Nino Rota

1911 1979

Nino Rota

Composer • Conductor • Author


Nino Rota was a 20th century Italian composer who was able to span the bridge between film music and music for the concert hall; he was successful in both genres, and the two genres influenced one another. He also enjoyed conducting, teaching, and literature. Rota’s music was instrumental in the renewal of Italian music and contributed new insight to the definition of originality.

Rota was born in Milan, Italy in 1911. He grew up surrounded by music, as his mother was a pianist and his grandfather was the composer Giovanni Rinaldi. By the age of 8 Rota had already began composing.

In 1923, at the age of 12, Rota composed the oratorio L’infanzi di S Giovanni Battista(1922-23), which was very well received and established his status as a child prodigy. In the same year, he entered the Milan Conservatory where he studied with Giacomo Orefice; he also studied briefly with Pizzetti. In 1926, Rota moved to Rome where he studied with Cassala at the Conservatorio di S Cecilia. He graduated in 1929 and was advised by Toscannini to study at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. He studied for two years at the Curtis Institute, from 1931 to 1932, with Rosario Scalero for composition and Fritz Reiner for conducting. While in Philadelphia, Rota formed a friendship with Aaron Copland and discovered American popular song, cinema, and the music of Gershwin. Impressed by these styles, he was able to combine them with his love for Italian popular song and operetta.

Rota's music renewed the lyricism of the Italian style while providing new harmonies and structures; his use of rhythm and melody are also unique. Rota’s Sonata for flute and harp (1937) was said by Gianandrea Gavazzeni to feature “the voice of an Italian Ravel, archaic, intimate, the voice of one who has invented a style that did not exist before.” During this period he also obtained a degree in literature from the University of Milan. After World War II, Rota’s music was considered anachronistic and he began to lose popularity in the classical world. His reputation, however, continued to grow as a film composer. Despite the fact that he was considered “insignificant and univolved” in the modern music scene, he continued to write for both the concert hall and the opera house in a way that blended the two genres, which was very innovative and unique in Europe.

Rota also composed later works outside the realm of the film genre. He composed operetta and vaudeville, concertos, and works for the orchestra. All of his later compositions show his familiarity with the film genre. His interest in fairy tales led toAladino e la Lampada Magica (1963-65), which was first performed in 1968 in Naples at the Teatro di San Carlo. HisLa vista meravigliosa (1970) was considered his best work for the theatre. His most significant orchestral works include his piano concertos (1959-60 and 1978), Symphony no. 3 (1956-7),Variazioni sopra un tema giovale (1953), Sinfonia sopra una canzone d’amore(1947), and the String Quartet (1948-54). His important vocal music includes the oratorioMysterium (1962) and La vita di Maria (1968-70), which is written in a neo-madrigalist style influenced by Petrassi and Dallapiccola. Other influences in the work includeStravinsky and Mussorgsky; the combination is operatic and eclectic.

In 1939, Rota became a lecturer at the Bari Conservatory, where he later was appointed director in 1950. Rota produced some of the finest music in the film genre. In 1942, he entered into a collaboration with the Lux Film Company, which was directed by Guido M. Gatti and Fedele D’Amico, among others. Within ten years, he scored the music to approximately 60 films. He worked with directors such as Renato Castellani and Eduardo De Filippo. Films from this period includeMio figlio professore (1946), Sotto il sole di Roma (1949), Le miserie del signor Travet(1945-46), Senza pietà (1948), Napoli milionaira (1950) , and Filumena Marturano (1951).

In 1952, Rota entered a new collaboration with Fellini that began with Lo sceicco bianco(1952). Together they worked on 16 films, resulting in an excellent pairing of music and image. Films from their partnership includeI vitelloni (1953), La strada (1954), La dolce vita (1960), 8½ (1963), Amarcord  (1973), and Il Casanova di Federico Fellini (1976). The music for these films served both narrative and psychological purposes. Rota’s music is also featured in the first two parts of the famous film,The Godfather (1972 and 1974). Throughout his film music career he collaborated with directors such as Luchino Visconti, René Clément, Franco Zeffirelli, King Vidor, and Sergei Bondarchuk. In total, Rota produced more than 150 film scores.

A predominant feature in Rota’s work is his tendency to borrow from himself and other composers. His works, especially his later works, contain many references to both art and film music; sometimes his quotes are almost to the point of plagiarism. For example, one of the themes inLa strada (1966) is based on the Larghetto ofDvořák’s Serenade; the work also includes many quotations of his earlier music. His circus marches were greatly inspired by Julius Fučík and Kurt Weill.

Nino Rota died in Milan in 1979. To this day, his works are frequently performed worldwide. In 1995, the Nino Rota Foundation was established in Venice, Italy.

Header image: courtesy of Italienu Other image: public domain

Rota returned to Italy in his early 20s. While in Italy he gained a large audience and positive critics. He was also able to produce a large quantity of music, predominantly chamber and orchestral works. His music of this time is highly original, yet built upon the example set by Malipero. Compositions from this period includeBalli (1931), the Viola Sonata (1934-5), Quintet (1935), Violin Sonata (1936-7), and his first two symphonies (1935-9 and 1937-41). These piece all provide a direct link to earlier music and have a wide variety of influences. His symphonies are influenced by middle-European music and Slavic composers such asTchaikovsky and Dvořák. The symphonies also contain signs of his cinematic tendencies.