Composed during my two month's stay in Siena attending the composition course at the Accademia Chigiana with tutor and Italian composer Goffredo Petrassi. We were a class of eight young men from four countries: Britain, France, Italy and New Zealand. Petrassi’s opening words were: In Siena dovete scoprire Simone Martini (In Siena you must discover Simone Martini). Here was a composition course starting with a sentence about a great medieval painter. Later Petrassi would disappear for weeks on end and I finished up learning more about early Sienese painting than about modern composition.
Unlike the Cambridge Music School in New Zealand where students of all departments were in constant contact with one another and where there had been at least one concert per day, here we were totally alone. Even the members of the composer's group disappeared in all directions after class, only one did I ever get to know well, Michael Short, from England.
Extract from a letter to Brigitte in Zurich, written after the first rehearsal of our pieces:
It was so wonderful just to hear the players tuning up. I’ve been away from this sound for so long!! My second movement came off much better than the first (the pianist is very good). By the second movement I was writing what I wanted to write, but I don’t regret the first because you have to try new things. And the players are very enthusiastic for all four of our pieces. Michael’s is very good indeed. He has set some Italian verses for soprano, flute, harp, violin and cello, and the Japanese soprano who is learning these difficult songs is really excellent.
The concert was on Sunday evening 4th September 1966. Everything went well, but without the excitement of the first rehearsal. The audience was very generous with its applause, the newspaper critic less so. For my piece:
Abiamo percipeto una atmosfera lucida, rarifatta, talvolta indecisa e un po’ banale. Una personalità più ingegnosa che genial, capace tuttavia di organizzare piacevole il materiale sonoro.
We perceived a lucid and rarefied atmosphere, sometimes indecisive and banal. A personality more ingenuous than genial, nevertheless capable of a pleasant organisation of the sound material.
Fifty Years Later
Although one should never take such criticism seriously, it had its effect on me. I put this piece behind me and never looked at it again — until just recently: One of the players of those pieces on that night in September 1966, who had taken a copy of the score home with him was the Dutch flute player Rien de Reede. Unbeknown to me he recorded the work twice for Dutch radio. Now in the internet era he was able to find me and send me copies of both recordings. Both are excellent! Listening to them now 50 years later, I am astonished at how well I managed to copy the Webern-style — Michael Short had lent me a score of the Webern “Konzert” Op. 24 — and at the same time there is something of myself in it. Especially interesting is the tone row which includes the famous B-A-C-H motive and yet this is (I think) concealed enough not to intrude. Here is the second of the two Dutch performances: