CHRISTUS (1916).

Sleeve notes for the Kronos records release of CHRISTUS Music by Marco Frisina.

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The film CHRISTUS was released in 1916, it is a silent movie which tells the story of the life of Christ from the Virgin Mary’s visit from the angels telling of his coming, to his birth and through his early life and onto to his betrayal by Judas, the crucifixion and his resurrection and his ascension to the Kingdom of Heaven. The film is divided into three segments which are referred to as mysteries. The first of these includes the birth of Jesus, the Magi, Herod and the slaughter of the innocents, the escape to Egypt and Pilate. The second part takes in the preaching of the Jordan, the expulsion of the merchants from the Temple, the adulteress and his entry into Jerusalem. The third Mystery, is itself then divided into three separate parts, which are The Passion, The Death and The Resurrection.

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It is a stunning and emotive motion picture which I found difficult to stop watching. Directed by Giulio Antamoro and Enrico Guazzoni (unaccredited, after he was brought into the production to re-shoot certain scenes), Guazzoni was no stranger to Biblically slanted movies as it was he who worked on the 1912 version of QUO VADIS. Antamoro also co wrote/adapted the story for CHRISTUS collaborating with Ignazio Lupi, the film is I suppose a general telling of the Messiah’s life and deals with all the major occurrences that are told of in the Bible.

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The picture contains some interesting special effects which were in their infancy at the time of the films production, and these were by all accounts greatly appreciated by audiences who were astounded at the use of them having not seen their like before. One scene which stands out for me personally is the sequence where we see Judas being haunted by a horned spectre like figure which could either be seen as Lucifer tempting and coercing him or even his own conscious haunting him the figure manifests itself on three occasions to Judas, the final time is when we see the disciple hang himself and the earth opens below him revealing the fires of hell, either way the effect is superbly carried out and convincingly purveyed. The other thought provoking thing is that the star of Bethlehem is shown clearly as not a star at all, but as a comet, which could I suppose be conceived as Halley’s comet which reappears at certain times in world history. Also during the period when Jesus spends time in Egypt during his early life we can clearly see the SHPINX which at the time of the films production had still not yet been fully uncovered.

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The crucifixion scene is also impressively filmed as is the sequence leading up to it where we see Jesus carrying his own cross through the streets being mocked as the King of the Jews a crown of thorns spitefully pushed onto his head and being pushed and flogged by his escort and jeered at by the watching crowds.

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CHRISTUS was beset by problems after filming and although production began in 1914 the film did not receive its premiere until 1916, this was due to sections of the film being damaged and made unwatchable during the editing stage. The version of CHRISTUS that we see today was restored by the renowned Titanus films founder Goffredo Lombardo who made it a labour of love because it was his Mother who took the role of the Virgin Mary in the movie. The film was shown at the 57th Venice Film Festival with the soundtrack being adapted for live performance on two pianos. The musical score for the movie which was added in 1999 is the work of acclaimed Italian composer, scholar and Monsignor Marco Frisina. The Maestro has fashioned a work that is filled with celestial magnificence, highly emotive and inspiring thematic material and plaintive and poignant passages which are embellished and complimented by dramatic and powerful compositions.
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Being a silent movie the music is almost continuous and adds much to the dramatic and emotional content of the motion picture, written for large orchestra and choir the composer has provided the film with a work that is not simply a musical wallpaper or background it is an important and vitally integral part of the story telling process and not only underlines and supports the images but acts as another component expressing to audiences the emotion the melancholy and also the powerful fearsome and foreboding elements that are required for such a story. The composer also utilised a style not dissimilar to the ancient Gregorian Chant repertoire for certain scenes and sequences which added another dimension to the proceedings and further underlined the deep spiritual ambience of the film and story.

MARCO FRISINA.
MARCO FRISINA.

Frisina is no stranger to scoring movies and has written numerous scores for films that have a religious content, but he is also responsible for scoring an equal amount that have storylines which are removed from the religious world. The composer also writes music which is not confined to the restrictions of motion pictures and television his credits include music especially composed for the Vatican that include Operas, Oratorio’s, Masses, songs, hymns and recordings dedicated to Saints and Pontiffs. He has also collaborated with many artists most notably Ennio Morricone on film and television soundtracks.

