Nino Rota (1911-1979) - musical godfather

Nino Rota photo - with thanks to Nina Rota Nino Rota was born into a musical family. Among other distinguished relatives, his Grandfather Giovanni Rinaldi was a famous pianist, and Nino used the name Nino Rinaldi with his grandfather's surname during his youth. Nino was a child prodigy and started composing at the age of 8. He studied at a number of places, including the Milan Conservatory and in Rome at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory. At the age of 20 he lived for a few years in the US and studied at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Following on from his early compositions he went on to compose for the stage, ballet and opera as well as numerous concert works. It is his film music that is best remembered (in part because of its more frequent performance), and this reached its peak with his extended artistic partnership with Italian film director Frederico Fellini, scoring many of his best-known films such as "La Strada", "La Dolce Vita", "The Clowns", "Roma" and "Casanova". He also worked at times with Visconti (on "The Leopard") and did the scores for Franco Zeffirelli's "The Taming of the Shrew" and "Romeo and Juliet". The latter film features the famous love theme, made familiar through its use on UK radio.

nino rota - romeo and juliet CD soundtrack Rota's film music style is characterised by a certain good-humoured energy verging on satire. His style was like a blend between the theatrical irony of Prokofiev and the impish wit of Francis Poulenc. He sometimes used a light jazz idiom, and could be compared with Mancini in some ways. He didn't completely ignore the emotional side of the films he scored, but avoided the overly sentimental by seemingly coming at the subject obliquely with a slight sense of the absurd. This slightly detatched feel is a characteristic most closely associated with European cinema, especially Italian and French films. While on the surface this description might sound like a lack of caring, it has often resulted in artisically pleasing and often very poignant, true-to-life stories when compared to the inevitable over-simplified Hollywood remakes. (It can help to think of this as using the whole colour spectrum rather than a patronising black and white.)

In a similar context, it is worth noting that Fellini featured circuses in a number of his films ("La Strada", "8 and 1/2", "Juliet of the Spirits" and of course the documentary "The Clowns"). This is not as extreme as a fixation, but simply a way of saying that "life is a circus" in a gently ironic way. Certainly this allowed Rota to use different examples of circus-like themes, which mfiles believes may have been the main inspiration for Danny Elfman's early style and his "Big Top Pee-Wee" in particular. Circus music is full of movement and Rota converted his music for "La Strada" into a 12-scene ballet based on the film's story of a young girl sold to a cruel travelling entertainer.

nino rota - the godfather CD soundtrack Rota's music was not all fun and games. Among several film adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, he scored "The Taming of the Shrew", "Romeo and Juliet" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream". Rota's Italian origin also made him the ideal choice for Francis Ford Coppola on the Godfather series. For this, Rota toned down the humour but still managed to retain an element of absurd whimsy amongst the macabre set pieces and dark tragedy. The later films in the series introduced compositions by the director's composer father Carmine Coppola, who also worked with his son to striking effect on "Apocalypse Now". The third Godfather film was made well after Rota's death, but still referred to his themes.

Rota also devoted much of his energy to teaching music. He settled in the city of Bari on Italy's Adiatic coast above the "heel". Rota taught at the Bari Conservatory, and became a director and something of a "godfather" to the many students who studied music there. Although best known for his film music Rota also composed for the concert hall, many of his pieces having thematic or stylistic connections to his film music. He wrote a Ballet and Concert Suite based on his music to "La Strada" and a suite of dances taken from the film "Il Gattopardo" (The Leopard). His "Concerto Soirée" is a Piano Concerto/Suite which also seems to be based on dance music.

See this BBC News item about the re-release of Visconti's "The Leopard" and with a focus on Rota's music.

Films by Nino Rota:

  • The White Sheikh
  • War and Peace (1956) - with Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda
  • The Glass Mountain - Rota wrote opera sequences for this, just as Herrmann did for Citizen Kane
  • Waterloo
  • La Dolce Vita - has a mixture of styles and textures, matching the film's good humoured yet somewhat detached view of life, the recurring thematic material often appearing as source music
  • La Strada - some of this music, including the circus themes, were incorporated by Rota into a ballet called "La Strada"
  • The Clowns - a documentary film
  • Il Bidone - aka "The Swindlers" another major film by Fellini
  • Roma
  • Boccaccio '70 - there are 4 segments to this film, two directed by Fellini and Visconti
  • Casanova
  • The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) - for director Visconti, the music is very classical in style almost as though it was written at the time of the film's setting in 1860s Sicily and the soundtrack includes a number of source-music dances plus an arrangement of a previously unpublished Waltz composed by Verdi
  • 8 and 1/2 - based on Fellini's life as a film director
  • Romeo and Juliet - this contains some Renaissance/Elizabethan music, and the well-known love-tragedy theme "A Time for Us" with a touch of Godfather to it
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • Waterloo
  • The Godfather 1, 2, 3 - slow, moody and tortured. Best Music Oscar for number two and the third film used Rota's music posthumously
  • Death on the Nile - a romantic score

Television music by Nino Rota:

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream

Nino-Rota - Recommendations:

sheet music - The Best of Nino Rota cover A number of tunes from the Godfather series can be found on movie theme collections as well as in sheet music form for piano. is a database-driven website with a comprehensive listing of all the composers works, and an introduction by the composer's daughter Nina Rota. For pianists we recommend The Nino Rota album from the "Original Soundtrack Collection" which contains both piano sheet music and a CD. This can be found at The Music Room or Sheet Music Plus. For soundtrack CD collectors, we can suggest the following items: