The combination of clarinet, cello, and piano is possibly the most appreciated ensemble formed by three instruments belonging in three different families. Whilst the most common piano trio is that with violin and cello, the repertoire for clarinet, cello, and piano trio is the most interesting and stimulating ever written for a piano trio with a wind instrument. This is due to the remarkable variety and, at the same time, flexibility, achieved by this ensemble. All three instruments, in fact, have a noteworthy range as concerns pitch: the piano, of course, is one of the most “orchestral” instruments, but both the clarinet and the cello, albeit in different textures, possess a pitch range hardly equalled by other instruments of their same families. Moreover, all three instruments have an immense palette as concerns dynamics, articulation, and timbre: all three can play with great intensity but also with delicacy, and their different registers show markedly different timbral qualities. Last but not least, their three timbres blend magnificently with each other. The cello has an extraordinary singing quality (one which virtually all other instruments secretly envy); the clarinet rivals it in the family of the winds, but has also a more pronounced articulation; thus, it bridges the gap between the cello’s sustained tones and the bright articulation of the piano.
It is no wonder, then, that this particular ensemble has attracted the attention of many great composers in the last three centuries. This Da Vinci Classics album invites us to explore a slice of this repertoire: a fascinating collection of works written in the second half of the twentieth century by some of the most important Italian composers of the era.
Francesco Pennisi was born in Sicily in 1934, and died prematurely in Rome in 2000. His family belonged in the ancient Sicilian aristocracy, and educated him to the cultivation of culture and of the arts. He was a skilled painter, particularly gifted with watercolours, and a passionate self-taught musician. He moved from Sicily to Rome after finishing high school, in 1953, and there he began his formal musical studies: he was taught composition by the American musician Robert Mann. His first affirmations as a composer came rather soon, and already in 1963 he was so established in the local musical panorama that he was one of the initiators of “Nuova Consonanza”. This was a Roman movement to which many of the greatest Italian composers of the time adhered, and which aimed at promoting contemporary music selected from the best works written by international and local musicians. Whilst being fully active in the contemporary scene, Pennisi never bent himself passively to the dictates of the avantgardes. His style evolved in time, and absorbed the influences of the early twentieth century, particularly as concerns a refined study of timbre and the quest for transparent, “watercolour” sonorities.
It might seem paradoxical, therefore, to represent Pennisi’s poetics of colour and timbre through a transcription realized by another musician. Instead, this is perhaps the most refined homage one can pay to Pennisi’s creativity, which becomes, in turn, the stimulating factor for further creativity. Moreover, a significant source of inspiration suggesting a likely instrumentation can be drawn from Pennisi’s own original Tre pezzi per clarinetto, viola e pianoforte, written for an ensemble similar to that employed here. And, furthermore, this transcription has as its object Pennisi’s Cinque pezzi infantili per pianoforte a quattro mani, which are the earliest works among those published by Pennisi during his lifetime (they appeared in print shortly before his death, in 1998). Indeed, they even predate the beginning of his formal composition studies with Mann. Finally, the indications provided for the Notturnino reveal that a certain timbral flexibility had already been in Pennisi’s mind: he wrote the Notturnino originally as a piece for chamber orchestra, with the intention of joining it to the orchestral transcription of the other four pieces in the suite; then, the Notturnino was in turn transcribed for four-hand piano duet in order to be incorporated into the published version for four-hand piano duet.
In spite of their unpretentious simplicity, these pieces already reveal Pennisi’s penchant for transparency, lightness, and the combination of interesting pitches producing unusual timbres through their interaction.
Similar to Pennisi, also Teresa Procaccini always strove to find a voice of her own, disregarding what was established (by whom?) as the official aesthetics of the post-War avantgardes. Procaccini was born in Puglia in 1934, and demonstrated her musical talent by pursuing, and completing, Conservatory studies in piano, organ, and composition. Fernando Germani, who taught her organ performance and improvisation, was one of the greatest Italian organists of the twentieth century and a pioneer of Bach performance in Italy. Procaccini is in turn a pioneer, having been – among other things – the first woman ever to have directed an Italian Conservatory. Her multifaceted personality allowed her to teach throughout her career, to write an impressive number of compositions (including a vast output for youth choirs, youth orchestras, and music pedagogy in general), and to organise concerts and cultural seasons. Her approach to musical style has been that of a preserver of tradition, in a conception of the future which is not uprooted from the past.
