La Mortella, a love story


"La Mortella" is a love story; or rather it is the story of a love. A remarkable story. Perhaps we should ask the French director Claude Lelouch - that of "a man and a woman” and “Bolero” and "By accident or chance" - to make a film. Lelouch - who personally wrote and produced his films and is beloved by the Romantics - argues that in a love story nothing happens by chance.

That everything was already written and if there comes a pain is because there is a greater joy than to arrive. If you put love in the first place of the values of your life will not abandon you again. It will always return, will manifest itself in a hundred ways, until the last day of your life that will be well spent. Lelouch would have realized a film about the love story of William Walton and Susana, Valeria Rosa, Maria Gil Passo. I could do it. Susana on September 1948 is 22 years old, has already graduated and worked at the British Council in Buenos Aires. She belongs to an upper class family in Argentina. She is at the British Council that "by chance or gambling", one might Lelouch, met William Walton, one of the largest and perhaps the greatest English composer of the twentieth century, arrived in Argentina for a concert. William has already 46 years old and already an established musician at home and abroad. He is 24 years older than Susana. It is a love at first sight of a beautiful young Argentinian woman, cultured and refined, with a mature musician who does not come from a middle class family but poor and that has helped highlight of his talent to a pair of benefactors. They married in December 1948 after just three months of knowledge in Buenos Aires. Susana wrote years later: "He made me believe that we would live in his house in London, Lowndes Cottage, which he described as a lovely place. To my surprise, before the ship that brought us back to England touched the English coast, he told me that his greatest desire was to escape from the bright lights of London and we were going to live somewhere near the Gulf of Naples, where he intended to work”.
“Susana writes: "I'm fascinated with tales of magic evoked by the place where Ulysses had sailed and where one constantly has a memory of the classical world of Greece and Rome, thanks to the obvious evidence of villas that belonged to Julius Caesar, Claudius and Agrippina, on coast dominated by the castle -fortress of Bay in the Gulf of Pozzuoli. This is also the place where the mad emperor Caligula realized the company of galloping on his horse (who was elevated to the rank of Consul), along a bridge formed by the requisitioned ships and related, to one another, from stem to stern”. The choice of going to live in Ischia, the largest of the Neapolitan islands but then little known on the international circuit, is due to the "case or to chance". Susana writes that "the choice of Ischia in which to spend the first winter as a married couple is due to an employee of the travel agency Thomas Cook who gave us busy in a house on the island, including piano and guardian, at a reasonable price". They came to Ischia in the winter of 1949, and remained about 10 years in a house in dense in San Francesco in Forio mainly in the winter when the earthly nature is silent while the sea sings. The ideal season for William to compose in silence in a room overlooking the mountains rather than the sea. They began to think to buy land and build a house with a garden. They chose a plot at Zaro in Forio dug into the trachytic rock, ‘a valley with dark earth facing the sunset and enjoying so many hours more light’. Laurence Olivier, the great English actor, a close friend of the couple and will be for a lifetime, who was their host, advised against buying the land ‘because he said - that hill was just a stone quarry’. But Susana and William liked it. That place was looking like “a giant vase of flowers carved into the stream of lava and then split by earthquakes, a basin full of hard trachyte 20 feet of solid humus”.
“The hill above - continues the story of Susana - is a spur trachyte volcanic stretching from east to west and protects the valley from the north wind. The valley is bordered on the south by a low hill, formed by large boulders. William and I were so fascinated by these amazing rocks that despite the warnings of our friend Laurence, we decided to build a house on the hill, between two impressive rocks and a garden at his feet. We decided to design the garden. The house would come later. We were lucky enough to convince the well-known landscape architect, Russell Page, to come to Ischia and interpret our extravagant dreams. Page made a project that would transform what Olivier had likened to a stone quarry in a lush exotic garden carved into the rock. "Page - who will be three times in Ischia in 10 years to see the progress of the work - told William and Susana that "a garden can only exist as an expression of faith, the embodiment of hope and a song of praise". He predicted at least 10 years of hard work but expressed his confidence in Susana "green thumb" of this young Argentine, lover of plants and flowers that shares this passion with her husband, British musician. Russel Page was right. William and Susana would have been able to transform a hill and a valley, a place of “myrtle” where La Mortella set in a lovely garden, one of the most beautiful gardens in Italy. The garden became the goal of life William and Susana. Wherever he went in the world - in Oceania, the Americas, Asia, and Europe – holding concerts, William wore the plants that were in those places and with Susana them planted in their garden.
“I was born under the sign of Virgo and, it is said, people born under this sign are happy only when they are in close contact with nature", Susanna said of herself that tamed the rock and ‘the rocks are stable elements while growth plant varies and this concept of stability to the garden gives the attribute of being everlasting as it can be a Shakespeare or a Beethoven sonata”. So in that place was born the music of William and growing plants Susana. Until his death in 1983 aged 81 William brought plants from all over the world and has seen it grow. This garden became the son that the couple did not want to. But young people have been loved. At his death, William ordered that the villa and the garden were open to the public and all of its assets, with the help of his friends, were intended for a foundation, an English "Trust", that would put at the disposal of young composers around the world a great place to work on their own compositions, that La Mortella became a critical laboratory for the study of the works of William and a worldwide center of excellence for performances of music, theater and dance. Susana gave full effect to the will of her husband. In 1991 the gardens were opened to the public, young composers arrive at La Mortella each year, prestigious shows are held each year from April to October with the opening of the gardens. Until her death in 2010 at 83 Susana has directed, edited and expanded the garden with a Greek Theatre, and even with a parking lot, on the side of Punta Caruso, to allow the rest of the cars of visitors.
Today the Garden La Mortella extends over an area of about 3 hectares with 4,000 varieties of plants from all over the planet. It employs 22 people including 7 gardeners. The Foundation is headed by Dr. Alessandra Vinciquerra, one of the greatest experts of rare and unusual plants in Italy that Susana chose in 1994 as the continuation of her work. The Gardens are visited by about 50 thousand people each year. The Foundation shall keep the operation only from the proceeds of the collection of entrance fees and receives no financial support from either the state or from the Italian region of Campania, the Province of Naples and the municipalities of the island of Ischia. The Gardens La Mortella is today the most important cultural structure of the island of Ischia. It is the work of a love. The ashes of William are placed in a rock, the highest point of the hill, while those of Susana in a nymph which in greek-roman tradition was a "place of water” where it was possible to spend moments of "otium" that is peace. The ashes of Susana - that Massimo Pilato, who accompanied me to visit the Gardens on the day of the autumnal equinox which instead seems to be the summer solstice, noted- are placed in a cave "in the shadow of a rock” as if William is the sun and Susana the moon. The figure of Susana, called "Genius loci" (the spirit of the place), is commemorated by the inscription in English around the fountain "mirror of the soul": "This green corner is dedicated to Susana who loved tenderly, worked with passion and believed in immortality”.
William died on March 8, 1983, the day dedicated to women around the world. Susana died on March 21, 2010, the day of the vernal equinox in which the light has the same duration of the shadow. Everything happened “by accident or chance”.

Giardini La Mortella

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Info on Ischia island

  • Surface: 46 Kmq
  • Hight: 789 mt
  • Lat.: 40° 44',82 N
  • Long.: 13° 56',58 E
  • Periplus: 18 miglia
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