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Frisina was born in Rome in 1954, at the age of 11 taught himself to read music as well as playing the piano and composition. He studied at the Conservatory at Saint Cecilia, and was awarded diplomas in conducting, piano and composition. He completed his theological studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University and earned a certificate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical institute. He was ordained as a Priest on April 24th 1982. This is the first time that the music for CHRISTUS has been issued on a compact disc, and is an important release and one that I hope will be the first of many of Frisina’s works to be released on the Kronos records label.

John Mansell © 2016. Movie Music International. IFMCA.

EL PURO

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EL PURO MUSIC BY ALESSANDRO ALESSANDRONI, WAS DUE TO BE RELEASED A WHILE AGO, BUT BECAUSE OF COPYRIGHT ISSUES IT HAS BEEN POSTPONED. These are the notes I wrote for the CD release.

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Alessandro Alessandroni, is a name that is synonymous with the world of Italian film music, he is not only a performer and leader of the famous IL CANTORI MODERNI but he is also a gifted, talented and highly innovative composer. It is probably true to state that Alessandroni has been involved with 99 percent of the film scores that came out of Italy between 1964 and up to the late 1980,s. His style is distinctive as a performer with his instantly recognisable whistle being the Maestros trademark sound. He is a gifted guitar player and also performed Sitar, piano and mandolin on many occasions and provided vocals on so many soundtracks it is difficult to comprehend this maestros boundless contributions to the art of film music.

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His collaboration with artists such as Edda Dell Orso is well known and of course he was the preferred whistler, guitarist and choir master of composers such as Armando Trovajoli, Francesco de Masi, Piero Umiliani, Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai, as well as working with many other composers such as Nico Fidenco, Gianni Ferrio, Marcello Giombini, Gianni Marchetti and Giacamo dell Orso to name but a few. His range is vast and his musical prowess towering. Born in Soriano nel Cimino which is a short distance from Rome, as a young performer Alessandroni would completely and totally concentrate upon the folk music traditions of the Lazio area of Italy. Assisted by a friend he began to learn the basics of the guitar and learnt chords that would act as a foundation for the rest of his musical education, as a teenager he acquired his first mandolin and then began to listen to classical music but by the time he was in his last years of school he had mastered the instrument and formed his own band which would perform at dances and other functions. He soon became familiar with various instruments and would play these with confidence, they included Accordion, Guitar, Bass Tuba and Tenor Sax.

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It was the Tenor Sax and his first encounters with Jazz that convinced him that it was music he wanted to take up as a career, he then toured Europe performing in various clubs as a singer and pianist. After his tour of Europe he returned to Italy and formed a singing group, THE FOUR CARAVELS and performed on a popular Italian TV show CANZONISSIMA, it was at this time that a childhood friend who was also a composer asked him to collaborate on the soundtrack to a western movie, the film was A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and the composer was of course Ennio Morricone. It was at the request of Morricone that the group of singers was expanded to become 16 in number and renamed IL CANTORI MODERNI. The rest as they say is history, Alessandroni went on to work on hundreds of film scores as performer and choir master but also began to compose his own film scores and in his illustrious career has been responsible for penning over fifty soundtracks for both film and television.

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He soon gained a reputation for being a consummate and highly polished and professional artist, but even after working on so many projects and in essence creating the sound along with Morricone that would become established as the style and musical persona of the Italian Western genre, Alessandroni still remains unaffected and modest stressing that he is a performer and not a star the stars are the composers.

