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May. 30 2024

Nino Rota – The Godfather of Movie Music

By Dyana Neal | Posted in Host Blogs | Comments Off on Nino Rota – The Godfather of Movie Music

The first two Godfather films are among my all-time favorite movies. (I haven’t seen the third one in its entirety as people are so fond of slamming it, but I’ll get around to it one of these days.) Composer Nino Rota wrote the scores for the first two Godfather films and had a hand in the score for the third one; he also composed the soundtrack for The Leopard, Visconti’s cinematic tale of Italy during the risorgimento and another favorite of mine. With the recent passing of producer Albert S. Ruddy, without whom the Godfather films might never have been made, I felt moved to take a look at Rota’s career.

Born Giovanni Rota Rinaldi on December 3, 1911 in Milan, Rota came from a musical family and his talents were apparent early on. His cantata The Childhood of Saint John the Baptist was written when was just 11 years old and had been performed in both Milan and Paris by 1923. Rota graduated from the Milan Conservatory at 19, after which he studied at The Curtis Institute in Philadelphia on a scholarship and with the encouragement of Arturo Toscanini. As he composed over 150 film scores, it’s not surprising that people often associate Rota with movie music, but he also created ten operas, five ballets, and dozens of other orchestral, choral, and chamber pieces. His friends included Igor Stravinsky and Federico Fellini; the latter said of Rota:  “He was someone who had a rare quality belonging to the world of intuition. Just like children, simple men, sensitive people, innocent people, he would suddenly say dazzling things. As soon as he arrived, stress disappeared, everything turned into a festive atmosphere; the movie entered a joyful, serene, fantastic period, a new life.”

While Rota won the admiration of many, including the composer and critic Nicolas Slonimsky, he did have his detractors. Some were critical of his use of other composers’ music or even quoting his own previous works in film scores. Examples include the Larghetto from Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings, which Rota used as a theme for a character in Fellini’s La Strada and selections from Verdi’s La Traviata, which found their way into the score for The Leopard. The most famous, or perhaps infamous, example of Rota’s musical recycling meeting with disapproval came when we was disqualified from an Oscar nomination for the first Godfather score because it was found that he’d previously used some of the material in the soundtrack for the 1958 Italian comedy Fortunella. Rota got the last laugh – his score for the Godfather remains highly admired and influential; it’s also been covered and sampled by artists in various genres. Fans of The Sopranos may recall one Godfather theme being used to humorous effect as Paulie Walnuts’ car horn.

Nino Rota passed away from heart failure in 1979, aged just 67, but his legacy lives on. Directors Gus van Sant and Michael Winterbottom have used his music in their films and composer/musician Danny Elfman cites Rota as a major influence on his own work. Rota has been the subject of tribute albums and documentaries as well. May his beautiful works for both the silver screen and the concert hall never “fade to black.”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Dyana is WBJC's midday host. Her full bio can be read here.

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