Born near London, England in 1933, Jil was just six years old when she was sent away from home and found herself in a boarding school for the very first time. With the threat of World War II many families were torn apart as children where ushered away from cities and into the safety of the English countryside. Like them she was devasted.
Solace was found in a large grand piano she discovered in the school hall. Lifting the lid, she started playing a few notes and a passion was born that would last a lifetime.
As she became competent and more self-assured, she began creating little musical pieces. Upon her return home she nagged her parents for piano lessons, calling herself "an absolute pain as I never left them alone with it until I was finally given permission".
When Jil was ten years old her parents finally arranged for her to have lessons. Although dedicated and hardworking, it wasn't until she was sent to Miss Dorothy Hesse, who had a music school in Hertsfordshire, that Jil felt she made progress. Hesse was a renowned pianist herself until she gave up her career to concentrate on teaching. "This is the person", Jil told me "that learnt Beethovan's Piano Concerto No. 4 by heart while crossing Canada by train and played it at the other end to a rapturous audience in concert for the first time."
From the age of 18 Jil followed a career as a concert pianist until her mid-twenties. "Playing the piano wasn't just a pleasure for me; it was a compulsion, an innate wish to make the sound and I never really contemplated any other career."
But after her marriage and birth of her family she found it impossible to continue such a demanding schedule and turned her energies to teaching, choral direction and coaching. She was not to write music again until much later in life.
"Where do you think your talent came from?" I asked Jil. "Probably my father, William Bartley. He was an exceptional inventor and a very brilliant scientist. He would often accompany my mother at the piano as she had a fine voice, so I suppose I had music around me already when a very young child."
Serious composition, or "composition proper" as she called it, didn't truly begin until she was in her mid-fifties and started out as sheer experimentation. The Requiem was her first major work and begun when she was sixty years old. By the time she moved to France it was a quarter written.
The decision to move to France in 1995 was based primarily on personal reasons and, Jil believes, also on a whim. She'd been to this region on holiday before and liked it. With her parents gone and a legacy left to her by her late father, she took the decision to leave England and settle abroad. She drove down here in an 8-year old car with equally two 8-year old dashhounds sitting up on the backshelf enjoying their adventure.
She arrived here just before Christmas and took temporary rental accommodation on the Col de Vence and continued work on her Requiem. Still today she wonders if there wasn't an unconscious drive to come into contact with some form of energy natural to this part of the world. As soon as she started composing she felt stimulated and noticed how her work "opened up" and flowed.
She later rented a villa in the charming medieval village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup and here created a Choral Symphony Choir. She also held concerts featuring her work along with a variety of works by other composers in the program. At the end of 1996 and using the remainder of her father's legacy, Jil set about promoting her finished Requiem.
Her composition is a choral/orchestral work with two soloists using the original latin mass text (about 28 minutes in performance). Requiem received a succesful premiere in Nice in February 1997, followed by performances in Monaco Cathedral, Vence Cathedral and at the Summer International Festival, Krakow, Poland.
In Krakow it was performed by the Capella Cracoviensis Choir, with soloists Alison Pearce (soprano) and Anna Colls (mezzosoprano), both distinguished singers with international careers.
Prior to its performance in Krakow, Jil had received sponsorship out of Monaco to record her Requiem onto CD. She therefore took the opportunity to arrange a recording session with the organizers whilst there. With no proper recording studio available on the premises, the recording could only be done at midnight to avoid any possible noise interference.
Halfway through the recording, the sound engineer approached Jil and explained that he was picking up the sound of her shoes creaking as she conducted. Could she remove them he asked. So she did - to reveal barefeet. Thinking nothing of it, she continued and the recording progressed without further incident. Then, descending from the rostrum, one of the musicians cried out and pointed to Jil's feet. She had blood all over them and the floor. She'd been so engrossed in her music that she hadn't noticed she'd been standing on a rubber mat spiked with metal tips . . .
Her father's legacy also enabled her to organize her own performances of her Requeim for as she explained, "it is very difficult to get someone else to perform your work and I'm not saying that because I'm a woman composer, but it just is. So I really wanted to give it the best thrust I could."
That year was a busy one for Jil as she also moved to Vence. Since then she contiues to strive to acquire further prestigious openings for her music. In November 2006 she found success with the Arun Choral Society's UK Premiere of her Requiem: rewarded by a full house and a good critic. She's also had several radio broadcasts in a number of different countries and is currently using the Requiem as a spearhead for her other works: Te Deum and a Viola Concerto "Le Chant de Venus".
Creativity seems to run in Jil's family as her daughter, who moved from the UK a few years ago and now also lives in Vence, is very artistic and created the beautiful abstract CD cover for Jil.
Throughout my interview, I found Jil to be exceptionally kind, a little shy about discussing her career (and gift) and how deeply she feels for her music. Yet I cannot end my piece without writing about an equally passionate part of Jil's life and the care and love she has extended towards a very special dog: Nanette.
Two years ago Jil rescued Nanette from her squalid refuge near Brignoles (Var). For five weeks Nanette remained motionless in her bed. Food presented remained untouched until nightfall. The same with water. Every morning as the sun rose, Nanette would show distinct signs of fear as the shadows moved across the wall - announcing the arrival of her antagonist. Seeping wounds on her head, one fears from cigarette butts extinguished on her skull, showed she'd suffered severe abuse.
These wounds have now healed, though the pyschologial ones are slowly improving, with much love and care and Jil's gentle way, Nanette is now enjoying her doggy life. On a good day she loves going out for walks and even a drive in the car to the woods above Vence. On bad days she stays curled up in her bed while Jil soothes her with gentle music. (Jil is presently in the throes of putting together a dedicated website all about Nanette's story.)
This partnership between Jil and Nanette is an exceptional one, built slowly on trust, love and patience. It is also very inspiring. Jil's music is equally so and I look forward to the day when her music is played to a much larger, worldwide, audience and recognised for its excellence, gifted craftmanship and melody. If you would like to listen to some of Jil's Requiem then click on to one of the following audio links. Alternatively, you can email Jil for more information about her inspirational work or to request a copy of her CD.
Sanctus from Jil Bartley's Requiem