Her Trio op. 36 was written in Foggia in 1968, but premiered only thirty years later, when it was also published. In its first movement, the composer wove atonal themes and harmonies which however do not diminish its brightness and elan. The second movement is more reflective and contemplative, whilst the third movement is enlivened by the joyful humour and brilliant writing which are the signature traits of Procaccini’s style.
Procaccini’s Trio has therefore much in common with that written by Nino Rota in 1973. Little needs to be told about Rota, one of the most internationally celebrated Italian composers of the twentieth century, known both for his magnificent film scores and for his original works conceived for the concert stage. His Trio recorded here is one of his finest chamber music works, and presents itself as a fanciful and highly creative intertwining of musical personalities. The poetics of unreality frequently explored by Fellini finds here an exquisitely aural shape, where the touching lyricism of the second movement with its conversation between cello and clarinet is framed by the narrative traits of the first and the brilliant, joyful liveliness of the closing movement.
A very different style is that by Aldo Clementi, who was born in Sicily like Pennisi in 1925 and died in Rome in 2011. Clementi attended courses with the greatest representatives of the Italian and international avantgardes, and had his works performed in Darmstadt, the cradle and hotbed of the serialist and post-serialist experimentalism – which Clementi would later harshly criticise. However, in later years, he would progressively purify his writing from its most arduous aspects, particularly thanks to his exploration and study of Bach’s works. His Dedica was written in 1998, when the composer was in his seventies, and represents a gaze from above on his poetics. Premiered in Sermoneta in that same year, it is a short but poignant piece, dense with meaning.
Another miniature, even shorter, is Elly, dedicated to Elliott Carter by composer Franco Donatoni, and written in the same year as Clementi’s Dedica. It is a study in the contrasts of timbre, pitch, articulation and writing, with two fragments in staccato chords framing scales and arpeggios. Donatoni, another of the major figures of Italian music, shares with Clementi a special interest in Bach’s music, as well as the participation in the Darmstadt courses. Another homage is that found in Donatoni’s Cerocchi 70, dedicated to architect Riccardo Cerocchi and to his wife Maria Teresa. Cerocchi had been the founder of the Campus internazionale di musica, and the piece (premiered in Sermoneta in 1998 like Clementi’s Dedica) mirrors an approach rather close to that of the coeval Elly, with its alternating sections between pointillism and longer lines.
Even though Giovanni Sollima is the youngest among the composers whose works are performed in this album, his piece predates several of the others, having been composed when the musician was in his early thirties. Sollima, another Sicilian, is one of the most performed living Italian composers, and is also an internationally appreciated cellist, thus reliving the ancient tradition of the composer-performer. His Voyage brings us into a real spiritual itinerary, starting with enchanted atmospheres and progressively gaining momentum, in a piece where exotic feelings (suggested by the use of Eastern scales) blend with a very Western energetic beat, reminiscent of – possibly – a train journey (on the Orient Express?). This piece was originally conceived for trio with piano, clarinet, and violin or viola, but transcribed for performance with the cello by the composer himself.
Together, the pieces collected in this album represent a unique insight into the changing, multifaced, and diverse poetics of the last decades on the Italian scene. They also demonstrate that great art needs not to be impervious or unfriendly toward the listener. On the contrary, they show that true mastery of the musical language can innovate it from within, without cutting off the links with the history behind us.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022
Chiara D'Aparo, cellist, began studying the cello at a very young age. In 2007 she was admitted to the cello school at the "V. Bellini ” Conservatory in Catania where in 2012 she graduated, under the guidance of M ° M. Salemi, with full marks. She carries out an intense chamber music activity that sees her part of various chamber ensembles, including the Clementi Trio. She partecipated in numerous national and international competitions, always ranking in the first places. She also studied with Maestro G. Gnocchi and attended masterclasses with R. Filippini, U. Clerici, U. Hoffman, G. Georgescu. She frequently performs in various orchestras, and in 2017 she collaborated with the Santa Cecilia National Orchestra. In 2014 she graduated at the end of the two-year course for teacher training with full marks and honors and in 2015 she obtained the teaching qualification. Currently she is improving with M ° L. Piovano. She qualified as suitable for cello auditions at :Regional Orchestra of Calabria, Vittorio Emanuele Theater in Messina and Teatro Massimo Vincenzo Bellini in Catania.