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This recording is the first release of the actual film score from the western EL PURO ( LA TAGLIA E TUA…L’UOMO L’AMMAZZO IO) (1969), there was a re recording released which featured Alessandroni many years ago which contained an extended suite of music from the movie, but these are the original session recordings. The central theme is very much in the style of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS with underlying influences of THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY with the core theme being whistled flawlessly by the composer and accompanied by harmonica and organ with the added support of a galloping percussion that is bolstered by choir and interspersed by barking male voices and electric guitar that are all underlined and tied together with strings. In fact I suppose that one could refer to this as text book Spaghetti western. The theme which is primarily a five note motif is repeated throughout the score either performed in whistling form or given a rendition on electric guitar. There is also a secondary theme in the form of a lilting and romantic sounding Spanish guitar solo that is enhanced with subdued sounding organ both this and the core theme for the soundtrack make appearances throughout in various arrangements the main theme being given a slower tempo at times and performed by harmonica and aided by a scattering of brass.

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Directed by Edoardo Mulargia, EL PURO starred genre stalwart Robert Woods, his character is something of a down and out at the beginning of the movie, he is a drunk and hiding away in a small border village scared of his own shadow and portraying himself as an individual that fears everything even his own shadow. What we learn as the movie opens up is that in fact the Woods character is a famous gunslinger who is hiding away from the many would be gunfighters that want to make a name for themselves by killing him. So he hides away in a perpetual state of intoxication in the hope that it will shield him from being found. His only support and compassion coming from a saloon girl Rosie played with conviction and warmth by Rosalba Neri who has recognised him, she decides to help him and takes him in to get him back to health in the hope that they can make a life together. Unbeknown to Rosie and El Puro a sadistic gang leader Gypsy portrayed by Marco Fiorini under the alias of Ashburn Hamilton jnr, who has recently escaped prison arrives in the village with his band of cutthroats looking for El Puro not knowing how low he has sunk too, Gypsy is determined to find him and kill him for his own pleasure and collect the 1.000 dollar reward that is still on his head.

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This is where we can draw comparisons with FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE as Gypsy is in many ways similar to El Indio the villain of that piece. Rosie is killed by Gypsy and his gang and it is now time for El Puro to return to avenge her. Its not a classic Spaghetti western but it certainly has some interesting twists and turns and there is no doubt it is an entertaining example within the genre.

John Mansell Movie Music International.(ifmca).

THE McGREGORS AND MORRICONE.

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Maestro Ennio Morricone is probably the most prolific composer of film music in the 20th Century and continues to surprise and delight fans in the 21st Century only the other day we were presented with a new score by the Maestro which is unmistakably Morricone through and through, he just has the amazing ability to establish a sound and his style in the opening bars of any melody or theme that he pens and his undeniably unique musical fingerprint is recognised by all instantly. He not only writes for film and television but does also make the a number of forays into the world of what aficionados like to refer to as being “SERIOUS” music which is for concert hall performance. However if you were to stop a member of the public who knew just a little about films and music and ask them who is Ennio Morricone they would probably answer “He is the Italian guy who writes music for westerns” which is to a point true I suppose, but when you take a look at the musical output of this great music-smith one can see that western film scores take up a very small percentage of his contributions to film. As a collector of Italian music I am pleased to say that most of Morricone,s western scores have been released in complete editions or at least have had the odd track here and there on a compilation or music collection allowing collectors to at least savour certain cues from the scores. It is as we all are aware the Western score or the western sound that he invented along with director Sergio Leone on the DOLLAR movies, the composers creativity and originality when writing for western films more or less rejuvenated film music collectors interest in the western score and it is this type of soundtrack that the Maestro is still best known for, although I don’t think that Morricone himself would agree with this. Two westerns that were scored by Morricone however do remain unpublished, apart from a track or two along the way, which invariably were the same tracks on each occasion and were included in most collections of his work for the “Spaghetti Western”, as it was crudely dubbed by critics outside of Italy.

