My music is Tonal, however, I have been told many times that it does not copy other composers, but evolves from them, particularly those of the first half of the 20th century: Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, and many others. It is also melodic and cannot be ascribed to anyone in particular. I adore Brahms, but there is none of him in me, I think, however, there is something of Beethoven. Bach is my basis. I would be grateful if one could start listening from the Symphonies, or if they are too long, from Florestan, Firelights or Merlin. These works, as in many others in the CDs, are not abstract works such as symphonies, since they are inspired by literary characters and so require a different kind of listening. Simply Largo and Adagio are probably the easiest to understand. Just listen.
Sometimes when I start composing a precise work, though I always exactly know and choose what I want to compose beforehand, I just don’t know how to begin it and I have to improvise on the piano till I find an idea which I like. I call this the consciousness of a subconscious instant. I always have already chosen the Tonal centre of the work beforehand and once I compose, I very rarely add, and even less, subtract bars. I may, or may not, elaborate the idea in a shortly successive moment, however, I never throw a piece of music paper away because it may be only a rough idea that I could develop later on. I may refine it, but when I compose, what I write at that moment is generally definite. I usually orchestrate the work at a later date, but the musical ideas are all there from the beginning to the end.
I compose at the piano in an old-fashioned way like all the 19th-century composers did (also with bouts of so-called exciting inspiration). My works for orchestra are written on 4, 5 or 6 staves, as necessary. When a movement is finished, I orchestrate it at the computer using a mute keyboard. I pride myself that I have a good ear and that I need nothing else. When I recorded the 2 CDs with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, I hardly did any corrections on the scores and parts; only a few little things due to forgetfulness. When I compose I improvise a lot at the piano. At a certain point, I know how the work will end and sometimes what I will do in certain sections: not the exact notes but the musical intent. When the work is finished, it is definitely finished and I find that I never have to rewrite sections or even change minor parts of the music. However, when I heard my works performed for the first time by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, it was such a wonderful and uplifting experience that I will never forget it. That moment I felt I had been rewarded for all the difficulties I had had in affirming myself as a composer and as a teacher; as a full Musician. It’s not that I heard unexpected sounds or unexpected parts of music but it simply completed the previous experience I had had in composing the works. I have no suitable paragons, but it was like adding lustre to an opaque but exquisite object, adding whipped cream to an excellent cake, adding lipstick to an already beautiful woman. Silly paragons but I’m sure that though Bruckner did not need to hear his last Symphonies he would have simply been overwhelmed by them and his heart would have glowed.
Very often I know, either by musical gesture or precise notes, how I’m going to finish the work even when I am only at more or less one-third of the way. Maybe, through improvisation or pure musical thinking, I find a second idea long before it is due. There is always some musical connection and yet contrast between the two and I have always been able to weave them naturally together. This happens also with an earlier composed ending, which is a rather difficult thing to do, especially when ideas may be harmonically distant. For me composing is not only improvisation but there is a lot of musical thinking and some of it away from the piano though most of the time I need it to compose. I have always been able to compose parts between other parts of music, but it is still very difficult to do these connections and to make them sound natural.
I take a long time to compose because every note must be the one I feel is right. Sometimes, it may happen that in a chord I may have a double option, so I go on composing to be able to work backwards and choose the best one of the two notes. A single note can make a difference because it may make more sense or be more beautiful and lead to a different musical idea. When one listens to masterworks one often thinks that those particular notes could only have been the possible ones. Usually, good composers are fast thinkers, quick at subconsciously understanding that a particular note or chord can lead in a certain direction. One has to know Classical Harmony very well to be able to do this. The mind continually works in different situations and I believe a precise moment may lead to one musical choice or to another, however all the musical logic changes accordingly. There have been slow thinkers, and what we hear as natural spontaneity is thoroughly thought out and every musical detail is refinished with great care. However, it is not the time or the manner with which one composes that is important, but it is the end result that counts. It is not only the choice of one chord or one note instead of another, but it is mostly the musical general sense, the mood, the atmosphere and the emotional colours one wants to give to the whole work that counts. Though I never memorise what I compose and may even forget what I have written, if I hear a wrong note in my music, I will immediately realise it. It is the musical sense of everything, including the unexpected chords or modulations, that make a good composition. When I think away from the piano, I think with musical logic, not with mathematical or abstract logic, though this may lie underneath any sort of Art. We know everything is Mathematics and Logics, but fortunately, an artist thinks at a different level, a more emotional one. It is the art of being able to give deep emotions that distinguish an Artist from a musician who may be simply knowledgeable and coherent. Furthermore, too much coherence kills Art, but this is a very difficult concept to explain, though the obvious answer is that the work becomes boring.
19th November 2020
Recent music reviews mention the fact that it took me 17 years to write my 2nd symphony. This is not exactly the case. For many years I have been a mixture of laziness and taken up by family problems: my parents’ old age and bad health, but also my own many health problems. I am officially 55% disabled (my vertebrae are getting worse all the time) and sometimes one has to understand that I often haven’t had the desire nor the energy to compose, as well as being “lazzarona”, as my father used to call me when I was young. Last November I started composing a new big work, a full Requiem. I also continued with my many other interests. I had posted my mother’s writings about her time during World War II at Bletchley Park on a blog called The Gioconda Chronicles, https://thegiocondachronicles.wordpress.com/ adding all the photos. It got hacked and I redid it from top to bottom. I am having edited and published a three-volume book on ancient Horology written by my father, of which he was a leading world expert and who died in 2011. I have studied jades, ceramics and ancient Chinese objects in an amateur way and have always loved Figurative Arts, Architecture and Archeology. I love to travel whenever I can in person as well as on internet. Music sometimes makes up only a small part of my life. Then there are also the days of compositional inspiration … Musically, I feel very European, a mixture of Germanic, Russian and English…and maybe Italian…but not much.
4th January 2021
It’s impossible to be saintly and even less a real Saint. I wonder how they managed. I am sure that they must have answered badly to someone, have nasty sentiments of revenge, maybe even minimally slapped someone with anger. Jesus Christ knew that he was sold, but probably knew he couldn’t do anything about it; he couldn’t save himself because he was not a powerful or rich man. I saw the Pope on TV give a blow of the elbow to one of the faithful in a crowd and I immediately thought that he did well for he understood there was a limit to everything. One always has to wait for Death to hope for something. I am in no way saintly, but I have tried to do something good in my lifetime and I hope someone will remember me after I’ve gone.
7th January 2021
Letter to a Friend:
I’m glad my music may give you some comfort in your solitude. I don’t know how I do it either😄. When I listened to my music as soon as the cd arrived, I got quite surprised too. It happened with the other three CDs, even more than during the actual making of them. At the moment I have finished the Dies Irae, the Kyrie Eleison, the Dies Irae and nearly all the Tuba Mirum of the Requiem. 4 of 16 parts. The next part is the Rex Tremendae. I can only tell you that I never know how to start a piece. At a certain point, I think I’ve written a load of rubbish, then I become desperate and depressed, then I tell myself that it’s a pity to throw away what I’ve written, then I stay a day or so without composing, then I play it again and, somehow, I continue. Very often I do the ending and then connect the two parts. Gradually the music takes shape and the ideas become better, flowing and logical. Then at a certain point, I understand that the work is alright and that I am able to finish it satisfactorily. Sometimes I am even happy or excited about something I’ve written, sometimes I get an idea immediately, but usually, the way I compose is very elaborate and takes a rather long time, and it is more similar to the procedures of Beethoven than Mozart. If you read Bernstein’s The Joy of Music, the chapter on Beethoven is very interesting. I was very surprised when I read it years ago.
14th January 2021
Decades without Emotivity in Art
Many strange and absurd things have happened during the History of Art in the world, but in the 20th Century, and still today, we have cultivated and propagated what we have wanted to call art, albeit aesthetically ugly, in Music, in Painting and Sculpture. This has been a long period of great anomaly, even if partly explainable, since in previous centuries we had always gone in search of Beauty and Emotions.
It is well-known that the Soviet Union propagated tonal music to keep its various and extensive regions united with a language understandable to all and furthermost that contained messages of a popular genre. The United States, their historical enemy, to do the opposite, supported Atonal and serial music as a symbol of freedom and independence (independence from the hierarchical system of the Tonal language, preferring a language with independent notes between them). In communist countries there was a preference for figurative art, in America abstract art and so on. For purely political reasons, the Soviet Union did not help Prokofiev, an independent musician who died without much recognition in his homeland and instead forced Shostakovich to compose marches and grandiose music that could influence and draw the people. The result was that in his music there are moments of brilliant inspiration, yet other moments are rather trivial and even vulgar. Within individual compositions there are contrasting qualities because he was forced to compose quickly and with the directives specified by the party. Most of it wanders and he creates new ideas without developing the previous ones. It is erratic but does have an emotional content, somewhat like Mahler, whom I consider greater, however. The United States, by supporting atonal and serial music, and subsequently a purely intellectual progress in the elaboration of intervals and timbres, has automatically produced a split from any emotional content in Music, but also in Figurative Art. This way of composing has made music even more subject to harmonic and rhythmic equality (colours and shapes in abstract art) with a lack of reference points. If the rhythms and harmonies must never repeat themselves, the ear, or the mind and soul of the listener, can no longer recognize and memorize anything and when listening to the music it sounds like a sea of sounds of equal values. Too many differences lead to a generalized understanding of equality, and ultimately chaos. Ultimately, the opposite result was obtained and all for Political and Progressive reasons. Communism wanted to make everyone equal and instead produced more diversity, thus chaos. Politicized liberalism, and not a true democracy, of the last few decades, has instead produced soulless music.