Giulia Russo: Graduated with full honors, recording production prize and printing dignity at ISSM Bellini in Catania with M. Schillaci, she obtained the Piano Master degree and the Music Disciplines Master Degree. She took part, as a soloist and in chamber music ensembles, in several international competitions, obtaining in all of them first absolute prizes and special mentions. She held numerous concerts, receiving flattering acclaim from public and critics. She performed at the Mozarteum and at the Wiener Saal in Salzburg, in Rivalta Scrivia within the Up to Penice Festival and Milano Piano City 2019. She performed with orchestra the Third Beethoven Piano Concerto in Riposto. She is often engaged as an accompanying pianist at Teatro Massimo V. Bellini in Catania, at Teatro Garibaldi in Modica and she works with Coro Lirico Siciliano. She attended courses with Delle Vigne, Canino, Achùcarro, Lupo, Lucchesini, Egorova. Currently she is attending a chamber music specialization course in Florence with P. N. Masi.
Vanessa Grasso (Clarinet): She begins studying the clarinet under the push of her grandfather musician. In 2006 she was admitted to the "Vincenzo Bellini" Higher Institute of Musical Studies in Catania in the class of M. Carmelo Dell’Acqua. She graduated in 2011 with full marks and continued his academic study, obtaining, at the same Institute, in 2014 the degree at the end of the two-year period for the training of teachers with full marks and honors and in 2015 the qualification to teaching with full marks. At the same time she attended one-year specialization courses with maestro Calogero Palermo and various master classes with masters Patrick Messina, Manuel Jodar, Vincenzo Paci, Giovanni Punzi. She has participated in several theatrical works performing music in world premiere. She has always been involved in a conspicuous concert activity in various chamber ensembles including the Calamus Clarinet Ensemble with which she performed in Milan during EXPO 2015, in Belgium on the occasion of the clarinet festival. She recorded a disc with the singer Rita Botto and with the Sicilian Clarinet Orchestra. With the Clementi Trio consisting of clarinet, cello and piano, she dedicates herself to the classical and contemporary repertoire, also enhancing the composers of the Sicilian territory. Since 2017 she has been a clarinet teacher at the musical high school “A. Musco ”of Catania.
Chiara D'Aparo (Cello): She began studying the cello at a very young age in her hometown. In 2007 she was admitted to the cello school at the "V. Bellini ”in Catania where in 2012 she graduated, under the guidance of M. Salemi, with full marks. She carries out an intense chamber music activity that sees her part of various chamber ensembles, including the Clementi Trio, which has performed at S.C.A.M in Catania, A.F.A.M in Floridia and the Accademia Filarmonica di Messina, Concert Association of the city of Noto. Participates in numerous national and international competitions, always ranking in the first places. She also studied at the I Musici Di Parma Academy with G. Gnocchi and participated in masterclasses with R. Filippini, U. Clerici, U. Hoffman, G. Georgescu. She also frequently performs in orchestral formations, and in 2017 she also collaborated with the Santa Cecilia National Orchestra. In 2014 she graduated at the end of the two-year course for teacher training with full marks and honors and in 2015 she obtained the teaching qualification. As orchestral musician she played with internationally renowned artists such as D. Rivera, D. Rea, A. Ducros, E. Bosso, S. Bollani, S. Pagliani, C. Hartmann and M. Argherich. Currently she is improving with M ° Luigi Piovano, first solo cello of the national orchestra of Santa Cecilia. She is suitable for cello auditions in a row at the Regional Orchestra of Calabria, at the Vittorio Emanuele Theater in Messina and at the Massimo Vincenzo Bellini Theater in Catania.