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The two scores in question are, SEVEN GUNS FOR THE McGREGORS and SEVEN WOMEN FOR THE McGREGORS and it looks as if these two westerns scores are never going to be issued on a compact disc in complete form with various reasons being given as to why, but these last two Morricone western scores are certainly worth waiting for and I am sure that they will go like those veritable hot cakes that always seem to sell so well as soon as anyone decides to issue them on compact disc. Released in 1966, SEVEN GUNS FOR THE McGREGORS was in fact the first movie to be produced by Jolly Films after filmmaker Sergio Leone had departed the company, his assistant director for the film A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, Franco Giraldi was given the job of helming the production which starred Robert Woods, Agata Flori, Alberto Dell’Acqua and Fernando Sancho and to be fair Giraldi made a pretty good job of things. The production team involved on SEVEN GUNS FOR THE McGREGORS also included a number of technicians etc that had worked alongside Leone on the first DOLLAR movie and this also included composer Ennio Morricone.
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The movie itself is essentially a comedy but also surprisingly contains a large amount of quite brutal violence, a hefty body count along the way and lots of what can be seen as rip roaring action scenes and brawls. The movie which was based on an idea by Duccio Tessari was filmed on location near Guadix, it boasted a couple of impressive scenes these were a particularly realistic and tense knife fight which took place on a waterwheel and also a really exciting and exhilarating attack on a train, in fact the assault on the train was so realistic that actor Fernando Sancho who portrayed one of the stories villains was nearly decapitated by an iron bridge as the train passed under it.
Thankfully Sancho escaped unscathed, which is more than can be said for some of his fellow cast members who sustained broken ribs and other injuries but were forced to carry on as the budget and schedule for the film was so tight. A number of the cast for the movie had originally been either stunt doubles or Circus performers so the frantically paced action scenes were at times very fast and certainly furiously entertaining. Ennio Morricone’s score was somewhat different from the western scores he had produced during this period of his career, written in the year after he worked on films such as A PISTOL FOR RINGO, THE RETURN OF RINGO and Leone’s FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and in the same year as THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY,NAVAJO JOE,THE HILLS RUN RED and THE BIG GUNDOWN.

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The Mcgregors score seemed to contain more of an American sound to it, by this I mean that the composer scored the movie in a fashion which was original but not as unique as his approach on A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, with cues such as SANTE FE EXPRESS being expansive and urgent but also containing a more typical western sound or at least a western sound that we had become used to. Morricone making effective use of timpani (racing snares) and near anthem like but at the same time urgent sounding brass that is supported by choir underlined by strings and punctuated by piano.
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The striking and pulsating opening theme is presented in the form of a somewhat tongue in cheek sounding march “MARCIA DI McGREGORS” underlines perfectly the persona of the central figures within the movie and adds a certain comedic rawness or bawdiness to the proceedings with Alessandro Alessandroni’s excellent Il Cantori Moderni providing the vocals and mid way through the track the whistling that are interspersed with shrill sounding Harmonica and Bagpipe effects supported by thundering martial sounding drums that just underline the Scottish connections of the McGregor family. The style that the composer employs at times within the score echoes the sounds of the Italian western soundtrack before it had truly established itself, by this I mean it is at times like listening to a western score that was written before or at the time of Leone’s first Dollar movie, however this does not take anything away from the quality of the soundtrack as this is a western score to die for, in fact anything from this period and by Morricone is an essential purchase. The sequel SEVEN WOMEN FOR THE McGREGORS (aka-UP THE McGREGORS), which was released in 1967. Actor Robert Woods did not return for this second outing of the troublesome Scottish family but like the previous movie it was directed by Franco Giraldi and was again a combination of comedy, action and violent scenes which are at times even more brutal and horrific than the first movie, we are treated (if that’s the right terminology) to executions, torture scenes and also a massacre of an entire towns population and a harrowingly effective scene that involves a child walking through the town being the only survivor of the carnage.

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Robert Woods was replaced by almost unknown actor David Bailey, which was something of a risk on the part of the producers but a risk that paid off as Bailey was an impressive replacement for Woods. In this tale The McGregors gold is stolen by the same Mexican bandits under the leadership of Leo Anchoriz reprising his role from the previous outing and the McGregor boys set off in hot pursuit to retrieve it along the way encountering seven Irish women who they become romantically involved with, a cross eyed dentist also pops into the storyline and there are even more full on fist fights and drunken situations dotted throughout the storyline. Morricone again supplied the music, the original theme or a variation of it at least being utilised at certain points, but the remainder of the score was more of a low key melodic affair with Morricone penning a particularly melancholy central theme for strings and harmonica, which could easily be mistaken for a theme from any of the Winnetou movies which were produced by the Germans during the early 1960,s. The lighter more subdued approach mirroring the romantic involvement of the McGregors with the seven Irish girls. Hopefully both scores will find their way onto compact disc very soon, they would fit perfectly into the essential purchase category and make loyal Morricone fans ecstatic. So who is going to release these two soundtracks.

