Angelo Francesco Lavagnino was born in Genoa Italy on February 22nd 1909, he came from a musical family and was attracted to film music from an early age when he heard an orchestra accompany a silent movie. In many film music connoisseurs opinions Lavagnino was one of the Fathers of Italian film music, an innovator and a highly talented and original music-smith he graduated from the Giuseppe Verdi music conservatory in Milan, with a diploma in violin and composition and spent much of his early career working as a musician in orchestras that were performing in the concert halls and opera houses in Italy. Whilst doing this he also began to teach music and it was during this period that Lavagnino decided to start to compose music for film, his first foray into film scoring came in 1947 when he wrote the music for the comedy drama, NATALE AL CAMPO 119, which was directed by Pietro Francisci and starred Vittorio de Sica. As the 1950,s began Lavagnino started to become known within his native Italy as a composer of great talent producing music of high quality and also he was able to adapt to any genre or style of film. He also continued to teach music at this time and helped other composers come to grips with the technicalities of film scoring, one such composer was Francesco De Masi who he not only tutored but engaged as an assistant for a few years.
The composers first major film scoring assignment came in 1951 when he provided the soundtrack for OTHELLO which was directed by Orson Welles, Lavagnino also scored the actor/directors FALSTAFF-CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT in 1965 and it was probably because of his first collaboration with Welles that the composer began to be offered assignments on bigger budget productions which included non-Italian movies such as Henry Hathaway’s action, drama, adventure LEGEND OF THE LOST, which starred John Wayne, Sophia Loren and Rossano Brazzi in 1957.
The British made GORGO in 1961 and Italian/American co-production ESTHER AND THE KING for Director Raoul Walsh in 1960. Lavagnino seemed to excel when he wrote music for documentaries and won awards for his work in this particular area of film. At The Cannes film festival in 1955 he was nominated for the Palme d’Or for his music to CONTINENTE PERDUTO and won the special jury prize at the same festival for the score. In the same year he won the Silver ribbon award for his score to CONTINENTE PERDUTO which came from The Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists. In 1956 his stunning score for L’IMPERO DEL SOLE (EMPIRE IN THE SUN ) garnered him another nomination from the film journalists and in 1957 he was awarded the silver ribbon from the same organisation for his music to VERTIGINE BIANCA (WHITE VERTIGO).
Lavagnino was Sergio Leone’s first choice of composer when the filmmaker was in pre-production on A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, but the director was persuaded to engage a lesser known young composer named Ennio Morricone, because the films distributor felt that Morricone would be a better choice. One wonders if the music for the Italian western genre would have evolved in a different way or indeed would have been as successful as it was if Lavagnino had scored the first Leone western. I say this because although Lavagnino’s music was always highly original it was certainly more classical in its style and sound than Morricone’s and often leaned towards a more Americanized or conventional sound as in Dimitri Tiomkin and Max Steiner with some elements of what can now be deemed as being Spaghetti infused passages. After A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, Lavagnino created numerous western scores and put his own unmistakable musical fingerprint upon them. In the latter part of 1964 and throughout 1965, Lavagnino composed the score for 5000 DOLLARI SULL’ASSO which was his first foray into the Euro-western Arena, in addition to this he penned the scores to, THE TRAMPLERS, L’UOMO DALLA PISTOLA D’ORO, THE MAN FROM CANYON CITY, OCASO DE UN PISTOLERO, SEVEN HOURS OF GUNFIRE, JOHNNY WEST IL MANCINO, SOLO CONTRO TUTTI and the comedy western I DUE SERGENTI DEL GENERALE CUSTER.
He also provided music too at least another seven western movies over the next few years one of the last being, SAPEVANO SOLO UCCIDERE in 1971. Lavagnino scored over 300 movies during his illustrious career, which included, THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES,CONSPIRACY OF HEARTS,FIVE BRANDED WOMEN,THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII,THE LOST CONTINENT,THE NAKED MAJA,VENERE IMPERIALE,L’ULTIMO PARADISO and THE WIND CANNOT READ, and was responsible for creating some of cinemas most haunting and atmospheric soundtracks, his music supporting, enhancing, ingratiating and in certain cases almost caressing the movie or project he was involved with. The composer passed away in Gavi , Italy on August 21st 1987.