A Series of Pleasant Surprises
by Gina Gianfala
Keynotes, June 2014
My story begins with a suggestion by my piano teacher, Oksana, a couple of years ago: "Why not look for scores of contemporary Italian composers on your next trip to Italy." Little did I know that this suggestion was the start of quite an interesting journey.
In 2011 I traveled to Turin, where I was born, and to which I had not returned since leaving in 1964. Near the vicinity of the royal palace (Palazzo Madama) was a small, delightful music store. It appeared to have been there for a long, long time. Two diminutive ladies were attending a counter with old-fashioned shelves and drawers all around. I discovered that this particular store had printed music for the royal family since the 1800's. Printing presses, now long removed, had been on the upper level. After I explained my quest, the lady in charge rifled through her inventory and presented me with two collections of short pieces by composers with whom I was not familiar.
At my next piano lesson, Oksana played through the pieces and we decided to work on a short series of theme and variations titled Undici Sogni di una Libellula (Eleven Dreams of a Dragonfly). A charming title I thought.
Although short, some of the pieces were rather challenging. In preparation for a recital a few months later, I attempted to find some information about the composer. When I play a score at a recital I try to also provide some background on the pieces and composer. Surprisingly, nothing was to be located anywhere; neither web searches nor music library yielded any information about the mystery composer.
So I turned to the publishing house as my last resort. In desperation, I emailed the publishing house on Christmas Eve. To my surprise, my message was answered almost immediately, surely an unexpected result given the holiday. I was provided with the last known location for the composer of the work, Mr. Francesco Stratta. It turns out he was located in a small town in the Piedmont region of Italy, not so far from Turin. I quickly dispatched a handwritten letter to Mr. Stratta explaining how his score had come into my possession and my interest in knowing something about him and his composition. The letter included my email address and mentioned that I was planning on performing his composition in a few weeks. To my great surprise, an email arrived the morning of the recital with a long handwritten note attached. Mr. Stratta had responded via his son to my letter, and he was delighted to hear that his music had reached the USA after 30 plus years!
From the beginning of our correspondence there was a kind of special connection. Both our birthplaces are in nearby locations of Piedmont in Northern Italy; we shared an interest in music and singing (besides being a composer, he was also a choir director); and then there was another surprise--we had been born on the same day! (albeit several years apart).
In any case, with the assistance of emails and snail mail, I discovered that Maestro Stratta appeared to be quite a gentlemen, and my husband and I decided to pay him a short visit during our next trip to Italy.
When next we traveled to Italy (in 2012), we were greeted warmly and enjoyed the company of the Maestro and his long-time wife and son over dinner and breakfast in their rural farmhouse in the town of Mombello Monferrato.
We kept in touch over the next several months via emails, photographs, and some phone calls. In the meantime, I continued to work on his composition and played it at several recitals. And then another big surprise: the Maestro presented me with a song especially composed for my voice! The words are based on a poem "Orfano" by a well known Italian poet, Giovanni Pascoli. Traslated into English: Orphan Gently the snowflakes fall. Listen: a cradle swings slowly A child cries, the small finger in the mouth An old woman sings, her hand resting under the chin The old woman sings: Around your little bed there are roses and lilies, all a beautiful garden In the beautiful garden the child falls asleep The snowflakes fall gently.
It is a small but very challenging jewel, but I felt up to the task. With the help of my voice teacher and a fellow AMSF member, I recorded the piece. The following year we decided to celebrate our birthdays together with our families and friends at a restored 16-century Italian farm where we listened to the recording of his music and my singing in a stable converted into a dining hall.
And so, from a simple suggestion came about quite a surprising friendship.
Copyright 2014 Gina Gianfala
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