BATTAGLIE DEL DESERTO.

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Yet another important and much requested soundtrack release from the now famed Digit movies label . This is the first ever compact disc release for Bruno Nicolai’s powerful soundtrack; the original vinyl release was on the Gemelli label, founded by the composer himself during the 1960’s. Long deleted, this latest version of the score not only includes the original LP cues but also has tracks from the films masters, all of which have been re-mastered to a high standard and sound excellent.

It’s all fairly typical of the style and sound of composer Nicolai, with a driving, forceful, martial-sounding theme featured throughout in various guises and arrangements. Upon closer examination, the central theme does have certain similarities to Morricone’s For a Few Dollars More, albeit with a slower tempo and performed on traditional instruments rather than whistled

However this observation does not in any way detract anything from Nicolai’s work, as it is without doubt one of the Maestro’s most accomplished soundtracks. Performed by full orchestra, it’s compelling and highly listen-able and is more than capable of standing on its own two feet as an entertaining and vibrant collection of themes away from the images that it was intended to enhance.

The score also contains a number of quieter and lighter moments as in track number nine, Nancy, which is a particularly melodic and charming Spanish guitar solo that wouldn’t be out of place on a Spaghetti western soundtrack. Track number seventeen, a jazzy, almost sleazy sounding version of Red Blues, features on the CD twice. Nicolai wrote a number of cues for the score which were utilised as source music, which are completely different from the style of his main score but – surprisingly – don‘t sound at all out of place. So another triumph for Digit Movies, and another great Italian film score saved from obscurity. Highly recommended.

ANDA MUCHACHA SPARA/DJANGO SPARA PRIMO.

Two spaghetti western scores on one compact disc, both by the same composer Bruno Nicolai, yet both original and individual in their style and sound.
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Anda muchacha spara (Dead Men Ride) is a western soundtrack from 1971 which most definitely belongs to the Morricone-esque school of western scoring, with plentiful use of choir solo trumpet, piano, organ and racing chase music. Django spara primo (Django Shoots First) from 1966 is more Americanised in style, displaying hardly any signs or musical trademarks that are normally associated with the spaghetti western, save for the central theme performed on solo trumpet. The remainder of the work is quite low key and fully orchestral, rather than utilising theelectric guitar as in other western scores that Nicolai worked on during this period.

Anda muchacha spara is the star score on this cd, containing all the stock sounds and attributes now associated with the western all’italiana: solo female voice, showdown music, tense riding themes and Mexican sounding mariachis. There is even a cue (track 5) that resembles Morricone’s ‘Addio Cheyenne’ track from Once Upon a Time in the West, a clumsy sounding but faintly attractive and entertaining piece employing a lazy sounding piano accompanied by a laid back banjo solo.

Track number eight is one of the compact discs highlights, with Nicolai utilising to great effect the flawless vocals of Edda Dell Orso (supported by underlying strings and the wonderful harmonising of IL CANTORI MODERNI). Nicolai produced an entertaining and highly accomplished scores for both of these movies, and excelled in his orchestration and composing on ANDA MUCHACHA SPARA..

The tracks on the compact disc do not actually have titles. Anda muchacha spara has a running time of just 24 mins 49 secs and takes up tracks 1 to 15 on the compact disc. Django spara primo is slightly longer in duration, at 25 mins 04 secs, and is numbered from track 16 through to track 28. So, a running time of just under 50 mins; but well worth the money even if its for the first score alone. Packaged adequately by CAM with descent art work, info on both movies and a short piece on Bruno Nicolai. Recommended.