LA VAMPIRA DE BARCELONA.

Another interesting release from Spanish soundtrack label Quartet who seem to be unstoppable of late with releases of new and vintage scores. La Vampira de Barcelona, (The Vampire of Barcelona or The Vampiress of Barcelona) is based on true events that took place in Spain in the early 1900’s. Enriqueta Marti caused much shock and anguish in Spain when she was arrested by authorities being accused of being a kidnapper of a girl from a wealthy family that has gone missing. The investigation which was a long and complicated one uncovered what the police called history of human trafficking and murder. This they said was in relation to the disappearance of dozens of children from the Raval area of the city of Barcelona. The police accused Marti of running a brothel which was exclusively for wealthy customers or them to participate in pedophilic acts. Marti it was said kidnapped the children specifically for this purpose. After which she murdered them and created witch-doctor tinctures for her clients with their remains. In recent years however a number of experts and researchers have discovered new evidence that is thought to have been covered up by the police in the original investigation, which shows that Marti was not a serial killer but more of a mentally sick individual who had been a victim of the media at the time and also the police who were   A gruesome and grisly tale, that has now been brought to the screen by director Lluis Danes. Attempting to cover up the large pedophilia ring which included dignitaries and high-ranking officials. The story has for many years maintained much interest in Barcelona.  The film which has already had a limited release in Spain, could receive a wider release soon.

The musical score which is attractive and affecting in a macabre sort of way is the work of composer Alfred Tapscott, it is as one can imagine a dark and at times foreboding work for much of its duration, however the score also contains some wonderfully elegant and haunting compositions. I love the way in which the composer utilises voices throughout the score, they create so many levels of emotion and add an icy and virulent air to the proceedings. The music oozes drama and is also filled with a tense and nervous persona, it is a soundtrack that purveys an uneasiness and also an apprehension. As far as I can make out it is symphonic or at least part symphonic, but there again as I have said before with the sophisticated samples and synthetic tools that are available now it is hard to tell. The composer makes effective use of percussion, swirling strings and dark robust sounding piano in cues such as Enriqueta Marti (track three).  

The composer also effectively utilises both strings as in solo performances and the string section, with piano, that at times become what I would describe as being visceral but at the same time alluring in their overall sound, combine this with choral work and it is a score that makes its mark and at times makes the listener shudder. The opening cue Requiem pt 1, is a mesmerising piece for female voices, piano and strings, a short cue but one that is affecting aswell as being effective.  Track number two-No est el primer que em voi camelar, is a pleasantly heart-warming piece, with a solo piano taking the lead, underlined by cello and solo violin, the melody is beautiful, and is given rich and eloquent rendition. It does however close in a slightly sinister fashion making one think that maybe something is about to take place. Rack four Sr. Fuster, too relies upon piano as its foundation, it opens in a romantic style which although is not overly melodic is pleasant, but the mood soon alters as sinewy sounding strings are introduced, these are supported by percussion and the piano returns but in a more ominous and darker sounding way. The track seems to rush to its conclusion with a flurry of activity on both piano and strings, again ending with a less than settled atmosphere. This in my opinion is a highly atmospheric work, it has so many themes and sub themes within its running time, it is a luscious and deliciously edgy sounding score and one that everyone should check out, it is available digitally, but I am told there could be a compact disc at a later date, another worthy addition to the Quartet catalogue.  Recommended.

Hugo Montenegro, underatted, undervalued and sometimes forgotten film music Maestro.

There is little doubt that Hugo Montenegro is a name that will be remembered by many, and also remembered for differing reasons. His score for the film Charro is although not grandiose and theme laden is an effective film score as it does what it is supposed to and supports without being intrusive and adds weight, atmosphere, and depth to the movie.  

Released in 1969 Charro was one of those films that was a vehicle to showcase the talents of Elvis Presley, many may disagree but in my very humble opinion this was one of Presley’s better cinematic moments, It was different as in there were no musical numbers and it was just a basic run of the mill western drama but Presley displayed a good acting presence throughout, of course the notion of a pop/rock and roll superstar being cast in a movie was not a new thing, The Italians cast various pop singers in a number of the spaghetti westerns that were released in the 1960’s and 1970’s but I think that the performance in Charro by Presley deserves credit where credit is due.

