Bert Bailey – Questions and Answers – 2003

Thank you for your kind email. Let me quickly answer some of the

questions which were not clear to you.

q. Of what kind?

a. The quantity of work involved in preparing the score and parts is

enormous and I wish I had a top publisher with top copyists and top computer experts to

solve all my problems, above all so as to have perfect and corrected parts.

q. Did you feel pressure to compose and orchestrate some things for those


a. I knew exactly what works would have been part of the two CDs before

Naxos had replied. I had been planning a CD for years with some works. As

time went by and I continued to compose works that inspired me, which were

not dictated by the necessity of filling in a CD, I realised I could make

two CDs. I had contacted 11 CD labels since the end of the eighties and then

started contacting the BBC Orchestras who always seemed interested, never

got down to do anything, and anyway had problems with CD labels themselves, namely

the BBC Scottish SO. A coincidence then happened. The moment the BBC SSO said yes,

yet still searching for a CD label, Naxos said yes but didn’t want the BBC SSO. Then

Naxos kept me waiting for another year and a half and I went nearly mad with fear that I

had lost the only opportunity with an orchestra that had come to me. A conducting

student of my husband, Fabio Mastrangelo, whom we hadn’t seen for 7-8 years came to

visit us and since he had preliminary contacts with Naxos our two projects were

combined. Naxos accepted. Mastrangelo knew and thus proposed the St. Petersburg

Symphony Orchestra and in June 2000 we went to S. Petersburg for two weeks

recording and a one-week holiday to visit that marvelous city. At the second rehearsal,

Mastrangelo and I decided the orchestra was so bad that we couldn’t record with them.

We faxed Naxos, broke the engagement with the orchestra in accordance with them and

transferred to the house of the Consul General of Italy, previously known by Mastrangelo.

We had enormous fun and the rest of the time was bliss, my husband joining us for the

last week. Mastrangelo was also in contact with the St. Petersburg Philharmonia and the

Consul General didn’t take a minute to invite them all to dinner. They listened to some of

my recordings and said yes to the two CDs. All rehearsal dates were immediately fixed for

the following February but in January Naxos realised that the S. Petersburg Philharmonia

didn’t rely on modern recording equipment but only the old studio of the Melodiya and so

they refused to give them a contract. I had a contract with Naxos before going to Russia,

so they suggested the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. The following June we

recorded the 2 CDs and the orchestra was so enthusiastic and they worked so hard and

so well that during my first listening of Florestan I remember thinking that at that moment

I felt repaid for all the anguish, worry and unhappiness that I had suffered all those

previous years. I then knew that the two CDs would not have given me much more than I

already had before their making…but the possibility of hearing my works was the biggest

gift I could have ever been given. I guessed right because after a year they have been

out on the market nothing new has happened. As I said, a number of penniless

broadcasts and two future small concerts in Gera and Altenburg in Germany.

q. Would eager music collaborators such as graduate students have been able

to help?  

a. I know of no eager students who would want to help me, not even for one

minute. My students are only too busy thinking about themselves and about

their careers. However, I wouldn’t trust a student. I’m afraid I trust very

few people. I am a precise person. If someone imprecise works for me, it’s

perfectly useless because I have to work twice as much checking everything.

So, I prefer to do as much as I can by myself. However, I dream of a Sussmayer.

Nowadays this sort of musician/collaborator doesn’t exist or otherwise, if he does, you

can’t afford him (see lucky John Williams). (2019 – I now have one of my ex-pupils, the

excellent Federico Ferruggiara).

q. Like Bis, Naxos boasts that their CDs never go out of print and are never

deleted.  It seems to me that they appear to realize something that the

longer-lived major companies don’t seem to: that breaking even and then making a profit

are long-term objectives, and patience is required in their business. That will probably

prove to be extremely valuable to you.

a. I agree, it will be extremely valuable for me and I hope I will see the

fruits of this in the future. Klaus Heymann, the top man in the Naxos promotion

department recently told me the same words over the telephone. But I don’t think

Naxos originally accepted my music with long-term thoughts. I think I came at

the right moment when they opened the 21st Century Music Series and needed

composers to fill the catalogue. They took so long to decide to record my

music that they must not have been originally very convinced about it.

q. Are you in touch with many women composers?  They might have good ideas to

help with marketing.  Nicola Le Fanu, daughter of Elizabeth Maconchy, and Thea

Musgrave, are two/three who immediately come to mind.

a. I am not in touch with any woman composer at the moment. I know Odaline De la

Martinez reasonably well, but she is always too busy as a conductor. I had met Nicola Le

Fanu over 10 years ago once but have never met Thea Musgrave. I have met a number of

other women composers in the past years but have never made friends with anyone. I

don’t believe I can find personal help or friendship from women composers. Every

composer is always jealous of his/her knowledge, but I find that successful women are

much less generous than successful men.

q. Surely in performing those orchestrations and revisions, a genuine

composer such as yourself will produce some musical offshoots and tangents

and novelties?!  Surely that part will be the thrill for you and the

challenge.  If I may advise, don’t let the marketing overwhelm your

attention.  Business necessity is very important, but you are an artist.

a. No, the work of revision is so technical and so meticulously boring that

it is the opposite of inspiring. You see, I originally wrote this first

Symphony by hand before I knew how to write with the computer. I later had

it copied on the computer by a young, not very expert but inexpensive

copyist who didn’t do a very good job. Of course, when you don’t use the

best copyist you have a lot of revising, which is what I still have to do,

as well as orchestration revision (more musical) since it is a very old

work and I was not as good as I am now as an orchestrator. However, all this

work is unmusical and most uninspiring. Yes, I intend to stop promoting

myself as soon as I get the CDs off to the conductors. Hopefully, I will

start the first movement of my Second Symphony in September.

q.  If one will reply, it will be a miracle. Sorry to disagree with you on this.  It would be

because you’ve reached them and because they like new and exciting music.

a. Most conductors don’t literally have the time to listen to unsolicited and

unrecommended CDs, even if they are on a good label. Anyway, most

conductors are skeptical from the start. They think the music they are about

to hear is going to be boring anyway compared to Brahms etc. and I don’t

blame them. So, would I. So, if they have to perform something contemporary,

they rely on the composers that the top publishers offer them.

Situation: conductor receives package amongst other post. Puts it on a pile

of less important post. When the pile gets big, he decides he must do a bit

of cleaning. Suddenly he finds package without return address (never put

return address otherwise he sends it back to you as soon as he receives it)

and so, he opens it. And who is this nutty middle-aged woman with these nutty old-

fashioned titles? His eyes go up to the sky and his limbs flop loosely to his sides. He

either: 1) suddenly throws the CDs in the wastepaper basket

2) puts the CDs on an enormous pile of other unknown CDs 3) puts one of the

CDs on the player but the telephone rings. Later returns and puts the CD

back on to the enormous pile for when he next has time. Months later decides

that the pile is so large he really must do something. This one yes, this one no

(wastepaper basket), this one yes, this one no (wastepaper basket), nutty woman? with

nutty titles?…wastepaper basket.

q. I’m sorry to hear this.  Politics is so important: I detest it yet recognize that we must

serve Caesar.  I’m looking for full-time work now, and the single thing I most dread is

political necessities of this kind. Ingratiating oneself with the right people to “do well,”

after all, is quite universal.  

a. I just can’t bend to serve anyone, I’m afraid, and knowing me, no one

would ask me to do so since I don’t belong anywhere and never have, not even

when I was a first-year student at the Conservatorio. If you serve Caesar

you have to pronounce yourself to be a Republican. If not, you can be a

Democrat or something else but in Italy, you have to be something, and I have

always been nothing. I have always refused to mix politics with music and

refused to pronounce my ideas. I have kept a great deal of silence. The fact

that most people don’t know is that I don’t have any one-track ideas.

Wherever I turn I find I don’t agree with something or someone and so I

don’t feel partial to any faction and keep to myself. Ultimately, to say the

truth, I probably like being alone and probably like the challenge of

“making it” and “doing well” alone. Otherwise, why would I spontaneously

behave the way I do, though, admittedly, I complain about the consequences?

q. Then again, you have achieved great success already: two testaments to

musical worthiness, at the very least.  The challenge now is to “take that

somewhere”; not just to make the most of those 2 releases but to follow them

up with something as good over the next decade.  I have a feeling you’ll do


a. I have a feeling I’ll do both too but I’m terribly afraid that Klaus

Heymann will not want my music anymore and furthermore, if he has to wait too

much for my first and second Symphonies he might think I’m not a real

productive composer. About a year ago, just before the CDs came out, I was

in touch with one of his collaborators in Hong Kong who now no longer works

with Naxos. I told him about my hopes for a future CD with the first

Symphony and another with my chamber works and he immediately said that in the

future, since times were changing and getting more difficult, I would

have to pay for the expenses of the CDs (orchestra, conductor etc.!!). He

told me that Balada had paid for all his 5 CDs or at least found a sponsor.

I can’t remember. Sponsors for individuals like myself don’t exist in Italy.

We don’t have public grants either. I got angry because I was passing a

period of depression and wrote back a nasty letter saying that I couldn’t

care less whether I would never have another CD recorded but I would never

pay for one. I don’t know whether Heymann ever read this letter but since I

have written to him other times and he has been business-like but kind and

helpful, I think it doesn’t really matter. Let’s hope he thinks I’m a bit of

a whimsical artist!! Yet, I have noticed that the list of the composers of

the 21st Century Series is at a standstill. Lack of money? I wish I knew how

much these composers sell and if Naxos is making a profit! I would like to

go to Hong Kong one day to speak to Heymann and at the same time, I don’t

know if it is a good idea. Every time I speak to someone about a project I

seem to ruin it since I am too talkative and emotional and say the wrong

things. Maybe it’s better to stick to short emails.

q. Sandor Veress, Moysei Vainberg, Grazyna Bacewicz, Alexander Tansman and Ernst

Toch, Einar Englund and Eduard Tubin…..

a. Apart from Grazyna Bacewicz I’m afraid I do not know the music of the

other composers. You have been discovering a great number of minor

composers including myself. I do not have the time to do this but to say the

truth I’m always worried that I am going to buy some rubbishy CD which will

only occupy space and so I prefer to save my money to go to India!!

q. The point is: one should do what one has to do, however unpopular or

frowned upon, because of a faith in what one does.  Klaus Heymann and

thousands of others now have that faith and think that what you’re doing is

most worthy, and worth pursuing.  Even the review on Music on the Web, by

Kevin Sutton, which had some critical things to say about your notes, had

some extremely positive things to say about your music.

a. I have always done what I have believed in, notwithstanding there was

always a multitude of people who disapproved of me (both my Italian

Composition teachers) and others who boycotted me (colleagues, music

organisations). This is such a long story that it would take up a book.

Though there was a period in my life when I was vulnerable and full

of doubts, and thus the quality of my music suffered a great deal, I got over

it with the spiritual and musical help of my third teacher Hans Keller and

for many years I have created an armor against all malignant tongues and

actions, though, of course, one suffers a little just the same. I now fully

believe in what I do, without any sort of doubt except in what derives from my

lack of capabilities. I will probably never write an opera. Not because

I’m incapable of doing so (technically and formally easier than a symphony),

but because it’s not my world, I’m slow and I waste a great deal of time doing other things

than composing. For yes! I am a perfect time waster! These are my worst defects!

However, I wonder if Klaus Heymann thinks that what I’m doing is worthy and worth

pursuing? He will only judge my music positively if it sells well. If the CDs have bad luck,

well, he might consider a nice big offer, which however, I won’t give him!! I believe he is

just a businessman who likes music. I can’t blame him. He can’t give away money. (Now,

in 2019 Klauss Heymann told me he now considered me a house composer and that he

would record any work I would propose to him!) Maybe, you will consider me acidic but

then I need to give you another explanation which regards my personal life. I happen to

have a father who is a born, total atheist. This means that not only he doesn’t believe in

God, but he doesn’t believe in anyone or anything that happens, unless he has obvious

proof, and he has even often disbelieved in what his nearest of kin have said to him. He

has taught me to be skeptical and diffident of people, even the most cultured and

intelligent and yet to have faith in Humanity. He has taught me to remember that even

Mozart will be forgotten one day and yet to love the Arts passionately. He has taught me

to compose for pure artistic pleasure, necessity and for the sake of composing itself and

to put the music in the drawer, yet to think ahead and program one’s life and career in a

business-like way. He in fact was a potential writer who became a businessman. Now,

maybe you can better understand all the contradictions of my character.

q. Please take encouragement from your fans, take your critics seriously, but

not overly so and ignore those who denigrate you for not being like them.

a. Thank you, Bert! As you know, though I may complain acidly, I am armored and


q. I should think that the Naxos move in ‘trying you out’ for 2 CDs should

go some way to dispelling that..?  If not now, in time they might change

their minds.

a. I really hope so, but in the meantime, notwithstanding the armor, I

worry for the future which is impossible to foresee.

q. Again, Italian or not, the unknown part should be easy to refute now.

a. But I think I am still terribly unknown except to a few crazy, fanatical

music-lovers like you!! There can’t be all that many people around the world

who will buy the CDs of an unknown female composer. What a waste of money.

I would never do it myself, unless someone told me that that particular name is

becoming important or that the music is pleasant. I have quite a number of CDs

and records I would gladly throw away.

q. Provided you are given a long productive life I trust that your works

will gain widespread attention of their own merit and that you won’t have

to leave what you have to some outside promoter.  Hopefully, by the time

your number is up, there’ll be a Brusa Society that will be doing that.

Leave your money to them.

a. What a curious and innovative idea this is for me!! But who should create

a Brusa Society in thirty years’ time, for what reason and with which

money? Mine? Surely, anyone who makes a society of this sort is not


q. Please don’t think I’m unsympathetic about your difficulties, or that

I’ve made light of them.  Especially arthritic difficulties, which one can’t

close the door on, I take what you say seriously and only hope to encourage.

a. No, I don’t have arthrisis (artrite). I have a little arthrosis (artrosi)

of the backbone (like most people at a certain age) but the main problem is

the squashed cervical vertebrae (clearly visible on X-ray) due to years of

bad position at the computer, piano and desk (always the same position

leaning forward, but obviously it can’t be helped if I am to work). When the

vertebrae get inflamed and remain so for months, the pain is hell and it

often doesn’t allow me to work. The sun and rest are the only cure. India

and Egypt are perfect. I have tried all sorts of medicines and medical

applications to no effect.

q. We are at that age, aren’t we, when we must care for the other

generations.  I guess that’s what they mean by middle age: stuck between

the others, and often made dizzy by having to be Janus-faced!

a. Dear Bert, what a moving, exceptional description. Thank you for the

emotion. You should publish this thought somewhere.

Dear me, how many words I have written, and my first sentence says “let me

quickly…”! If I had written as many notes it probably would have been

better. Never mind.