “wrote”? No, I only began to physically write at the age of 19 in 1973 when I began my first Composition lesson with Bruno Bettinelli. The first time I opened my harmony text I thought “However am I going to read this chord?….and the rest of the book!!” What had I done in all those years? Practically, nothing. I had been terribly lazy, as my first piano teacher would tell me all the time, later to finish up committing suicide in 1965, fortunately not because of me!! I had just listened and repeated. I would compose piano pieces in the Baroque, Classical, Romantic styles and later with more advanced idioms such as those of Hindemith, Debussy and others as I gradually heard more music. I kept over 30 piano pieces and a string quintet by heart till I started harmony lessons. The same happened with the piano pieces I was learning. I wouldn’t and couldn’t read them. My teacher out of desperation would play me the work so as to encourage me and so I would repeat it without learning how to read and write. But when I started my first harmony lesson and all the successive years I worked as hard as I had never done before and with such passion as to astound all those who knew me. I had always studied very little at school too. I loved my school and am very proud and happy when once in a while during my travels I meet someone who has gone to the same chain of schools, in my case the International School of Milan, for we seem to belong to the same club and recognise each other as though it were a kind of mark of distinction. My friends in my school were always at the top of the class. They enjoyed my exuberant and imaginative mind. I was the third from the bottom, after two Egyptian boys who didn’t speak a word of English. Notwithstanding this, my school friends elected me head-girl for two years running….only because I was fun and a bit of a tomboy. No wonder I loved my school. Fortunately, my parents never worried nor pushed me too much in my studies.
Life with my father, Giuseppe Brusa 21.5.1921 – 14.7.2011
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. 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. Even since a baby, when I couldn’t yet walk, when at home from work on Sundays, he would keep me on his stomach like a hot water-bottle and we would listen to Classical music. 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. I believe that his overall view of the Arts and Ancient Civilizations has deeply affected my way of thinking and of composing.
My mother first encouraged me to study Classical music throughout my very young years when I only studied piano and did not like it because my grandmother who came from a musical family understood I had certain gifts since I composed little pieces when very young. However, from the moment my father realized how serious my interest in Composition was 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 and fashions of Contemporary music since I continued to write in what was then described as a “traditional and old-fashioned” style.
I have always had a predilection for the Figurative Arts, in particular for Paintings. Even as a little girl my father would take me to museums, particularly the Louvre during the 3 days we often spent in Paris on the occasion of our regular train journeys from Milan to London during the Christmas period. I passed from my father’s arms to pattering about the halls of the Louvre with Dürer’s Self Portrait, Moroni’s Tailor, Holbein’s Erasmus, Leonardo’s La Belle Ferronière, Tiziano’s Man with a Glove, Ghirlandaio’s Old Man with a Young Boy, Antonello da Messina’s Condottiero, Raffaello’s Baldassarre Castiglione, Piero della Francesca’s Sigismondo Malatesta…not forgetting the Monna Lisa. These were the paintings he initially taught me to love above all. I knew by heart the names of the painters and of their paintings that I delighted in memorising better year after year for the first ten years of my life whilst he would point out new ones. In later years we took the airplane to London but we also travelled more extensively and he always had something new to say. I was instinctively fascinated by the portraits, in front of which I would linger for a long time. I still retain this attraction that conquers me every time I happen to visit museums around the world. During those years I never thought that this would have proved beneficial to the inspiration of my compositions, just as it was with Literature. Only later, thanks to my father, did I understand the common thread that unites the Arts. The multiple aspects of Painting and of Literature have always had an immense influence on my compositional inspiration.
I have never been able to read a large quantity of books in my life because of my dedication to Music, so my father always selected those which he thought were amongst the greatest works of Art for me. I also chose compositional ideas inspired by Literature and also their titles after having discussed them at length with him. He had read a great deal of Literature of many countries in his youth, also in French and English, when he had hoped to make a living as a writer. However, the first watch he bought in his life in St. Ives, Cornwall in the sixties, changed his kind of reading, though for many years he continued to write short stories, poems and philosophical thoughts and essays until he totally dedicated his time to his book L’Arte dell’Orologeria in Europa. As time went by, he left his brick-building business to his brother and he totally dedicated his time to Horology and any subject concerned with it. He had a vast and comprehensive Culture. Unfortunately, he became blind from one second to the other in 2004 due to an infarct of two Fibromas, (one per eye – an extremely rare condition) on taking Warfrin for the heart. He died of voluntary starvation less than 10 months after the death of his adored wife Joyce Hansford Brusa.
