COMPOSER IN RESIDENCE 2018: GIANLUCA BERSANETTI
Led by its passion for creativity, Delirium Musicum takes particular joy in exploring the world of living composers.
The relationship built with our composers in residence always brings musical inspiration and a true human experience while traveling through new universes.
In 2018, Delirium Musicum has presented 2 world premieres and 5 US premieres by Gianluca Bersanetti:
- Concerto V in E minor for Strings and Continuo
- Lydian Dance
5 US PREMIERES:
- Violin concerto in A Major for Violin, Strings and Continuo
- Violin concerto in G Major for Violin, Strings and Continuo
- Suite in B minor for Strings and Continuo
- Trio sonata I in F Major
- Trio sonata IV in C Major
Gianluca Bersanetti was born in Rome, Italy, in 1964. He studied piano and composition privately since the age of 10. After attending university in Milan, he moved to Los Angeles in his early twenties. There, he continued his music studies and pursued a career in early childhood music education (Orff Schulwerk). He composes music in many styles and mediums. In particular, several of his "Contemporary Baroque" compositions have been performed and recorded in Europe, Russia and the US.
Question: Delirium Musicum performed many of your Contemporary Baroque works. Though you compose in many other styles, could you first tell us a little about when and how you got into Contemporary Baroque music?
- Gianluca Bersanetti: For many artists or writers, old and new, emulation in writing music is a big part of becoming a composer. You usually start learning about your craft by trying to write music like this or that composer. For me it was probably Mozart and Bach – a completely unrealistic task for a 10-year old with no theoretical studies behind him. Can you blame me for that? I remember looking at a picture in an encyclopedia showing the first autographed page of Mozart’s great C major string quintet. Looking at those notes and at the beauty of the handwriting, I thought, “I want to do that too”. As simple as that. There followed many years of playing piano, listening to recordings, attending concerts, and studying scores by the big guys (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven), and private lessons. Music from the 17th and 18th centuries always presented a great appeal to me, also because, although only at first, seemed easy enough to choose as a compositional style. This is probably due to the abundance of specific harmonic and melodic patterns and gestures, shared knowledge of composers of that era. Only later I realized how much study it would take to truly conquer common-practice harmony, basso continuo techniques, counterpoint and fugue writing, as well as getting familiar with the many forms of the time and their countless variations and nuances. I dove into writing concertos, suites, sonatas and what I thought were actual fugues of some sort. I also experimented with other styles, from renaissance to modern. Now, let’s fast-forward 30 years. I am in my forties, teaching, and still writing music of all kinds. Through the miracle of the internet, I find a group called Vox Saeculorum, “an organization… which offers composers of the contemporary Baroque Revival (!) a forum to showcase their works... according to the aesthetic precepts of the Baroque era.” This prompted me to dust up and polish up my 18th century-style compositions, which had been lying in a drawer. Soon came discussions, friendships, requests, offers and commissions, which I gladly took up, since I didn’t see any real objection to writing in an antiquate style. Furthermore, there were professional Early Music scholars, performers and specialists, as well as appreciative audiences and baroque music aficionados who were ready to listen to my music. That’s how it started.
Q: How does your Contemporary Baroque work relate to your more “Contemporary” compositions? Anything in particular that you especially enjoy in each style?
- G.B: I can safely say that I am neither the first nor the only composer who takes inspiration from past composers, styles and musical forms. Specifically, I found that a solid background in counterpoint and fugue can take you a long way, and can offer anyone an invaluable tool for dealing with discipline and precision in your craft, with being able to create good music even within a very limited set of parameters. It always reminds me of those Roman gladiators, who used to train with weights to increase their strength and stamina. As far as contemporary styles, I enjoy the many possibilities of a greatly increased harmonic and technical palette.
Q: Baroque music comes with codices, treatises and all kind of rules related to its interpretation. At the same time, it also gives a lot of space to interpretation, and even encourages improvisation of some sort as well as personal ornamentation. We can mention that many composers in that era were also performers and vice-versa and had the knowledge and ability to do so. How do you feel about your Contemporary Baroque music being “interpreted” and tweaked in such ways by performers today?
- G.B: I am in perfect agreement with it. Regarding this point, it is important to notice that many Early Music performers are often composers themselves, and can not only supply the score with an additional flourish or cadence, but can also complete an unfinished composition, and even write an entirely new piece in near-perfect 18th century style. We have several examples of this particular “restorative” aspect of compositional activities with the fortepianist Robert D. Levin, and the harpsichordist, organist and director of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, Ton Koopman. Baroque music is in many respects akin to Jazz: both styles are capable to welcoming all kinds of arrangements, transcriptions, and, most of all, improvisation.
Q: Does your work in Contemporary Baroque style influence your more “Contemporary” work, or do you see it as two different universes that you like to visit separately?