In this difficult historical moment, if you believe in certain values of the soul you simply have to go on day by day even when you are in front of a piece of paper and cannot compose, even when it seems that what you create is not good enough. The next day the ideas clear up and you go on doing what you believe in. Then maybe, sometimes, you even feel happy. The true Artist lets himself be drawn by Love and Passion for what he does, and also with a pinch of ambition, just that pinch that allows him not to get discouraged and stop. Too much ambition kills your personality and leads you to make bad choices. It is difficult for a creative person with high aesthetic criteria and noble feelings to create something bad in his art.
7th February 2021
IN TRUE ART A COMPUTER WILL NEVER REPLACE MAN BECAUSE OF MAN’S LOVE AND PLEASURE IN CREATING ART AND BECAUSE PEOPLE WANT HUMAN CONTACTS AND EMOTIONS FROM REAL PEOPLE TO ADMIRE. HOWEVER, FOR THE MOMENT, WHOEVER PRODUCES ART WITH A COMPUTER MAKES ME LAUGH BUT IT ALSO MAKES ME ANGRY THAT THERE ARE OTHER PEOPLE WHO SPEND SO MUCH MONEY TO BUY SUCH RUBBISH.
12th February 2021
I listened to Shostakovich’s Waltz many, many times before I wrote mine. I think it’s an extraordinary proletarian waltz of great artistic quality. The fact is that it is both ‘Russian at heart’ and a very ‘common theme’ in a peasant sort of way, but it is beautiful with a great feeling of melancholia throughout. I love it!
16th April 2020
To compose one has to believe in what one does, feel an inward necessity and urge to compose, have the strength of character, be sincere, patient, tenacious, resilient and never give up.
My students have often asked me the secret of how to compose with good ideas. I do not think there is a secret or perhaps it is an old secret of the Arts of thousands of years that no one can explain, but that Artists feel within themselves, each one in a different way. When I am in front of a page of empty staves, I almost always feel incapable, disheartened, tormented, though I know I can get any old idea written down because I have studied and taught the techniques. When I get going it can give me satisfaction, but also doubt whether what I have composed is good enough. However, according to my way of thinking, there is one aspect that must be found in a work and it is not a secret but has been widely disregarded and actually condemned since the Second World War: the search for “Beauty” and “Elevated and Deeply Spiritual Emotions”. Art is the spiritual outpour of Man and his emotions through Empathy; how deep and how elevated is another matter and it takes Time to understand and widely establish.
(Please read an old thought of mine on “New-Humanism.”)
As regards the practical side, I can’t describe exactly what I do but I usually compose with traditional Tonal Functions and then expand them subconsciously and instinctively in search of beautiful sound and form expressed through clear musical ideas. “Beauty” is always my aim. I have no systemic way of composing, but I simply compose in the old manner improvising at the piano to search for harmonies and themes and also think with the more conscious part of the mind, even away from the piano, to carry on discourse within a form. I am well acquainted with Classical Harmony and with the styles and composers who have broken away from the Tonal Tradition yet have maintained a logical historical discourse. I try to do the same, but it is also a very subconscious and instinctive procedure that I am unable to explain because I do not understand it myself.