In many ways the movie came across as something that was like a big screen version of TV shows such as The High Chapparal and The Virginian, but obviously being a feature film was longer. The musical score was by Hugo Montenegro who had shot to fame with his up-beat and pop orientated arrangement of Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, which had gone to the top of the hit parade in many countries across the globe including the U.K. in 1968.

But again, Montenegro was given some bad press and often referred to as just a band orchestra leader, which granted he was, but he was also a composer in his own right and had scored a few projects mainly for TV before Charro, and before the hit single with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly which included episodes of the popular TV series The Man From Uncle, and I Dream of Jeannie, but had also worked for filmmaker Otto Preminger on the 1967 movie Hurry Sundown for which he composed a powerful and affecting score that is possibly one of the best scores to come out of Hollywood that year. The movie too was successful and starred Michael Caine, Jane Fonda and John Phillip Law.

The score for Hurry Sundown is outstanding, it is a varied and emotive sounding work, the central theme being haunting and stirring. The lyrics being courtesy of Buddy Kaye and evoking the How The West Was Won end title song. For me it’s a score that one discovers forgets and then re-discovers to great delight, the music evokes both Lillies of the field and Gods Little Acre soundtracks, it has that kind of sound.

The film was a controversial one, but there again t was Preminger at the directorial helm.  It dealt with racial issues, and when being filmed that cast and crew which were made up of both black and white actors etc, had to have protection from the State Police against attacks from the Ku Klux Klan. If you have never seen the movie or heard Montenegro’s score now is the time to rectify that.

A year later in 1968 Montenegro was responsible for penning the score for the Frank Sinatra and Rachel Welch thriller Lady in Cement. This is a score that oozes classy jazz orientated cues, but also has the unmistakable Montenegro touch to it, which in many ways evokes the style of Italian composers from the 1960’s such as Trovajoli, Umiliani, and Piccioni to name but three.

It is a light and airy collection of themes, but also has to it touches of the dramatic, pop upbeat passages and easy listening lounge style compositions. The composer utilising brass, choir, electric guitar, bass, harpsichord, Hammond organ and woods that are underlined by percussion and supported and laced by strings.

In the same year as Charro Montenegro scored another western The Undefeated, which starred John Wayne and Rock Hudson, and a western TV series from the States entitled, The Outcasts for which he provided the theme and scores for twenty-six episodes.

Both Charro and The Undefeated contained solid scores and themes, which I suppose can be likened to the styles of both Elmer Bernstein and Jerry Goldsmith and were incredibly supportive of both storylines on screen, they also had a sound and style that was appealing away from the images, but neither were particularly original. Sadly Charro which in my opinion has the better score has never been released, which, is surprising seeing as the movie starred one of the biggest attractions from the 1950’,s, 1960’s and  through to the 1970’s and his untimely death in August 1977. The Undefeated never got a soundtrack release at the time of the film being in cinemas, but many years later the Film Score Monthly label issued the score in full onto compact disc. The story involved a group of Confederates and their families led by Rock Hudson, who after the war were intending to carry on the fight and to do this they had to travel across the border to Mexico.

But I for one found it hard to take seriously especially with John Wayne onboard still in Comancheros and Alamo mode, (sorry did he ever get into character, or was it just him on screen playing himself every time- The Hell it was!). The Undefeated was filled with brawls and cheesy comedy scenes that were intertwined with the storyline just. Add to these several action scenes and there we have it a fairly typical John Wayne western. It is an entertaining romp, and an ok western to sit and watch on a rainy Sunday, but not in my top anything really, even Hudson’s Southern accent was a little grating and hard to swallow, and as for the Southern hospitality, well, over the top comes to mind.

The score is however superior to the movie, but even this is rather cliched and relies on half-hearted Copelandish references and the music is deployed in a similar fashion to that of the westerns from the 1940’s and 1950’s. A lumbering theme opens the score, which forms the foundation of the work, but it’s no Magnificent Seven or The Big Country in thematic terms, the way in which the movie is scored is in a way Mickey Mousing like described by Max Steiner, as Montenegro adds little quirky nuances and melancholy interludes, that are syrupy and sugary. It may be an acceptable film and score but it’s not the best of Montenegro.   