Giulia Russo (Piano): She began studying piano in 2005 and in 2007 was admitted to the “V. Bellini” Higher Institute of Musical studies in Catania. Student of Prof. Maria Santina Schillaci, in 2016 she graduated in Piano with full marks and honors. In 2018 she obtained the second level Specialized Degree in Music Disciplines with full marks, honors and with the possibility of recording and printing the thesis. She has participated in numerous national and international piano competitions, reporting in all first prizes and absolute prizes. She performed in concert at the Mozarteum in Salzburg in the summer of 2014 and 2015. In September 2016 she performed as a soloist, together with the youth orchestra of the Bellini Institute, Beethoven's third concert for piano and orchestra. Since 2018 she has been part of the Clementi Trio, a chamber ensemble with a particular tonal refinement. She devoted herself to the activity of collaborating pianist for choirs and opera theater performances, a role she also held at the Massimo V. Bellini Theater in Catania. She has followed numerous master's degrees with great masters such as: Bruno Canino, Randall Benway, Violetta Egorova, Joaquìn Achùcarro, Grigory Gruzman, Gerlinde Otto, Natalia Troull, Fulvio Turissini, Benedetto Lupo, Andrea Lucchesini. Currently she attends the two-year specialist course at the Accademia del Ridotto in Stradella under the guidance of M. Aquiles Delle Vigne and the three-year specialist chamber music at the Centro Studi Musica e Arte in Florence with M. Pier Narciso Masi.
Vanessa Grasso begins studying the clarinet under the push of her grandfather musician. In 2006 she was admitted to the "V. Bellini" Conservatory in Catania in the class of M. C. Dell’Acqua. She graduated in 2011 with full marks and continued his academic study, obtaining, at the same Institute, in 2014 the degree at the end of the two-year period for the training of teachers with full marks and honors and in 2015 the teaching qualification with full marks. At the same time she attended one-year specialization courses with maestro C. Palermo and various master classes with masters P. Messina, M. Jodar, V. Paci, G. Punzi. She has always been involved in a conspicuous concert activity in various chamber ensembles and in several theatrical works. With the Clementi Trio she dedicates herself to the classical and contemporary repertoire. Since 2017 she has been a clarinet teacher at the musical high school “A. Musco ”of Catania.
(b Acireale, 11 Feb 1934). Italian composer. He was born into a cultured Sicilian family, whose independent resources permitted him to develop his singular gifts in both the visual arts and music without the constraints imposed by a search for early recognition. In 1953 he moved to Rome, to study within the university faculty of arts (1954–5), and to pursue private composition lessons with Robert W. Mann (1954–9). Thereafter he taught himself, maintaining an oblique but canny view over the wilder reaches of the avant garde. In 1960 he became one of the founder-members (along with Evangelisti, Clementi and others) of the Roman new music association Nuova Consonanza. Another major source of new discoveries was the annual Palermo International New Music Week, founded in 1960, the third edition of which included the first public performance of his music (L'anima e i prestigi of 1962).
(b Verona, 9 June 1927; d 17 Aug 2000). Italian composer and teacher. His childhood was passed in the constricted ambience of provincial life during the two decades of fascist rule. The only child of a council employee in Verona, he was an isolated and friendless boy, and although studious, seemed to possess little flair for language and argument. His parents circumspectly concluded that he was best fitted for a career as a bank clerk, but also thought it prudent to let him study the violin, hoping that he might earn supplementary income from the Arena di Verona orchestra in due course. Indeed, it was the family's annual excursions to operatic performances at the arena that provided a highpoint of artistic excitement during his youth, though the bands that enlivened the family's long Sunday afternoon walks also exerted their fascination. Even so, a musical vocation at first seemed implausible: he made no striking progress on the violin, and failed to pass his first solfeggio examination at the Verona Liceo Musicale. Yet despite these setbacks he seemed determined to gain a technical grasp of music. Guided from 1942 by Piero Bottagisio at the Liceo Musicale, he managed to pass the entrance examination for the composition course at the Bolzano Conservatory. But the final years of World War II obliged all prudent teenagers to stay indoors: schools were open one day a week at best, and the SS patrolled the streets, ready to consign those who aroused suspicion to concentration camps. When in 1945 the Americans liberated Verona, Donatoni was able to complete his school diploma and commit himself to studying composition. He enrolled in the Milan Conservatory, but found himself in the doldrums since his professor Ettore Desderi, accused of collaboration, did almost nothing. Advised to transfer to the Bologna Conservatory in 1948, he at last found a sympathetic environment, and his studies under its director, Lino Liviabella, prospered. An ancient radio allowed him to confront the challenges of the previous 30 years through the broadcasts of Guido Turchi: though not engaged by Stravinsky or Schoenberg, he was profoundly impressed by a transmission of Bartók's Fourth Quartet, and fascinated by Petrassi's First Concerto for Orchestra. Travelling to Venice to attend the first performance of Petrassi's Noche oscura in 1951, he plucked up courage and introduced himself. Petrassi told him that he might resume contact once his composition diploma at Bologna was completed later that year.
Giovanni Sollima was born in Palermo in 1962 into a family of musicians. He studied in Palermo, Salzburg and Stuttgart, and, still a teenager, embarked on a brilliant international career of cellist, collaborating with Claudio Abbado, Martha Argerich, Jorg Demus and Giuseppe Sinopoli.
Alongside the soloist carrer, his creative curiosity led him to explore new frontiers in the field of Composition: his unmistakable style is characterized by contaminations between different genres: minimalism, rock, electronic and ethnic music from all over the Mediterranean area, with echoes of ancient and baroque music, on the basis of a thorough classical training.
His music has been played by classical performers such as Yo-Yo Ma, Riccardo Muti, Antonio Pappano, Daniele Gatti, Gidon Kremer with the Kremerata Baltica, Ivan Fischer, Mischa Maisky, Viktoria Mullova, Yuri Bashmet with the Moscow Soloists, Sol Gabetta, Katia and Marielle Labeque, Ruggero Raimondi, Mario Brunello, Bruno Canino, La Scala Philharmonic Orchestra, the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Il Giardino Armonico, the Accademia Bizantina, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Berliner Philharmoniker String Quintet, the Berliner Konzerthausorchester, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Manchester Camerata, the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and the pop stars Patti Smith, Larry Coryell, Mauro Pagani, Stefano Bollani, Elisa (protagonist of his opera Ellis Island).
For cinema and television he composed for Peter Greenaway (The Tulse Luper Suitcases and Nightwatching), John Turturro (Evidence for a Sicilian Tragedy), Carlos Saura (La Jota), Marco Tullio Giordana (One Hundred Steps and The Best Youth), Lasse Gjertsen (Daydream). For the theater he wrote and performed music for directors such as Robert Wilson, Alessandro Baricco, Peter Stein. In 2006 Peter Greenaway chose his music for the large installation staged in Amsterdam in the fourth centenary of Rembrandt. In the dance field he collaborated with many great choreographers, such as Karole Armitage, Bebe Miller and Carolyn Carlson who, at the Venice Biennale, made him play on stage, among the dancers, using his scenic charisma.
As a soloist, or with different instrumental groups, he performed his compositions all over the world: the Carnegie Hall, the Merkin Hall and the Brooklyn Academy Music in New York, La Scala in Milan, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Wigmore Hall in London, the Salle Gaveau in Paris, the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, the Liszt Academy in Budapest, the Istanbul International Festival, the Tokyo Summer Festival, the Sydney Opera House, the Tanglewood Festival, the Santa Cecilia Auditorium in Rome, the Venice Biennale, the Ravenna Festival, the Konzerthaus in Berlin, the Kronberg Festival, the Kunstfest in Weimar, the Lockenhaus Festival, the Amsterdam Biennäle, the Piatigorsky Festival in Los Angeles, the opening of the Italian Pavilion at Expo 2010 in Shanghai with La Scala Orchestra, with tours in the UK, Holland, the U.S.A., Canada, Russia, Japan, China, Australia. Prestigious venues, as well as alternative ones, nearer to the younger audience, such as the Knitting Factory in New York, a real underground temple, when the Pulitzer Prize Justin Davidson describes him as “The Jimi Hendrix of the Cello”. Remarkable is the cello performance in the Sahara Desert and the one underwater in a sicilian’ gebbia (a tank for irrigation’ water).
In 2012 he had been the main creator and the artistic director of the explosive musical ensemble of the 100 Cellos, which in six years had performed with his “Itinerant Festival” in Rome, Milan, Budapest, Turin, Ravenna and Lucca.
The Municipality of Milan commissioned to Sollima the sound theme for Expo 2015, which inaugurated the new exhibition hall for the Pietà Rondanini by Michelangelo.
On June 2, 2017, for the Festa della Repubblica, he performed a concert at the Quirinale in front of the Presidents of the Republic and of the Chambers, and all the ambassadors from all over the world. Right now he is writing the music for the next movie by Anatoly Vasiliev.
Among the many cd, we remember Aquilarco for Point Music/Polygram (on invitation by Philip Glass), Works and When We Were Trees for Sony, Neapolitain Concertos and the Sonatas for Cello by Giovanni Battista Costanzi for Glossa Music, Caravaggio, 100 Cellos live at Teatro Valle and Aquilarco live in New York for Egea Music, Onyricon, Il Caravaggio rubato and A Clandestine Night in Rome for Decca.
Sollima plays a cello Francesco Ruggeri (Cremona, 1679). Moreover he uses in his creations western and eastern acoustic instruments and electrical and electronic tools, mixed with others of his own invention, such as the aquilarco, and others especially made for him, like the tenor violin present in the paintings of Caravaggio and an ice-cello that in the winter of 2007 he played at 3200 meters above sea level, in an igloo’ theater built in a glacier of the Dolomites.
Since 2010, he’s been teaching at the National Academy of Santa Cecilia, where he was awarded the title of Academician.
He publishes his works with Casa Musicale Sonzogno in Milan.
Nino Rota: (b Milan, 3 Dec 1911; d Rome, 10 April 1979). Italian composer. He grew up surrounded by music: his mother Ernesta Rinaldi was a pianist and the daughter of the composer Giovanni Rinaldi (1840–95). At the age of eight he was already composing, and in 1923 a well-received performance of his oratorio L’infanzia di S Giovanni Battista established him as a child prodigy. In the same year he entered the Milan Conservatory, where his teachers included Giacomo Orefice. After a brief period of study with Pizzetti, he moved to Rome (1926), where he studied with Casella, and took his diploma at the Conservatorio di S Cecilia three years later. On the advice of Toscanini he studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia (1931–2) with Rosario Scalero (composition) and Fritz Reiner (conducting). He formed a friendship with Aaron Copland and discovered American popular song, cinema and the music of Gershwin: all these elements were grafted on to his passion for Italian popular song and operetta.
On his return to Italy, barely into his twenties, Rota attracted the attention of audiences and critics with a large body of music, predominantly chamber and orchestral works. At a time of open warfare between innovators and traditionalists (sustained by the mood established by the Fascist régime favouring warfare), Rota’s style, in part building on the example of Malipiero, displayed original characteristics. Works such as Balli (1932), the Viola Sonata (1934–5), the Quintet (1935), the Violin Sonata (1936–7) and his first two symphonies (1935–9 and 1937–41) show Rota’s trust in an unbroken link with the music of the past. This made Rota’s idiom exceptionally and uninhibitedly responsive to the widest variety of influences, supported, as it was, by a masterly technique, an elegant manner and a capacity for stylistic assimilation. His language at this time is strikingly different from the contemporary predominant directions in Italy. For example, the symphonies draw on a middle-European, Slav symphonic tradition (Tchaikovsky, but possibly Dvořák even more so), probably absorbed during his American period and already infused with cinematic mood. He contributed to the renewal of Italian music with a body of work that has an immediacy of gesture and is rooted in a rare lyricism, built on harmonic languages, formal structures and a rhythmic and melodic idiom which sound distinctive and original. Gianandrea Gavazzeni commented of the Sonata for flute and harp (1937) that he heard ‘the voice of an Italian Ravel, archaic, intimate, the voice of one who has invented a style that did not exist before’.
After World War II, Rota’s critical fortunes altered considerably when, in the wake of the post-Webern movement, his work was increasingly judged to be anachronistic. This opinion was strengthened by his growing establishment as a film composer, held by many to be insignificant and uninvolved in the contemporary music scene. He continued, however, to write music for the concert hall and the opera house, with a constant cross-fertilization between the two areas: for a European composer this was an oblique, pioneering approach. In film music he used his eclectic inclinations and treated the boundaries of the film medium as a challenge, so producing some of the finest music of the genre.
