100th Anniversary of the Birth of the

Exceptional and Unique: Nino Rota

No other European or American film composer had the courage to write music as Nino Rota wrote it

From his time as a student of the 20th century avant-garde composers Ildebrand Pizzeti and Alfredo Casella, Nino Rota (1911-1979) composed classic music all his life: operas, ballets, orchestral and chamber music, pieces for the choir… Additionally, he composed music for theatre plays, but nevertheless he is primarily regarded as a composer of film music. As a composer of soundtracks he worked with the most eminent directors: Albert Lattuada, Franco Zeffirelli, Renato Castellani, Luchino Visconti, Francis Ford Coppola, René Clément, Edward Dmytrik, Eduardo de Filippo… Still, his most famous collaborations on film are with Federico Fellini. Fellini’s films, such as The Road (1954), Nights of Cabiria (1957), The Sweet Life (1960), 8 1/2 (1963), Satyricon (1969), Amarcord (1973) and others inspired the composer’s imagination, resulting in exquisite combinations of audio and visual qualities.

The beginning of this collaboration, with the film The White Sheik, on one hand enabled the director to further emphasize the interweaving of reality, fantasy and even the surreal, and on the other hand, by altering the contemporary musical expression into a grotesque, ironic caricature, made Nino Rota’s score ambiguous yet recognizable. However, this was not the first time that Rota wrote music for film. By 1952, he had already written about sixty (!) film scores (a considerable share of his more than ninety film soundtracks), and gained considerable experience in working with many diverse directors. In the meantime, he also received many awards, among others the award from the Italian film critics’ Nastri d\'Argento, for the films War and Peace (King Vidor, 1965), White Nights (Luchino Visconti, 1957), Romeo and Julia (Franco Zeffirelli, 1968) and Orchestra Rehearsal (Federico Fellini, 1978).

In fact, no other European or American film composer had the courage to write music as Nino Rota wrote it. By thinking in fragments, he used grotesque themes to create a romantic-tragic binding for stories (for example in The Road). Moreover, he often used a recurring motif and developed that technique to the fullest, such as a different take on Wagner, by following a series of moral and human issues proposed by Fellini in his films. Rota’s recurring motifs rarely go in only one direction: they consist of many ideas and as such enrich the mystery of the musical and film message. On the other hand, like other composers, Rota also used the same themes in different films; in Fortunella he uses three motives, of which he later used two in The Sweet Life and The Godfather.

The music for Coppola’s three Godfathers, (Rota lived long enough to work on the first two films in 1972 and 1974, but for the third one in 1990, Coppola used Rota’s previously composed music in order to musically complete the film series), belongs to the subset of composer’s music that managed to take on an independent life away from the silver screen. The manner in which the melody Speak Softly Love was used in the story about the lives of several generations of a mafia family of Italian origin living in America, is very special. Namely, the use of very romantic musical language and equally romantic lyrics almost contradicts the scenes in the film. Thus, it can be understood ambiguously, like most of Rota’s themes in Fellini’s films. The special relationship between music and scenes is not dependent only on the director’s decisions but also on the decisions of a composer who knows how to adapt and transform himself into a romantic or a comedian, in order to offer a different vantage to a sad and pessimistic world of loneliness and often a cruel reality. (Irena Paulus)