When discussing Ennio Morricone it is very often mentioned that he took instruction in music from Maestro Goffredo Petrassi, who also tutored fellow Italian composer and long-time associate of Morricone’s, Bruno Nicolai who would often conduct for other Italian composers as well as Morricone. It has often been said that this is probably why the two composers at times shared a similar style. In the early days of Morricone’s career Nicolai was often thought to be an alias that Morricone wrote under. However after searching through the extensive list of students that were taught by Petrassi which included Phillip Glass, I am puzzled as to why Nicolai’s name does not appear on it?
Petrassi was born near Rome in 1904 and was considered by many to be one of the most significant and influential Italian composers of the 20th Century. At the age of fifteen the young Petrassi began to work in a music shop to support his family, and this is probably where his love and interest of music was expanded and cemented. He is however. more associated with music for the concert hall, with his output in this area being prolific. Because of the composer’s commitments to teaching and the world of classical music his forays into scoring movies were few and far between, although when the composer did work on movie score’s he always produced works that were supportive as well as being thematic. Petrassi began to write for films back in the 1940’s and in total during his career he wrote the music for ten pictures, these included six feature films and four shorts, the shorts are rare sights, MUSICA NEL TEMPO (1941), CREAZIONE DEL MONDO (1947), LEZIONE DI GEOMETRIA (1948) and LA PORTA DI SAN PIETRO DI GIACOMO MANZU (1964).
He was known to refer to his association with the cinema as “AN UNREQUITED LOVE” and regretted not writing more for film. But it is also said that Petrassi discouraged the likes of Morricone from becoming involved in writing music for film. Which is advice that we as film music fans have to be glad that Morricone ignored.
His music was always received well by audiences and critics alike and it is a great pity that his scores for the features were not released apart from CRONACA FAMILIARE or FAMILY DIARY which was originally issued on the CAM label in 1962, and then re-issued onto compact disc in 1992 as part of the famous 100 disc CAM SOUNDTRACK ENCYCLOPEDIA. (CSE 076). The composers film score credits include, BITTER RICE (1949), UNDER THE OLIVE TREE (1950) and LA PATTUGLIA SPERDUTA (1954).
There are also stories of how Petrassi also acted as a musical advisor on THE BIBLE, for which he received no credit, ironically THE BIBLE was a film that Ennio Morricone had been asked to score, but his score was replaced by a Japanese composer Toshiro Mayuzumi’s work, after the films producers and director John Huston kept Morricone waiting for weeks in Rome for a decision . There is however another version of events which are probably more correct. Petrassi had been asked to score the movie and had worked long and hard on a score for the picture, however the director asked the composer to make many adjustments to his soundtrack. Petrassi after being kept waiting in Rome and also being told that his score needed to be re-written in places decided to withdraw his music and took the score back from the production. Enter then Ennio Morricone who was at the time under contract to RCA, he was then asked to provide the score for the movie, he wrote some of his most exquisite music for the film according to Alessandro Alessandroni when I interviewed him. But the films producer wanted to work with Morricone on the score, the composers contract with RCA however did not allow this, so Morricone too pulled out of the assignment. Many of the themes that Morricone penned for THE BIBLE he re-introduced and worked into his score for the movie THE RED TENT.
CRONACA FAMILIARE, was directed by Valerio Zurlini and was based around the characters and events in the boo by author Vasco Pratolini, the movie starred Italian heartthrob Marcello Mastroianni and lesser known actor Jaques Perrin who portray two Brothers who have been separated and brought up apart. Until that is their Mother dies and the two siblings are reunited because of trouble within the family.
The younger Brother Lorenzo played by Perrin is eight years younger than Enrico (Mastroianni) the reason that the Brothers were separated was because their Mother passed away whilst giving birth to Lorenzo, at which point he was adopted by the butler of a well to do family, whilst Enrico was left with his Grandmother to be brought up in virtual poverty. It is an engrossing and emotional drama and one that has been described as one of the very rare male tear-jerker movies in the history of Italian cinema.
The score by Petrassi, is in many ways typical of what we were hearing in Italian movies from this period, fellow composer Nino Rota employed a similar style and achieved a comparative sound when he scored many of the movies of Fellini. The same can be said for composers such as Lavagnino and a number of others that were working in film scoring in the country during this period, Mario Nascimbene as another example. Petrassi combined dramatic symphonic themes with that of a more intimate and traditional Italian sound and added to this a sense of mystery which he conjured up via the use of subtly placed Organ performances. There are a number of sections which contain phrases and quirks of orchestration that do make one realise the influence that Petrassi had upon the likes of Morricone and maybe also Nicolai, as we can hear a sound that has since become associated with the pair but it is a style that is more predominantly within some of the early film scores of Morricone and at times within his more thematic music for the concert hall. But if you listen to other composers such as the likes of Carlo Rustichelli, this grandiose and romantic approach and neo classical style was present within his scores also.
There is aa operatic aura and style present throughout the Petrassi score, which conjures up a sense of tragedy and also of loss, but the composer also manages to incorporate a more traditional or folk sounding persona. Although a fairly-short score, CRONACA FAMILIARE is a rewarding listen, and has a number of highly lyrical moments that are a combination of the romantic and dramatic, with a central theme that can be likened to LA STRADA by Rota at certain points in its use and development. Petrassi lived till he was ninety-eight years of age, but sadly due to failing eyesight he was forced to retire from writing music in 1983, two decades before his death in Rome in 2003. During the last ten years of Petrassi’s life he lost his sight totally.