18th April 2021
About Education and Analysis:
My husband and I have great empathy and understand each other and Music in the same way, though he knows more about the subtleties of Conducting and I know more about the subtleties of Composing. We were taught by the same Composition teacher Bruno Bettinelli with the old French system of Harmony and Counterpoint, the Fugue, Orchestration, the Sonata Form, the Theme and Variations and works in different styles, as well as being encouraged to compose and develop our own style. He managed to do his Diploma in Composition under Bettinelli before he retired and I passed to Azio Corghi’s class and finished with him. He was very good at teaching Orchestration but the first thing he told me was that in his class the music he and his students wrote contained no Emotivity. I was shocked but remained silent. Bettinelli had been his teacher too and managed to convince him that I had to continue the way I had started. He tried to convert me, but I just carried on and kept silent. I think that without this kind of Education, I would never have written any personal and individualistic work and would have lost all my natural instinct and talent. If I hadn’t found Bettinelli I would have been obliged to study and compose exclusively with contemporary techniques dictated by a group of Avant-garde 1960s-70s Composition teachers. Later when I entered the Conservatorio of Milano as a professor I found the students of the same teachers as my colleagues and it was no longer possible to get a Diploma as I had. Differently, I would never have passed my examinations because I psychologically refused to compose anything I did not feel was mine. Successively, for 15 years, I went regularly to Avant-garde concerts to understand the world I was living in. Afterwards, I stopped and the last concert I went to was one in Milan for Pierre Boulez’ 80th birthday. I am told I fell to sleep and snored. Usually, I find it impossible not to listen to Music and it goes around my head at night and even on successive days.
To Hans Keller I owe the understanding of Music outside school parameters, however excellent they were. My husband and I were never taught Analysis whatsoever, not to speak of the kind taught nowadays, which we both find horrendously ridiculous and useless, actually harmful because it actually kills instinct and empathy.
We both went directly from the rules and examples of the Treatises of Dubois, Gedalge, Kent Wheeler Kennan, Piston, Casella-Mortari and other technical/historical readings to listening and looking at the scores of Masterworks, trying to understand and feel instinctively and logically like the old composers always did. My husband and I simply understand that such a passage, or some other component, is logical and do not go beyond analyzing it. He has always studied scores much more than I have (also because I hear the notes and understand the harmony and the conduct of the parts just by ear but differently to him I do not memorise anything). Of course, I need the time to compose, whilst he needs the time to study always new works to teach, but we don’t need to talk about them, as I never really did with Hans Keller. I understood what he meant with his system of Functional Analysis without words and that was enough for me. We did some Functional Analysis on masterworks but it was generally on my own works. It’s not Analysis that is important, it’s Synthesis, trying to understand the essence of Music.
We feel very lucky that we graduated with the old system before the Reform and that we had the great fortune of not having to study Composition nowadays and having to justify everything you compose verbally and in writing.
16th October 2021
I continue composing music, but I have stopped writing letters to orchestras and musicians for many years, because they don’t reply and because, up to now, they have not been interested in my music. I need a big publishing house like Boosey and Hawkes of London. According to me, it is the only one that matters in the world. I knew David Drew the head director in London very well (I had presented myself as I had just won the first prize in the Washington Competition for Composition for String Quartet) and he told me that he wanted to publish me, but later his inner committee had voted contrary. He also advised me not to publish with various small publishing houses and scatter my pieces around, but to keep everything for one large publisher. It was a time when Avant-garde music was at its most extreme and only Hans Keller’s musical and spiritual help saved me from stopping to compose. David Drew lost his job shortly after. I saw him a few other times and he still professed his admiration for my music. The last time I met him was in a café and he told me that he wanted to create a small publishing house and he proposed to publish all my works. I immediately saw that he was depressed and it seemed such a contradictory suggestion to what he had always told me that I felt very sorry for him because he seemed a very unhappy man. I told him, no, just following his own advice a few years earlier. A little later he committed suicide without any apparent reason. I was deeply shocked and sad for him.
At Tanglewood in 1983 I had also briefly met Stuart Pope the President of Boosey and Hawkes for the US. He was absolutely enthusiastic and he also told me to wait till Boosey and Hawkes would ask me to publish my music and not the contrary. Life is long and sometimes one gets impatient. Unfortunately, I did not follow his suggestions and I was again refused in 2002 when I sent B&H my first two CDs that had just come out.
If Naxos hadn’t accepted me in 1999 I wouldn’t have made the first two CDs, which they paid for, anyway. If I didn’t have the money that my father left me to record the other two, and I hope those which will come, I would be totally unknown. A good record company is able to distribute well around the world, but it is still not enough for a composer. If a big publishing house doesn’t want you, you have hardly any opportunities for performance.
