It is vespas weaving through the Rome traffic, sultry strapless beauties and tight...
Morag Reavley 2003
Take a waltz, a peasant waltz. Add a plaintive trumpet, a trembling mandolin and a stifled bass. Throw in a pinch of Nino Rota's genius and you have a piece of the most intimidating music ever heard in the cinema...it has to be the "Godfather Waltz". A piece of music that sizzles with Sicilian sleaze no matter how many times you see the film. The famous three-four step snakes insinuatingly and hypnotically as a cobra, spitting as it lilts.
But there is much more to Rota than his archetypal mob music, confirmed by a new digital rerecording of his film work - the sound quality on the original film recordings is dubious, making this a perfectly legitimate and very effective exercise.
A childhood prodigy, Nino Rota began as a conductor and composer of symphonies, ballets and operas, before writing scores for a large number of Italian and, later, Hollywood movies.
One of the most famous was Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet of 1968. The suite from Romeo and Juliet is a florid symphony drawing on Rotas classical background for its lush themes- swaggering hunting horn for the amorous swain, mournful lute for the awakening girl.
It was Federico Fellini with whom Rota developed his most perfect relationship. He wrote fifteen scores for Fellini's films, from The White Sheikh in 1952 to Orchestra Rehearsal in 1979.
Most famous of those is the kaleidoscopic score written for La Dolce Vita. Flitting fitfully from discordant strings and hectic glockenspiels to lean oboe solos, Rota's masterpiece is an unstable symphony to the teeming metropolis.
A similar playfulness is at work in the other Fellini scores. A dreamy suite from 1965s Juliet of the Spirits Fellini's tale of a middle-aged woman sloughing off her inhibitions is a caprice of a piece, a helter-skelter slide through the stages of abandon. It is vespas weaving through the Rome traffic, sultry strapless beauties and tight T-shirted men, viewed through a bottomless glass of Chianti.
Summer is here and, sunshine or not, theres no better soundtrack for it than Nino Rota. Like it says in the title: essential.