My father was the most loving and affectionate person. He needed and gave back just as much love. His company was always interesting, fun, comfortable and comforting to be with. When in need I always received contemplated advice and deep understanding for he listened a great deal. However, he was ruthlessly intolerant with ignorance, stupidity, arrogance and, above all, in my case, laziness. He would dart sharp comments or replies to which it was often impossible to reply. Otherwise, notwithstanding his great energy, he was a very patient and understanding man.
12th October 2011
Life with my Mother, Joyce Mary Hansford Brusa 4.10.1919 – 23.9.2010
The Gioconda Chronicles
The Hansford and Zenoglio Families
My mother’s mother (Zenoglio) came from Genova and her father (Hansford) from London.
My great-grandfather (Luigi Zenoglio) was the leader of the Carlo Felice Opera House in Genova. He was from a reasonably wealthy family, the last of 9 children and he was terribly spoilt. He married and had one daughter and they lived in a very nice apartment in the main central road of Genova that leads to the Carlo Felice Opera House (Via 20 Settembre). He loved to drink and gamble to a point that his bow would sometimes slip on the violin. Since the age of ten, his daughter (Laura Zenoglio) was sent by his wife to fetch him home after the operas were over. She would sometimes sit in the prompt box and at an early age knew complete parts of operas by heart. Later she also got a Piano Diploma. She would then take her father home being sure that he wouldn’t end up drinking wine and playing cards on the way. One evening he fell asleep during an opera and his bow slipped on the strings making a dreadful squeak. He was kicked out of the Carlo Felice Opera House and took up the position of leader at the Teatro Margherita in Genova. His favourite pastime was shooting and in 1912 when the shooting season began, as was the custom on the 1st of September, he went out with his cousin for the whole day. His cousin came back saying that he had lost him. Five days later he was found dead in a ditch with a bullet in his head. To this day we don’t know whether it was an accident, suicide or homicide. My great-grandmother (Rosa Binaghi) was soon surrounded by creditors and soon realised that her husband had left her with many serious debts. She sold things and paid up the debts but was left with hardly anything except the large apartment. She decided to rent out the rooms. One day a young, tall, thin Englishman with a reddish mustache (Sidney Hansford) rented a room and as time went by fell in love with her daughter. He had been sent by the Edison company to work in Genova in 1903 and was 9 years older than her. His job made him travel to Milan often and he kept courting her with all my favourite sweets and pastries whose excellent quality can still be found in Milan after nearly a century. They married in 1917 when my grandmother was just 21. My mother (Joyce) was born in Genova in 1919 and her sister (Elizabeth) the year afterward. After three years they all moved to Milan, including great-grandmother Rosa who was not well at the time and was to die shortly afterward.
They did not like living in Milan and preferred the countryside. Thus, they moved to a small town called Malnate near Varese and Como (beautiful lakes and countryside) and rented a quarter of a very large house with a courtyard and garden, belonging to a family called Brusa (Gaetano Brusa and Olga Costa) who lived in Milan during the year round but spent a couple of months there during the summer. My mother and father met when they were around 6 or 7 years old playing in this courtyard and kept a friendship till the war broke out in Italy in 1940. Before that, however, my English grandparents had also moved to Milan again so as to give them a better education to their daughters. When the war broke out, all the English were enemies in Italy and risked being put in prisoner camps, my grandparents decided to flee Italy. They left all their furniture and their belongings to their close friends the Brusa family and prepared one small suitcase each. My father was the last person to see them off. My mother and father were to see each other again only in 1946 in Rome. During the War, my mother worked as a linguist at Bletchley Park (Hut 4 attached to the Manor) and later she had her sister join her (Painter. One of her maps was admired by Churchill on one of his visits). Like everyone at Bletchley, she was held to secrecy and her father died in 1976 without ever knowing what she had done there during the wartime. My father and I found out in 1995 or perhaps a little earlier when the scandal of the book. “The Ultra Secret” by F.W. Winterbotham came out before it should have, according to the 50 Years Secrets Act. My mother is mentioned in the official book called “Code Breakers” by F.H. Hinsley and Alan Stripp. In the meantime, after only three months in his mother’s house in Richmond (London) under the bombs, with his brother and sister as well, my grandfather decided they should move on. For 24 years they lived in St. Ives Cornwall in a terraced house with a magnificent view of the two bays of St. Ives. They kept a guest house for all those years and lived very modestly. Quite a hard life compared to the good life my grandmother had known in her youth. In 1964 they moved to Maidenhead to give their young son (Laurence, born 1944) a better education. My grandmother died there in 1978. At the end of the War my mother decided she wanted to return to Italy since she had kept in contact with my father, something that would have been impossible if he had remained in his country. In fact, after two years serving as an Alpine in Aosta (above Torino) when on sick leave my father was lucky enough to escape to Switzerland, since the house in Malnate, where the whole family had fled from Milan with furniture and belongings (including those of my other grandparents), was only 6 km away from the border. As a child, I often went over the border to buy chocolate. He stayed in a refugee camp with his younger artist brother (Ambrogio, sculptor and architect, and painter of the two Naxos CD covers). They slept on straw and lived with the money coming from the sale of my uncle’s sculptures. My father wrote short stories and poems. They had nothing else to do. Thus, my mother asked the Foreign Office to send her to Italy and she was posted at the Embassy in Rome where she had a wonderful year. However, she missed my father so asked to be transferred to the Consulate in the duller Milan and after three years, when my father had set up a brick building business, financed by my mother’s good salary and by his parents, for he had no money whatsoever, they married in 1949. I was born five years later on a tempestuous day during which my father’s firm was damaged by a falling crane, he lost a lot of money and was terribly preoccupied about how he would manage to bring me up.
The Brusa and Costa Families
On my father’s side, my grandfather Gaetano was a fairly well-known architect in his day and he had been given the Order of San Silvestro from Pope Pio XII in 1939 for having designed and followed the works of the Citadella (small city) of Assisi. However, he was too mild-mannered to come forward in a career and too involved with a family of 4 that he had to support. He knew very well all the famous architects of that period like Piero Portaluppi and Giò Ponti well, who in turn respected him a great deal. My uncle, even more talented than his father, was a sculptor as well as an architect. When he showed up for his first lesson with Portaluppi at the university in Milan and when Portaluppi read the list of students and asked him if he was the son of Gaetano Brusa (we can’t understand why the name Gaetano, mainly found in southern Italy, recurs in our northern family!) and my uncle Ambrogio said yes, Portaluppi raised his voice and said, “but how dare you come to class without introducing yourself as the son of your illustrious father !!” It is an account that is told in our family. Later Giò Ponti had given him a job and wanted him to marry his daughter and inherit his studio. Instead, my uncle wanted to be independent and then he fell in love with another woman but at the age of 34, with two small children, she developed a big brain tumor. My father paid for two operations with the famous Swedish neurosurgeon Olivecrona who managed to save her. However, their life was studded with health and economic problems, so my father helped them tremendously also with the university studies of my cousins.
Just before the War my father enrolled in Law but was immediately called to arms as an Alpine in Aosta where he managed not to be killed for two years. They were made to walk up and down mountains with 35 kilos of ballast on their backs. My grandparents had taken refuge with the family in their very large country house in the center of Malnate (32 rooms and 8 bathrooms, but without heating and only fireplaces !!) and 6 kilometres away from Switzerland. At a certain point, my father feigned a big depression and even underwent three electric shocks pretending to be mentally ill in order to stay at home. Thanks to this, my father and my uncle Ambrogio, who had now reached the age to be called to arms, in the middle of the night with the help of a priest of the village they both managed to escape through a hole in the barbed iron around the Swiss border called Gaggiolo. They lived in Switzerland sleeping on straw for two years until the end of the war. They were lucky. In reality, at one point they lived better than their companions because Swiss patrons discovered that my uncle made beautiful statues and with the commissions, they were able to rent rooms above a bar/restaurant where during the day my father wrote from morning till evening. My father’s dream had always been to write novels, short stories, and poems. He only partially succeeded, even when, on his return from the War, he started working in his new brick business, but he could write only in the evening. In my whole life, I remember my father studying, reading and writing at his desk at all times of the day, even during the summer holidays in the mornings until noon before he came to the beach! My architect grandfather was also a bit of an inventor (of a machine that measured the distance between enemies in war that the Italian government used). He also invented a brick of particular size and manufacture with 11 x 3 holes along the length and width called Neoforato K (K only to distinguish it as a patent). He entrusted it to my father who was the eldest who set up a business until the mid-seventies upon the arrival of prefabricated buildings that took away all the post-war work. My father had made it become a thriving company with three large kilns owned by him and others that worked for him. Slowly, slowly he sold them, the firm remained as a company for contacts between suppliers and entrepreneurs and then he stopped working altogether, living on his earnings because he had not made any form of pension for old age. I don’t remember the dates, but Gilberto tells me that when we got together in 1988 my father no longer went to the office, but only on Wednesdays to the building trade market in Corso Venezia in Milano, so he was only 57. My father had always loved Paintings, Sculpture, Archeology, Literature and Antiquities. At the beginning of the sixties, he began to be interested in antique Horology and later in antique miniatures, also as a way of investing his money. For a year he had appeared on the Milan newspaper the Corriere della Sera among those who had earned the most in Italy. So, he started his collection of clocks and watches and that of my mother’s miniatures, but she became a lesser expert in this matter as my father was in Horology, despite having made the catalogue of miniatures at Poldi Pezzoli Museum, the Science Museum and the Scala Museum. My father, on the other hand, studied a lot all his life and made many watch catalogues in many museums, was made honorary curator of the horology section of the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan, was historic/scientific consultant for the restorations of the San Marco tower clock in Venice and the Planetary Clock of Della Volpaia in the Florence Science Museum and made many catalogues of exhibitions such as of the Savoy clocks at the Royal