Charro was directed by Charles Marquis Warren who also provided the screenplay for the movie. The film had a cast that was not what I would call “All Star” laden, but the main characters and some of the lesser supporting roles were filled with faces that were familiar to cinema goers of the 1960’s many being around for a while in B movies or having minor roles in main features. The score is a darker one than The Undefeated and relies more on the attention to underlining the action or drama, rather than going hell for leather with grandiose Americana set pieces, it was effective in establishing a tense atmosphere in a few of the scenes, and the composer even utilising a Mexican style trumpet cue for the troops in the movie (shades of Morricone).

The composer also scored two Matt Helm movies with Dean Martin in the title role. The Ambushers (1967) and The Wrecking Crew (1968). Neither have been released onto compact disc or digitally and I am certain there was no LP release either.

The Wrecking Crew I remember because it was the main feature on the programme at the cinema with The Big Gundown being the B picture. And for Sharon Tate and Nancy Kwan beating the whatsit out of each other in one of the scenes and Nigel Green as the villain. With Elke Sommer too who was stunning. The Matt Helm movies were a bit of harmless fun and I hope no one took them seriously, but Montenegro’s music was perfectly suited to the offbeat antics of Helm.

The composer also scored the comedy Viva Max, which starred Peter Ustinov. The film which is hilarious is the tale of a Mexican Army commander who crosses the border into the United States with a small group of soldiers saying they are going to march in the celebrations for George Washington’s birthday, when realy he is planning to re-occupy The Alamo. Montenegro’s score is scattered with performances from trumpeter Al Hirt, who is credited on the cover of the RCA soundtrack LP, the score is up-beat and has to it a pop orientated martial style, with jazz influences and references to Mexican musical influences.

Montenegro’s style I have to say is like that of Burt Bacharach, fusing easy listening with the dramatic content to reach a wonderfully thematic combination, again scored in 1969, one can begin to hear little quirks of orchestration and the sound that would become associated with the composer, the soundtrack also featured a song Don’t Turn Back which was performed by Montenegro’s choir and Al Hirt. As I have said it is probably the recordings that Montenegro did of easy listening, classical and covers of popular songs and themes from movies that he will be best remembered for, and during the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s Montenegro like Henry Mancini, Ron Goodwin and others was responsible for bringing film music or film themes to the attention of a wider audience, because as we all know soundtrack albums were not always released because record companies and film companies were just not interested in the music for movies unless it was a blockbuster. Via the RCA albums that Montenegro released we got to hear unique versions of themes that we would not have heard unless we went to see the movies.

His compilations were an invaluable and essential part of film music collecting during this period, and along with Ron Goodwin, Henry Mancini, LeRoy Holmes and Stanley Black to name but a few film music became interesting. Montenegro admittedly did put his own musical stamp upon certain themes and his version of Hang em High is somewhat different from the original.  But on a compilation from Montenegro, we could hear an up-beat cover of A Fistful of Dollars alongside things such as The Godfather and a synthesised arrangement of the Beach Boys hit Good Vibrations which at times was a bit off putting when one was looking at the track listing for an album, but it made for a varied listening experience. And also when eventually many of the soundtracks began to be released it made collectors want to go and buy them. A recent compilation that was released both on compact disc and digitally is the so called Best of Hugo Montenegro.

To be totally fair I do not think we could fit the best of this composer, conductor and arranger onto just a solitary compilation, but it is a great listen and also a wonderful way to sample his talents as both a composer and an arranger even if some of the track’s bare little resemblance to the originals as in his version of The James Bond Theme, it’s a case of the tune is there but, why this way? Negatives aside, Montenegro’s compilations are something that one can put on and not have to even think about, they can play and be a background or they can be something that you listen to an analyse. Either way the key word here is entertainment.