He became a lecturer at Bari Conservatory (1939), and later its director (1950–77). In 1942, Rota began his long collaboration with the Lux Film company, directed by, among others, Guido M. Gatti and Fedele D’Amico. He created the music for around 60 films in ten years by such directors as Renato Castellani (Mio figlio professore, Sotto il sole di Roma), Mario Soldati (Le miserie del signor Travet), Alberto Lattuada (Senza pietà, Anna) and Eduardo De Filippo (Napoli milionaria, Filumena Marturano). In 1952, with Lo sceicco bianco (The White Sheik), he began an association with Fellini which lasted until the composer’s death. Of their 16 films, some achieve an extraordinary marriage of music and image, such as I vitelloni, La strada, La dolce vita, 8½, Amarcord and Il Casanova di Federico Fellini. Although it is generally thought that the director dominated the composer, the situation was more subtle and problematic as the music was required to fulfil a narrative and psychological role, frequently featured at the expense of the text itself. Fellini’s film style owes a great deal to Rota’s virtuosity, adaptability and insight. Examples include the many circus marches inspired by Julius Fučík’s Einzug der Gladiatoren and the engaging parody of Weill’s Moritat von Mackie Messer in the theme of La dolce vita. In addition, Rota’s tendency to quote, sometimes to the point of plagiarism – the theme for Gelsomina in La strada is based on the Larghetto of Dvořák’s Serenade, op.22 – was a genuine inclination which converged with Fellini’s imagery, to the point where it identified with it and lent it dignity. Rota’s film career, amounting to over 150 titles, included collaborations with Luchino Visconti (Rocco e i suoi fratelli and Il gattopardo [The Leopard]) and directors such as René Clément, Franco Zeffirelli, King Vidor, Sergei Bondarchuk, as well as on the first two parts of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.
Rota composed in a wide variety of genres, writing pieces of an almost provocative simplicity. His Ariodante (1942), audaciously 19th-century in manner, was followed by works reminiscent of operetta and vaudeville, such as I due timidi (1950), La notte di un nevrastenico (1959) and the overwhelming farce Il cappello di paglia di Firenze (1955). These works show an ability to produce instant sketches which the composer himself described as the product of his familiarity with the rhythm of film-making. Another favoured genre was that of the fairy tale as in Aladino e la lampada magica(1968) and La visita meravigliosa (1970), considered perhaps his finest score for the theatre.
The most significant orchestral works are the 3 piano concertos, the Sinfonia sopra una canzone d’amore (1947), the Variazioni sopra un tema gioviale (1953), Symphony No.3 (1956–7) and several concertos for various instruments. His piano and chamber music includes many original compositions, such as the 15 Preludes or the Due Valzer sul nome di Bach for piano (1975; re-used in Casanova), the Violin Sonata (1936–7), the String Quartet (1948–54), two trios (1958 and 1973) and a nonet (1959–77). His vocal music includes the oratorio Mysterium (1962) and the rappresentazione sacra, La vita di Maria (1968–70), in which a style derived in part from the neo-madrigalist manner of such composers as Petrassi and Dallapiccola results in an operatic-sounding eclecticism, with influences filtered through Stravinsky but rooted in other Eastern European styles (Musorgsky, for example).
Rota had frequent recourse to self-borrowing, increasingly apparent in the later film music and stage works. As a whole, Rota’s work is a dense web of continual, multiple references where – in line with the composer’s declared intention – film music and art music are allowed equal dignity. As early as Il cappello di paglia di Firenze he drew together material from preceding works, but it is particularly in a masterpiece like the ballet La strada (1966) and in the opera Napoli milionaria (1977) where self-quotation becomes a point of synthesis and revelation of his essential style. His first film score for Fellini, Lo sceicco bianco, stands out as a source-composition, a model of one of Rota’s specific musical languages; other scores for Fellini as well as Il cappello di paglia, Il giornalino di Gian Burrasca and the incidental music for Much Ado about Nothing draw material from it. La strada makes use of themes from many works, including Lo sceicco bianco, Le notti di Cabiria, Rocco e i suoi fratelli, Concerto soirée and 8½, while Napoli milionaria uses quotations from Filumena Marturano, Plein soleil, La dolce vita, Rocco e i suoi fratelli and Waterloo. Rota’s uninhibited language corresponds in aesthetic terms to this flood of quotation, and the two aspects offer new definitions of such terms as ‘new’ or ‘originality’.