Palace in Turin and the Italian clocks at the Buonconsiglio Castle in Trento. He also wrote a very large book called “L’Arte dell’Orologeria in Europa” and his studies were so vast and thorough that he became one of the few and most important international Horologists in the world. So, he met a lot of people in various countries of Europe and the USA, whom I met as a consequence and because my mother was an excellent cook, we often hosted them. They were all highly educated people, all intellectuals and often quite original. I always followed my parents, and during the last years I took my father around in a wheelchair, also to Venice and Trento, thus ruining my back, however I would never have renounced at the joy of being near them. Beautiful years, but in the end very sad because of their sufferings, as well as mine. I developed Fibromyalgia, then 12 episodes of Atrial Fibrillation resolved with Cardiac Ablation, the lumbar vertebrae were damaged by the weight of the wheelchair up and down sidewalks and lifting it into the trunk of the car. I then had to be operated by putting two plates and four screws that will remain painful for the rest of my life, I developed a Melanoma that I had to remove, including the relative sentinel lymph node that upset my lymphatic system, I discovered I had Lipedema thus not allowing me ever to lose weight and finally I will have to be operated at both knees for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Of all my father’s illnesses, the worst was that he went blind 7 years before his death and therefore was unable to finish the second gigantic book on Horology written in English “The Measurement of Time” consisting of three volumes. (However, it was put together by another expert in 2022.) My father founded the HORA Association, the only one of its kind in Italy, which still exists today, and the related magazine in which he wrote countless articles, and many other articles were published in other magazines such as in that of the Antiquarian Horology Society. My parents resided most of the time in Milan but also three months a year in London where he knew many curators and museum directors and he practically lived all day at the British Library.
My mother’s story (also intertwined with my father’s) can be found in her memoirs of her years at Bletchley Park, the top-secret home of the World War Two Codebreakers.
The memoirs are called “The Gioconda Chronicles”:
Life with my Mother, Joyce Mary Hansford Brusa 4.10.1919 – 23.9.2010
Though my mother was half English and half Italian, she was staunchly British by nature and by nationality. She was born in Genova, since my grandfather had married a Genoese and they lived there, later in Milano a few years in Malnate, where she first met my father as a child and later acquired Italian nationality through him and back in Milano till the War broke out.
My relationship with my mother was warm and easy-going (though interspersed with a lot of arguing), because she was disciplined and rather strict in life and on manners and I was not. However, she was also very patient. With her I spoke both English, particularly during the school years, and Italian for she was perfectly bilingual.
She was very reserved and reasonably quiet, but at the same time lively and friendly. She liked to wear beautiful clothes and jewelry and stood out from other people near her, also because she was very beautiful. Yet, she would be quite chatty at times with friends or even people on a tram and we talked a great deal because we spent a lot of time together at home and on holidays. I spent more time with her than my father. She gave me an enormous quantity of advice and help in daily life. However, she was quite cultured and knew how to distinguish beauty in Art. In fact, my parents were their own best friends and discussed about Culture and Art till the very end of their lives. The last image that I have of them is sitting in their armchairs when over ninety and she reading out loud biographies of famous personalities since my father had become blind seven years previously. My mother was devoted to my father and followed him in everything he did and typed out all his writings, both in Literature and Horology. It was an enormous amount of work in decades for they were married for 61 years. My father could not bear to live without her either. Everyone loved my mother as she was very tolerant, kind and friendly, but certainly not everyone liked my father because he would show his impatience if he did not like someone or if he thought them stupid, instead, she would react very politely and become standoffish. They both knew how to keep people in their places, though in different ways.
She was an excellent and well-read cook and she loved gardening. I picked up the gardening from her, but not the cooking, which instead my husband likes.
She was an incredibly fast and avid reader and any spare moment she would read Classical Literature, books by travelers, biographies, particularly by 18th Century women onwards, books on antique miniatures and of course, Horology for the sake of my father. She loved films, loved traveling, good dining and loved sweets. My father loved all these things too, but he lacked the time because of his dedication to Horology. I really don’t know how he managed to write so much in his lifetime. My mother’s life was very full and varied, but unfortunately with old age they both had health problems and much suffering.