- G.B: As I said, probably due to my long experience with writing Baroque music, this often finds its way into my more contemporary pieces, sometimes as simply as dictating a particular voice leading or underlining a specific structural idea. The other way around is different, of course. I try really hard to keep my “modern ear” in check when writing music in older styles. It is hard, but it can be done with some discipline, or by immersing yourself for several weeks at a time into the music of a composer or a particular time period.
Q: Do you have any particular influences in both styles/universes?
- G.B: For Baroque style, it shouldn’t sound like a surprise if I mentioned J.S. Bach and A. Vivaldi; but I also love the other important ones, such as – in no particular order, F. Couperin, D. Buxtehude, C.P.E. Bach, A. Corelli, A. Caldara, G. Frescobaldi… well, too many to mention here. In some way or another, they all contributed to what I consider to be “my” Baroque style, which could be defined as an amalgam of German and Italian, with a dash of French. Of course, I’m not talking about those “restorative” enterprises, like writing a violin concerto based on a melodic incipit from a lost concerto by Vivaldi (two of these concertos were performed by Delirium Musicum in March, 2018). As far as Modern/Contemporary, I have never been a fan of serial, atonal or die-hard avant-garde music, and my music in this style almost always tends towards a tonal, often modal style, even while indulging in polytonality or other delicacies of the kind! B. Bartok, D. Shostakovich, C. Orff and B. Britten are often at the top of the list, but also less known composers, such as P. Grainger and V. Persichetti. Amongst living composers, I admire J. Corigliano very much. I also love some, but not all of P. Glass’ and J. Adams’ music. I might have left out a few, but you get the idea…
Q: We’d like to know a bit more about you… What was your most memorable musical experience as a child/young adult? What inspired you to pursue composition?
- G.B: Hard to answer… dancing – more like jumping – until exhaustion with my older sister to a 78rpm record of Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours”- I must have been 3 or 4. I remember the glimmering notes of a piccolo flute playing one of Vivaldi’s concertos for “flautino”, as a boy of 10, sitting in the St. Alessandro Basilica in Bergamo, Italy; or, a few years later, playing several of the historical organs in various churches of the same city; being mesmerized by the great pianists C. Arrau, M. Pollini, G. Cziffra, and wanting to become a concert pianist. It turned out that I wanted to learn the piano mostly to be able to read and play great music, and learn how to compose, not so much become a travelling virtuoso.
Q: During your musical training (and beyond), did you have a mentor, someone special who influenced you artistically?
- G.B: Yes, but only in my late twenties: a community college professor by the name of D. Carroll. He was a fantastic pianist and educator. With him I studied harmony and modal counterpoint. He passed away way too early while still in his fifties. He was the one who recommended that I deepen my studies of modern harmony and techniques even more. So… thinking about it, I can safely declare that most of my musical knowledge comes from my own love for music and hard work!
Q: If you could meet any composer, musician, or artist- living or dead, who would it be and why?
- G.B: While still young, I used to dream about meeting Bach or Mozart. I no longer feel that way, since there is a very possible and serious chance of being truly disappointed by the meeting! I believe that the music of Beethoven or Monteverdi is the best these men had to offer, the best humankind can and could offer, so why don’t we just take it and enjoy it while we still can? On the other hand, I’d love to get an opinion from and discuss “historical composition” with John Adams and other, younger composers of today.
Q: Do you have any non-musical hobbies/passions?
- G.B: I do: science and nature. I used to hunt for fossils and sometimes still do in my spare time. Also, as much as I can muster, I try to keep myself up to date with the newest findings in cosmology and physics. I love animals, dogs and cats. I always liked reading. Once in while I find a good author, and take a break from reading books about science or music.
Q: Do you also perform music? What are the differences or parallels that you see between composition and musical performance?
- G.B: Yes, but never professionally. As a pianist, I have been an accompanist to shows, and played at weddings, funerals and parties, or at school while teaching classes to children. As a teenager, I was the organist of a small church in Italy for a couple of years. I consider myself a decent pianist, and played chamber music at a good-high amateur level for a few years, but just for fun! To me, it is quite clear how being a performer can inform your composing and vice-versa, both requiring previous knowledge and creativity. The obvious parallels between performing and writing music are to be found in being able to get as close as we can to the sounds you will/can recall and recreate in your music (the stuff of music craft), and in experiencing the structure of the music in “real time”, which is a crucial aspect of imagining music.
Q: Is there one particular element of a performance that strikes you, that you especially respond to, in a concert?
- G.B: As long as it “makes sense”, I am open to all kinds of interpretations. I do like and expect the performers to love and understand what they are playing at that particular concert. There’s nothing worse than a spotless, routine, politically correct performance. I prefer hearing a technically not-so-polished musician stumbling through many wrong notes, but who can make those notes speak. Luckily for us, there is indeed a not-so-thin line between effect for its own sake and boring. Valid interpretative choices are there for the picking, but sometimes you need an informed audience to detect the difference and appreciate it – which is almost never the case nowadays.
Q: Your wildest musical dream?
- G.B: Achieving perfection in composition. I can dream, can’t I? And, even then, I would still not care about fame and fortune.