One day, during the first half of the ’90s, I asked the Director of Ricordi for an appointment, it was given to me and then they coldly told me that they weren’t interested in my music. When I asked if I could come back in a few years the reply was a sharp “no”. Obviously, as it always is in Italy, it was for ideological left-wing reasons. I don’t belong to any party, never will and have never expressed political opinions, but I suppose I give the impression of being more right than left. During the Fascist Regime, my father was a Communist but after the War, he became a Republican, always leftish. My mother was an English staunch Conservative. They were both cultured with good taste and I realise it even more fully now, having had the time to think of what and how they taught me. My mother was always imitating the Queen and my father would tease her. He was an erudite, Renaissance figure, well-recognized by everyone who knew him. After he retired e would read and study all day and most of the night.
I believe that in Italy many musicians know me and love my work and I have received sporadic letters of praise also from other parts of the world. These days many musicians have told me that they have listened to my Second Symphony many, many times. Even five times! They have lavishly praised it and other works. This gratifies me a great deal because I know that they are good musicians and that they understand Music. Instead, my ex-colleagues in Composition at the Milan Conservatory, mainly Avant-Gardists, have always hated me to the point of failing even my best students or giving them lower marks. The year before I resigned in 2018 two very good pupils underwent some very difficult and heavy examinations and failed them without any explanations. They then went to the Conservatorio of Brescia and got their Master’s Degree with 110 cum laude and one also with an honourable mention. At the Conservatorio of Milan full marks are not uncommon since the Sixties. However, no student of mine has ever received these marks during my 33 years there. They had the sole fault of having been my students. My colleagues used to enjoy doing this and even coming to tell me afterwards.
But in the end, I believe Justice will prevail because some of the new generations are going back to believing in “Beauty” and “Emotivity” in good Music.
I don’t do any promotion of my music except the CDs. I remember that David Drew used to tell me that I should contact and make friends with conductors. I was lucky that I met my husband in 1976, got together in 1988 and married in 1997. I didn’t want to marry him at first because I was worried I would lose my independence and that I wouldn’t compose anymore (which is why I didn’t want any children either). So, in 1988 I decided that at least I would try to compose a Symphony and it took only two years. During that period I decided that I didn’t care if I didn’t get any opportunities of performance, but I preferred to compose for orchestra which is what I liked most, rather than little works for flute solo or two or three instruments. Apart from my Violin Sonata Rapsodica, I have maintained this choice.
I am extremely grateful to my father who left me some money which allows me to live well and pay for my CDs. My husband’s pupils (some of which were mine too) found the orchestras and conducted my Naxos CDs. It was a happy coincidence. I had written to Naxos in London and they were taking a long time to decide, but finally, the owner, Klaus Heymann from Hong Kong, to whom I had written a desperate letter of 3 full pages, replied that if the music was good, they would record it. I didn’t pay for the first two orchestras. The third orchestra cost £ 8500 plus the producer and sound engineer and the fourth £ 12,500 + the producer and sound engineer. The plastic CD, booklet and distribution are always financed by Naxos. I know I’m terribly lucky that I can afford it.
Fragments written in 2020-2021
My Requiem and Stabat Mater
I’ve always wanted to compose a Requiem, which is why I first wrote Marche Funèbre, Adagio, Requiescat, Simply Largo and Stabat Mater. For me, it makes part of the works as a composer just as a Symphony or a String Quartet. Obviously, when I was young, I knew I had not lived enough and did not have the spiritual, aesthetical and life experiences to be able to compose a mature Requiem. It was not enough for me to just compose music to some text, moreover in a language like Latin that I had never studied appropriately, and ultimately, in my youth I was a convinced Atheist. Through life one changes, the motivations that inspire your music change, many questions about after life spring up and it is difficult to be sure whether one is a Believer or not. Empathy and sensitiveness force you to tolerate your physical and psychological suffering and extend them to all people.
I was baptized Catholic through the will of my Roman grandmother who was partly Jewish. I never practiced any Religion till around 11 to 14 because my father was a convinced Atheist. Though my mother was Church of England, she understood the necessity of being older before I was given some religious education so that I would be able to make up my own mind. Ultimately, my Requiem was composed not out of religious necessity, but out of a humane and spiritual sharing and it is dedicated to my parents. During my archaeological travels I have always tried to read Latin inscriptions with their affinities to Italian which have always fascinated me. When I read the text of the Stabat Mater by Jacopone da Todi for the first time, since it is easier to understand than Tommaso da Celano’s Requiem, I was very struck by the very expressive outcry of suffering.
