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Make that two, please

img  Tobias

Even if today's situation wouldn't tell you so, Italy's contribution to film music can hardly be rated too highly. Maybe the slump in recent noteworthy scores can be attributed to the equally sad result in captivating movie productions - in this respect, French composers have found it far easier drawing attention to their work. Yet, there was a time, when things were different. Everybody knows Enio Morricone, his congenial partnership with Sergio Leone and especially his unforgettable melodies, which owed a lot to the slow movements of Vivaldi's oeuvre. Actually, Morricone must be one of the few musicians who has earned the same degree of respect among colleagues, critics and consumers - try finding someone who can not whistle the tunes of "The Good, the Bad & the Ugly" or "The Man with the Harmonica". But despite his mastery, there was a second name from Italy who pushed on the limits of film music - so, whatever happened to Nino Rota?

Maybe Rota's story is one that will need some time to be digested by history. After all, it started out brilliantly and almost fairytale-like and then turned difficult, somehow. Born in 1911, his parents soon discovered his incredible musical talent and sent him to early music lessons. Public hunger and admiration for prodigies was still high and it therefore did not go by unnoticed that young Nino finished his first oratory "L'infanzia di San Giovanni Battista" at the age of twelve. And it certainly helped that this early work did not spend its life hidden away in some drawer to be taken out at some later date, but was actually performed in 1923 in Milan and Paris. As you might expect, first "new Mozart"-cries were quickly heard in the press. At the age of 15, he attended college classes in Rom and only three years later, he finished his studies. Famed conductor Toscanini recommended a move to the USA and so he went to Philadelphia, deepening his insight into composition techniques (Toscanini was a faint relative of the Rota-family). It was here that Rota made an aquaintance that would change his life forever: Aaron Copland.

Copland is rightly recognised as one of the most influential American composers and a man with an overwhelming creativity. Starting with a style called "symphonic jazz", he had been recognised as a sort of prodigy himself and earned acclaim among the modern composers of his countries. Right at the time of Rota's journey to America, he felt the urge to bring his music to a wider audience and embraced folk music as an inspiration. This was were his presence marked a decided change in Rota's biography - Copland would become his paradigm and role model. And the free nature of their exchange opened his mind for film music as well. Many at the time lamented these changes, calling his style outdated and scoffing at his "Hollywood"-aspirations. But Rota felt he had no other choice and had to follow his heart. This is where the second important person in his life comes into play.

Composers and Directors, there's many examples of fruitful and symbiotic relationships: Lynch and Badalamenti, Hitchcock and Bernard Hermann and we already mentioned Morricone and Leone. Add to that list the names of Rota and Fellini. Between 1952 and his death in 1979, Rota composed the scores to all of Fellinis pictures, including, of course, "La Dolce Vita" and "Amarcord", which are still among his most famous works. There is a sweet tone of sensuality, energy and understatement in these pieces that fitted Fellini's flicks just perfectly and that bound the duo together. Apart from this collaboration, however, Rota was also busy for other directors (there's a supposed total of 150 scores to his credit) and don't forget: "Death on the Nile" came from his hand as did the Oscar-winning melodies to "The Godfather I & II". Incredibly enough, Rota also found the time to work on his music away from the big screens: He has written several operas, works for ballet and orchestras as well as for the piano (another 150, if we may believe certain sources). How did he do it? Well, by working an alleged twenty hours a day and by taking on as much as his body could handle.

In 1979, his body couldn't handle it any more and he died, out of the blue for most. With all of the respect he earned during his lifetime and also the commercial success he gained, why hasn't his name survived beyond the movies he contributed to? There are two reasons we would like to offer here. Firstly, in contrast to Morricone and Leone, Rota was no revolutionary. His music could always stand on its own, but it did not carry a movie all by itself, as did the pieces of many Morricone soundtrack (despite all of his undoubted talent, it remains an interesting question, what Leone's status would be without him). And secondly, Rota's arrangements are just a little bit more closely tied to their time than are Morricone's. Listening to Rota will give you a feeling of nostalgia and of beauty in the past, while Morricone's pieces have a quality that seems to ask for interpretation and reworking in the here and now - there's several jazz- and electronic album dedicated to cover versions of his oeuvre.

The last remaining question must be how you can find out about this great composer. Well, first of all, quite a lot of his pieces can be bought on CD, either on a compilation or in excellent combinations (several scores on one disc). The label C.A.M. Original Soundtracks has made Rota one of their specialties and should be one of the starting points if you're truly interested. And the second option is to follow the whereabouts of German conductor Frank Strobel. Rota is one of his ongoing concerns and only recently (on January 12th to be precise) has he performed concert suites of "Il Gatopardo" at the Staatsphilharmonie Kaiserslautern - and we expect more to follow. With a man like Strobel championing Rota's legacy, we can expect his name to appear on the billboards of concert halls once again pretty soon.

Homepage: Nino Rota
Homepage: Nino Rota at Schott Musik
Homepage: Nino Rota at C.A.M. Original Soundtracks
Homepage: Nino Rota at Salzburger Museum

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