The Music of Elisabetta Brusa

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BRUSA: Symphony No. 2. Simply Largo / Ulster Orchestra; Daniele Rustioni, cond / Nacos 8.574263

Although this is Vol. 4 of Elisabetta Brusa’s orchestral works, it is my first exposure to her music. Brusa, though Italian-born, also studied composition in England with Peter Maxwell Davies, but don’t expect her to sound much like her teacher. Although she uses certain modern chords and chord positions, Brusa’s music is much more lyrical than that of her teacher, harking back to such moderate Italian modernists as Respighi and Pizzetti (both of whom had their music played and recorded by Arturo Toscanini).

Nonetheless, there is good structure in Brusa’s second symphony, which took ten years to complete and a few months to orchestrate. She is obviously a woman who takes her time composing, ergo her smallish output. Interestingly, if you take away the occasional harmonic clashes, you will find that her music is very traditionally structured, not at all that far away from Beethoven or Brahms. The sometimes stringent harmonies make you think of Nielsen, but even he was more innovative in his last three symphonies. Of course, innovation in itself doesn’t mean very much, and as I say, Brusa knows what she is about. Whether or not a work like this will find its way into the standard repertoire, however, remains to be seen. Those who will admire her Brahmsian structure may not like the modern harmonies, and those who like modern harmonies may not like the traditional structure. This, I think, makes her something of an outlier in both worlds, and that isn’t always commercially attractive. As Brusa herself puts it in the liner notes:

When I compose, I rely on my fantasy and the improvisation of musical ideas. I compose solely at the piano, like old fashioned composers used to do, and not at the desk or directly at the computer. I have to feel the music I compose, though I don’t actually have to hear the orchestra. I used to copy out my works and orchestrate them directly at the computer, but now I just do not have the wish nor the strength to do so anymore. I compose the main ideas with basic orchestration on around four or five staves with pencil and paper and once these have been transferred onto the computer by a copyist and printed out, I orchestrate the rest with a pencil directly on the sheets.

The second movement, “Andante solenne,” is quite interesting, however, with its use of a vibraphone and glockenspiel playing very high up in their range, sometimes along with the violins, as well as a stronger rhythm than one normally encounters in such a movement.

By contrast, however, the Scherzo is much too long (almost nine minutes), runs in circles and says very little. Here, I think Brusa made an error; half the length would have said twice as much. I did, however, like the “Allegro risoluto” finale very much with its rhythmically strong figures which alternate with a lilting 6/8 rhythm. There are some quite imaginative touches, such as the string and xylophone explosion around the 3:37 mark.

Simply Largo, written in 2007, is also symphonically structured, and in fact surprisingly vigorous for a largo. Here, Brusa writes primarily for the strings, creating a large and often vital structure out of a few thematic cells.

It’s certainly an interesting album, well worth checking out.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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3 thoughts on “The Music of Elisabetta Brusa

  1. Elisabetta Brusa says:

    Hello, I am Elizabeth, or Elisabetta Brusa http://www.elisabettabrusa.it Thank you for the review. I would be grateful if you could correct my name on three occasions when you have put Bruna. I wonder if you could add the word “also” in front of the sentence “studied composition in England…”. May I also add that it did not take me 7 years to orchestrate. I orchestrated it in a few months in 2015. Thank you very much for your kind attention and my very best wishes for 2021. Elizabeth

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  2. Elisabetta Brusa says:

    Thanks a lot. I don’t want to seem fussy, but since another critic in Italy has just written the same thing as you, that I took 17 years to write the Symphony (whilst my first which is even longer I took two) I have written a paragraph on the reasons why. I shall put them on my website with other thoughts. There is no need to write anything in your blog and you have already been kind enough. Thank you very much again. My very best wishes for the New Year,
    Elizabeth
    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: the old age and the bad health of my parents, but also my own many health problems. I am officially 55% disabled and sometimes one has to understand that I 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. This November I have started composing a new big work. In fact, I also have many other interests. I have posted my mother’s writings about her time during the war at Bletchley Park on a blog called The Gioconda Chronicles, adding all the photos. It got hacked and I redid it from top to bottom. I am having a three-volume book on ancient Horlogy written by my father, of which he was a leading world expert and who died in 2011, edited and published. I have studied jades, ceramics and ancient Chinese objects in an amateur way and have always loved Figurative Art and Archeology. I love to travel whenever I can in person and also on the internet. Music sometimes makes up only a small part of my life. Then there are also the days of compositional inspiration …

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