I composed the Stabat Mater as a trial for the Requiem. Furthermore, since Latin is no longer spoken and I have not read other religious or profane texts, I am personally not able to separate Latin from its religious context. Perhaps this has helped me. The life of Jesus Christ and those who have suffered, including my parents’ last moments, deeply affected me, after which the Cross acquired a more profound meaning. Furthermore, my love for Music, Painting and Sculpture has deepened and broadened my understanding.
Both the Requiem and Stabat Mater are written following the classic form of many similar compositions. I felt the need to mantain a certain relationship between the vocal parts and the orchestra so that the latter would never be overwhelming but remain discrete. The vocal counterpoint and the orchestration are deliberately essential in order to give an archaic atmosphere. The colour is deeply dark with some sudden incandescences when the harmony changes to reach luminous effects passing from the minor to the major modes. The vocal parts are often pushed to the limit of their extensions and in the Stabat Mater this effect is increased to reach the maximum expressivity to emphasise the pain of the Mother.
The Requiem Aeternam is in D and the 15 parts of the text are in different tonalities, though the main tonality is repeated twice and the work ends in it. Major and minor tonalities are alternated but not in the traditional way of passing to relative ones. The triad of each tonality is connected by one note in common, making the passage from one part to another softer and smoother. The Stabat Mater, instead, is in E but, being in a single movement, it alternates with E flat. There are no notes in common and this makes the music more abrupt, harsher and more tragic. I have created a medieval aura to certain parts of the Requiem and often the vocal parts follow a restricted range of notes like in lithurgical music which give a calm and resigned atmosphere. Instead, the range of notes of the Soprano in the Stabat Mater is wider and the music moves in a more brusque way making it seem more tragic. This is what one can say of the difference between other Requiems and mine is more similar to Fauré’s. It reflects my nature more as regards feelings about the end of life.
I do not question myself on who created the World. The little I know is quite enough.
17th October 2021
Poor Memory and Excellent Logic
Since I was a child my mother and grandmother (who had a piano diploma and was the daughter of the leader of the Carlo Felice Opera in Genova and also curator of Paganini’s Cannon by Stradivarius), noticed my musical abilities, foremost when I composed by memory a short piano piece at 4 and a half years old. Ever since then I would compose one or two pieces to bring to England every Christmas holiday and kept them all by heart till I started my first Composition lesson at 19.
Until then I thought I had a good memory, but I knew I was lazy and would not study between my piano lessons, which I had started at 5. I started studying piano a little more seriously from 19 till 24 and then gave it up overnight when I passed my grade 7 piano and sight-reading tests for Composition relatively well. The next year I would have been ready to pass my grade 8 exclusively piano exams but what blocked me were the scales in double thirds and sixths and a certain muscle and psychological rigidity. Furthermore, I hardly knew how to read music because I hadn’t studied enough so I couldn’t prepare for an exam without knowing the works by heart. Anyway, I wanted to get on with Composition and I’ve never regretted it. Consequently, those years when I studied Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven Sonatas, Clementi’s Gradus at Parnassum, Bach’s Preludes and Fugues and Romantic, Impressionist, Expressionist, Neo-Classical Music, I found out that, though I did not put much effort into studying them and no systemic approach or exercises, it was rather difficult for me to keep the more historically recent works to memory. I found only Bach easy and logical to memorise. Again, I was lazy. I would only do what I liked.
Having understood that my memory was not particularly good, I was lazy, I hardly knew how to sight-read because of this, my knowledge of musical works was reduced compared to others, I had the incapacity of remembering themes (and the numbers and tonalities) of even the works I knew well, I tried to hide this as much as possible. However, after my Diploma when I had to confront myself with my own pupils who played better, sight-read better and knew works I didn’t know, I realized that I could understand the logic of any kind of music with which I was presented and was able to explain it and make it clear. This was also because I didn’t teach Harmony exclusively through rules just to pass exams, but through its logic of phrasing, structure and form and the logic of exceptions. Here, I was helped by natural instinct but also by Hans Keller’s teaching about the Foreground and Background of Music. Once he told me “You know everything already. I am only here to make things clearer.”
Thank you, Bruno Bettinelli. Thank you, Hans Keller.
18th October 2021
An Empty Mind and Logic
I realized all my faults and my gifts very early, but having a natural predisposition to maintain modesty in thought and behaviour and being naturally repulsed by those who think they know everything, show-offs and career-minded people, I just went ahead and did what I believed in. Ever since I was young my father would repeat to me never to look at the top of the mountain but to look down and go ahead steadily and work for the drawer. This has helped me very much, but there were years during which I thought everything was useless and I would never have a minimum of recognition. Not general public recognition, but simple recognition from those who really understand Music.
