Goffredo Petrassi

In July and August 1966 (just after meeting Brigitte at th Università per Stranieri in Perugia) I attended the composition class of Goffredo Petrassi at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena. The maestro was very friendly but sadly I learnt very little that I hadn't already learnt in New Zealand. I had clear expectations of the course, based on my experiences in New Zealand at the Cambridge Music School, also a summer school but only of two weeks duration. At the Cambridge course the days were spent in class, in the evenings there were concerts or social events, and the late nights were often spent writing instrumental parts for orchestral works or revising pieces that were being tried out. The main thing was, there was a lively interchange between instrumental and composition students. In the whole two months I spent at the Chigiana, there was, however, hardly any contact with students from other departments. We barely even heard them practising and there was no invitation to meet them. The one exception was when Petrassi invited a colleague, the famous flautist Severino Gazzalloni, to demonstrate some new techniques on his instrument. Otherwise we just met in our group of eight. At the beginning Petrassi taught us the basics of 12-tone composition (something I had learnt very well from Ron Tremain at my first Cambridge Music School) and suggested that we try writing a piece in this style for a chamber ensemble. I had now been away from composition for at least seven months and was finding it very difficult to start again:

Letter to Brigitte

It’s all strange here. So much has happened and yet nothing has happened. I still feel the same. No musical ideas. I’m happy to write letters and even to revise my stories, but I have to push myself to write music. And the result is terrible – musically that is. I don’t seem to sense anything much – I seem to wander along in a state of “neutralness” – of limbo…
The Maestro continues to play through the dodecaphonic exercises that we all write and they’re ALL AWFUL. Not that I dislike dodecaphonic music, the Berg Violin Concerto is good (but it needs at least six listenings before much goodness appears). And other thoughts and stories and numbers are still very jumbled and indistinct.

Brigitte to me

I’m sad you think you wander along in a state of neutralness. But, don’t forget, this state is necessary to get into another state, in a state of creation. Do wait and be patient with yourself and have faith in yourself. If you lose that, it is bad. But I’m very sure that you won’t!

The Petrassi compositions class: self, Michael Short, il Maestro, …)
The Petrassi compositions class: self, Michael Short, il Maestro, …)

I regained faith in myself and finished my work for the end of course concert: Due movimenti per quattro strumenti.