Hugo Mario Montenegro was born, in New York City U.S.A. in 1925. He served in the United States navy and whilst there acted as an arranger for the Naval Band. After he left the service, he enrolled at the Manhattan College where he studied composition and whilst there also formed his own band which performed at school dances. In the mid 1950’s Montenegro found himself arranging and conducting for both Eliot Glen and Irving Spice for their Dragon and Caprice record labels. After this he was hired as the musical director for Time records, and was responsible for producing a series of albums. In the early sixties Montenegro moved to Los Angeles and started to work for RCA records. It was here that he produced a handful of albums from soundtracks and TV shows which included The Man From Uncle  and this is when he started to release albums of covers of songs and film themes. One of his most popular proved to be a compilation entitled Come Spy With Me.

After this he arranged themes that had been composed by Ennio Morricone for the Sergio Leone dollar trilogy, the most successful being The Good The Bad and The Ugly.  His first film score was for the 1964 production, Advance to the Rear, after this and following the success and sustained sales of his albums, Columbia pictures offered him a contract. And from 1966 through to 1977 he remained there scoring a number of motion pictures including a British film entitled Tomorrow.

The composers final film scores were in 1977 when he worked on The Farmer and Too Hot To Handle.  The Farmer which was a thriller that has since its release attained cult status was given an X certificate solely because of Montenegro’s chilling score which he fashioned on electronic instruments. But the films producer had the censors review the movie without music and they changed their opinion straight away giving the movie an R rating in the States. The score is said to be one of the composers best but is sadly thought to be lost.

Montenegro was also under contract to Columbia’s TV and scored some of their most popular shows, including Here Comes The Brides, The Partridge Family and the second season of I Dream of Jeannie.

During the latter part of the seventies, Montenegro was forced to retire due to severe Emphysema and this brought his musical career to a close. He died from the illness in 1981.

CIVILTA DEL MEDITERRANEO.

AVAILABLE NOW FROM KRONOS RECORDS.

SLEEVE NOTES FOR THE SOUNDTRACK RELEASE.

© 2020 JOHN MANSELL. (Movie music international).

THE MUSIC.

The score for the Italian television series CIVILTA DEL MEDITERRANEO is a delicate and melodic one, with composer Bruno Nicolai employing sensitive strings and light floating woods that are accompanied by harpsichord and subtle percussion. The combination of this instrumentation creates a pleasing and haunting work, that must be among the higher-ranking scores by this much under applauded composer. Released originally in 1971 on the EDI PAN label (CS 2011), the album soon disappeared because like so many of Nicolai’s releases it was a limited pressing. Nicolai employs earthy sounding woods and solo guitar within the score giving it greater authenticity within some of the sequences. It does in places also purvey a somewhat Baroque sounding style, with slow strings underlining guitar, conveying a sense of the regal, and distinguished. The composer also utilises the distinct whistle of Alessandro Alessandroni, in the cue entitled, TONNARA, (Track nine). The inventive and talented whistler performing the central melody underlined and enhanced by sliding strings and punctuated by Jews harp, the piece then moves into a more Neapolitan or Sicilian sounding theme which is taken on by the string section and further enhanced by the use of mandolin before returning to the ghost-like but melodious whistle of Alessandroni which then segues into the easy going Italian sounding composition, this is text book Italian film music with an uplifting and joyous style, that has to it a certain quirkiness. The opening track of the recording IL MARE is a beautifully written and haunting piece for flute, strings, and meandering harpsichord that is enhanced and given support by percussion which sets the pace of the composition. Track number two, KHAN is a combination of recorder and mandolin/guitar, the recorder taking centre stage and purveying the central melody, with both mandolin and guitar giving support throughout.  Track three, L’ALTRA SPONDA, is a delightful piece, for both strings and woods, and I have to say has that breathy sound and style that was achieved at times by British composer John Barry. There are very few what I would call action led or discordant cues within this score, in fact there are maybe two, these come in the form of MOGHUL (Track four) and IMAN (Track six) which do not share the thematic content as the remainder of the work, do however contain a scattering of something that resembles a tune.

The track MALAGA is a soothing and calming composition for guitar, that is simple and relaxing, the easy sounding piece creating calm and tranquillity. Overall, this is one of Nicolai’s most appealing soundtracks, it is filled with diverse and varied content including haunting tone poems that work within the series adding depth, atmosphere and colour to the proceedings, the score is also one that becomes affecting when listened to as just music away from any images. Kronos records are extremely proud to present this superbly thematic and entertaining soundtrack, which has never been issued before onto Compact Disc and is an essential addition to any Italian film music collection.  