Due to my musical beliefs and the urge to compose, yet with all my faults and weaknesses and after having composed all the tonal works before I was 19, I started to try to “modernize” my compositional thought. It all resulted in several Atonal compositions leading up to my Belsize String Quartet which won the first prize at the Washington International Competition. Immediately afterwards I was asked to write a work to be performed with Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf in front of over 30 schools in Milan. I chose some famous Fables that had the same animals in common but I understood I couldn’t write in the Atonal style I had previously developed, so I thought I would try to make the 7 Fables more accessible for young audiences. Inspired by several classical works depicting animals, I distinguished each of my chosen Fables with rather onomatopoeic atmospheres. This was a turning point for me because I discovered through my very own work the value of the colour of Orchestration in musical thoughts. From that moment this aspect took on more importance and with a gradual return to Tonality or Pan-Tonality I reached what I consider a style of my own. I think the first work that reunites these aspects is my First Symphony.
I believe that not ever really being able to memorise well, but having a good gift of logic, has allowed me to develop a personal style without exactly imitating other composers.
Everything I see, hear or read that is beautiful seems to escape me. I become ecstatic but bewildered because it seems to me that afterwards I do not remember anything. Fortunately, there is the subconscious that works and remembers on my behalf.
Before I start any work I always listen to similar works and look at the more complicated parts of those scores that are not so easily distinguishable by ear. By now, obviously, I have learnt how to read Music!!
18th October 2021
Yes, that’s right, we need artistic, natural, new and real suggestions precisely because these are such dark times. People seem more vacuous than ever. We hope that the world can recover a little after this period of Covid, but I am thinking of India, South America and above all of great Africa still with the grip of so many problems, hunger, climate, other diseases, dictatorship, emigrants and many other problems to which our Arts will make no difference. Sometimes I say to myself “but what does anyone care if I compose when moreover nobody even knows? Besides, they don’t even know who Raphael or Beethoven was? But each one has to get on with his small contribution. We know that a flap of a butterfly’s wings can change a state of things on the other side of the world … “Tirem innanz”… “Carry on” as my father used to say in Milanese.
31st October 2021
My first lessons at the Conservatorio of Milan
Ever since I was at the Conservatorio of Milan, first as a pupil (1973-1980) and then as a teacher of Composition (1985-2018) I had nothing but spokes in my wheels from my composition colleagues and the institution itself.
For the first two years I took private lessons of Harmony from Bruno Bettinelli who was considered the best teacher at the Milan Conservatory. For four lessons I played him the piano pieces I had composed since I was four years and eight months old and during the second lesson he suddenly said: “You will cry bitter tears!” I did not quite understand what he meant then, but soon afterwards it became quite clear. However, I continued to have blind faith in myself because I loved what I was doing. In two years I passed the grade 4 examination and was accepted into his class. I remember the admission examination. All the professors of Composition at its various levels were seated at a big L-shaped set of desks and he introduced me, told them that he had known my father when a teenager (because though my father was not a musician he had a composer, Gino Negri, as a school companion who had presented him to his many Conservatorio friends) and told them that I had already composed many pieces since I was four and a half. Some professors were very interested and asked me when my father was born, wondering if they had known him. 1921. That was the only word I uttered and I was told to go.
However, during the interview, there certainly were professors of the Avant-garde who must not have appreciated this, not solely because I was protected by my teacher, but because they immediately understood that I wrote traditional, tonal compositions. Of course, everyone had a chamber work performed at the end of each school year, so that labelled me too. Every student was trying to compose exactly as his teacher would tell him. I was extremely lucky because my teacher didn’t (and I did the same with my pupils). He was an extraordinary teacher of Harmony, Counterpoint and Orchestration. He knew the rules perfectly but he did not oblige me to follow them too strictly, except during exams, so I continued to harmonise my exercises in the most imaginative ways and always went back to the original tone to finish. Sometimes I had to do some musical acrobatics to get the meaning right. I remember him smiling often at my original ways of harmonising and one day he said “but you really have great passion!”
20th November 2021
Yes, maybe I have insulted many composers, but it is about time that someone says the truth; that they not only have imposed their music for over 70 years, not allowing any other to be performed but at the same time they have insulted the intelligence of most of the public that goes to concerts, confusing their ideas on what is good and bad and what is beautiful and ugly. If you ask people coming out of a concert nowadays whether they like Avant-garde music or not, you will find that most of them will say that they don’t like it. I have been asking this question to many people and to many of the students of the Milan Conservatorio who study with other teachers. They say they all need a document, a piece of paper to show that they have undergone regular studies and have obtained a degree, but they are afraid of confronting the teachers and that they risk not obtaining their degree, so they do as they are told, whether they like it or not. AND THEY ARE UNHAPPY!! It is a kind of dictatorship. I have gone through it myself 40 years ago. Furthermore, many of my performing companions who then used to follow the fashion and perform whatever they were told to do, have now completely changed direction and are quite fed-up. However, in Italy, the power of decision remains with the publishers, the music agents and the managers of theatre and concert orchestras who all seem to have been guided by the same ways of thinking. In Italy, there is also a very strong political guiding power.
When I speak or write in this way, I am insulting certain people, who in fact are very little because 99.9% of the music in the western world is tonal? Furthermore, also the eastern world has in part adapted to Tonality too. Why is it that nobody speaks about these composers who by far are insulting the ears of the majority of concert-goers and performers? Why is it that nobody speaks clearly? Is everyone afraid?
I am often asked how I compose … With fortitude, passion, will, patience, resilience, conscience, humility; in no particular order.
When I decide to compose a piece, I generally know in advance what kind of composition I want to tackle: a work inspired by a text or an image, a precise form like the Sonata or a free form, which for me however is never really free. I don’t have any systemic method, but I simply compose in the old way using the piano to improvise freely. The first idea can be extremely difficult to create, but the contrary may happen too. I may also take a long time to elaborate it until I’m satisfied. There follows a second idea or the development or variation of the first which is always born through improvisation on the piano, inspiration in the old way, or more conceptual elaboration of counterpoint and orchestration always on paper, even without the piano, I carry on to develop the discourse.
I have never been very good at playing the piano and consequently, my sight-reading was never very well developed, but it improved with teaching. Not having the ease of sight-reading lots of piano literature and struggling a lot with scores, to improve my culture I had to trust my listening and processing skills; which many call a good ear. I am not talking about perfect pitch, which in any case is not essential for a composer, (so much so that I can compose with an out of tune piano even a semitone below) but the ability to hear all the parts of Music at the same time and understand their logic, essence and aesthetics. Anyhow, I did have perfect pitch and my first piano teacher used to turn me around so that I couldn’t see the keyboard and I had to tell him the notes he played. Later my Composition teacher, Bruno Bettinelli at the Conservatorio, used to do the same, but I had to recognise all the parallel fifths and octaves of my school companions. This is more important because it then develops into the ability to improve musical logic. It gets better and better throughout the years. If I read a score exclusively with my mind, I now read it in the right pitch, but if a hear a sound that is not connected to music, I may not get the right pitch.
The first fundamental lessons of Aesthetics were taught to me by my father, a great lover of the Arts, with whom I spoke a lot, the second purely musical with my Composition teacher, the third with my teacher and mentor, Hans Keller, and finally with my husband, Gilberto Serembe. I have been very lucky. I believe I have an ear, or a mind, capable of distinguishing simultaneously at various levels. I understand the conduct of the parts on the fly and I often guess in which direction the music will go. For me, the Analysis that is done in composition classes today is exaggerated and harmful because it blocks the imagination. My generation, and fortunately with Maestro Bettinelli, did not study Analysis as a subject. Basically, everything was based on the student’s musical intuition. If he understood without too many explanations, he was musical, otherwise, he changed job. If I found that such and such a passage were logical, I would not go beyond analyzing it and I believe that this allowed me to develop my imagination, a bit like all composers of the past had done. For me, it has been increasingly important to understand the essence, the “background”, what lies behind the mere notes. I consider myself fortunate not to have succumbed to the type of teaching of Composition in force in the last 40 and more years in conservatories, particularly in Milano. Furthermore, having to justify everything in writing is pure madness! Luckily, I graduated the old-fashioned way. I instinctively search for beautiful sound, form and good musical ideas. For me, any musical technique must then lead to beautiful harmonies. My mind nowadays can also continue to work away from the piano to carry on a discourse, which is what I have done in my Requiem because it is more contrapuntal than other works. I am well acquainted with classical harmony, counterpoint, orchestration and the styles of composers who have always detached themselves from the traditions and the rules in their relative historical times and I try to do the same, but it is very much in the subconscious and instinctive part of my mind. I don’t always recognize or understand what I do when I compose, so much so that sometimes, listening to one of my works on a CD after some time, I am amazed and wonder how I composed it.
20th November 2021