BRUNO NICOLAI-(1926-1991).

Whether you agree or not, there is very little doubt in my mind that composer Bruno Nicolai was an important contributor to the world of Italian film music, and if he had not been present alongside the likes of Morricone, Bacalov, Rota, Lavagnino, Cipriani etc the sound that we now associate with Italian cinema might have been a little different. He was not just a composer who wrote scores for television and film, but was also a talented musician, who acted as conductor on literally hundreds of scores by various composers who were prominent within the film music arena in Italy during the 1960’s through to the late 1980’s. He also established a record label EDI PAN [jm1] [jm2] which released many of the Maestro’s soundtracks for lesser known movies and issued albums that at times contained music not related to film or television. Born in Rome in 1926, Nicolai studied with Aldo Manitia for piano and Antonio Fernandi and Goffredo for composition. Petrassi was also responsible for schooling Morricone in composition, and that is probably why the two composers had similar styles in composition and orchestration at times. Nicolai also undertook tuition for organ with Ferruccio Viganelli and later in his career would write many pieces for the instrument as well as performing on numerous film scores. The composer’s entry into film music came in 1963 when he scored HEAD OF THE FAMILY, then in 1964 he collaborated on the score for MONDO CANE 2. 

The composers break into more prominent projects came in 1965 when Ennio Morricone turned to him asking Nicolai to conduct the score for Sergio Leone’s second western, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. After this Nicolai and Morricone worked on numerous projects together, Nicolai either being musical director or collaborating with Morricone on the composition of scores such as OPERATION KID BROTHER and A PROFESSIONAL GUN. In 1966 he conducted Morricone’s classic score for THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, after this Nicolai began to work increasingly as a composer in his own right and was commissioned to write scores for all genres of film as well as documentaries and TV shows.As well as composing soundtracks for the cinema, Nicolai would conduct many works for film, and at times would also arrange and orchestrate works for various composers. The composer also had a keen interest in classical music and spent much of his time studying the scores of past musical masters such as Beethoven and Mozart.

Nicolai would often be offered scores for movies when Morricone was not available, and thus the rumour of Nicolai being an alias for Morricone began. On several occasions, he would be conducting for Morricone, playing organ for Rustichelli whilst at the same time composing a score of his own for a Western, Horror or Giallo.  

In 1969, Nicolai penned the soundtrack for an American produced western entitled LANDRAIDERS; this contained a particularly haunting theme and also a driving and powerful main score. Arguably this is Nicolai, s best western score, and although it contains passages and musical phrases that are very much in the style of Morricone school of composition, with grunts, electric guitar riffs, and barking voices present, it is for the majority of its duration pure Nicolai. Morricone’s success unfortunately overshadowed much of Nicolai’s musical output, and many collectors and critics alike at one time considered Bruno Nicolai to be a mere Morricone clone. This of course is not true, as Nicolai was a great composer possessing originality, inventiveness, and talent in the way he approached film and TV scores. Listening to his music for the movies, IL CONTE DRACULA, THE 99 WOMEN, & IL TRONO DI FUOCO, one is immediately struck and impressed by his unique musical style and his obvious gift for creating melodic and dramatic music. Nicolai’s scores for Italian made westerns are also of a very high quality, and contain many of the musical sounds and trademarks that are associated with that particular genre, but they also have  a secondary sound that is similar to the music that was employed in American made westerns, this being grandiose, sprawling and vigorous, with the classic styles of  Tiomkin, Newman and Steiner coming to mind.

This style combined with the rawness and savagery of the Italian western score creates an interesting and original sound, that arguably can be attributed to both Nicolai and fellow Italian Maestro Francesco De Masi.  Bruno Nicolai died on August 16th,1991, he was just sixty-five. Unfortunately, the composer’s death went almost unnoticed outside of his native Italy, and most soundtrack collectors that were aware of his music did not receive news of the composer’s death until some two months later. His passing left a void in the Italian film music fraternity, a void that in many people’s opinion has never been filled.

John Mansell, © 2020.  Movie Music International.