Category Archives: Biographical Essays

Bruno Nicolai.

bruno 3Apart from Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai is probably the composer/conductor that most soundtrack collectors and film buffs alike associate with the music for the Italian cinema, in particular the scores for the Spaghetti western genre. His style was not unlike that of Morricone’s and at times it was very difficult to differentiate between the two composer’s works for film and television. So much alike were their styles that many people outside of Italy during the late 1960,s and early 1970,s were of the opinion that Nicolai and Morricone were one and the same person, this opinion was also reinforced in the eyes of collectors because Bruno Nicolai conducted Morricone, s scores and his name appeared regularly alongside Morricone, s on screen.

 

 

Bruno Nicolai was born in Rome in 1926. He studied with Aldo Manitia for piano and Antonio Fernandi and Godfredo Petrassi 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. Nicolai also studied organ with Ferruccio Viganelli. Nicolai, s entry into film music as a composer came in 1963 when he scored HEAD OF THE FAMILY,then in 1964 he  collaborated on the score for the sequel to MONDO CANE, which was very originally titled MONDO CANE 2. The composers break into bigger projects came in 1965 when ennio Morricone asked him to conduct the score for sergio Leone’s 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 as a composer in his own right and started to be commissioned to write scores for all types of moviesAs well as composing soundtracks for the cinema, Nicolai conducted many works for film, and during his career was employed by many well known Italian film music composers, these included, Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, Luis Bacalov and Carlo Rustichelli. Nicolai 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. He also would at times perform on soundtracks for movies; this was in the main as a keyboard player or an organist. Nicolai would often be offered scores for movies when Morricone was not available.

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So at times he would be conducting for Morricone, playing organ for Rustichelli whilst at the same time composing a score of his own for a western or otherwise. 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, most of the soundtrack is pure Nicolai. Morricone,s success unfortunately overshadowed much of Nicolai,s musical output, and many collectors and critics alike considered Bruno Nicolai to be a mere Morricone clone. This of course is not true, and Nicolai was a great composer possessing much originality and talent. One only has to listen to his music for the movies as produced by filmmaker  Jesus Franco. IL CONTE DRACULA, 99 WOMEN & IL TRONO DI FUOCO being particularly worthy examples. 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 genre, but they also have  a secondary sound that is similar to the music that was employed in American made westerns which is  grandiose, sprawling and vigorous, and this style combined with the rawness and savagery of the established spaghetti western score creates an interesting and  original sound.

bruno 2During the 1970,s Nicolai established his own recording label, this was for the purpose of releasing his own film scores and other musical works, a small an independent label EDI-PAN released a number of albums, but was not really that widely distributed, and this is probably why Nicolai, s soundtracks were always  difficult to obtain outside of Italy in the days of vinyl. The label still operates today, and is helmed by the composers daughter Julia, she took charge of things when her Father passed away in August 1991.  Since his death many of the Maestros soundtracks have made an appearance on compact disc He died on August 16th 1991, he was just 65, Unfortunately the composer’s death went almost unnoticed, and the vast majority of 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 peoples opinion has never been filled.

Piero Umiliani.

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Born Florence Italy, in 1926. Composer musician Piero Umiliani had originally studied law, fully intending to make a career as a solicitor. His keen interest in music however was to distract him from this profession and led him to begin to play the piano. He had been teaching himself the instrument since he was a child and by the time he was 14yrs of age had become quite competent at performing. It was also during his childhood that Umiliani decided that it was jazz music that particularly attracted him. He studied with Vitto Frazzi, and later graduated from The Luigi Cherubini Consevatory in Florence with degrees in counterpoint and fugue. During the 1950,s, Umiliani decided to change location and move to Rome, on arrival in the Italian Capital the aspiring composer set himself up as a pianist, arranger and orchestra director. In the early part of 1958, Umiliani made his first recording, this was an LP entitled DIXIELAND IN NAPLES, which was released on the RCA recording label. Soon after the release of this recording, Umiliani was approached by

Film director, Mario Monicelli who asked the composer if he would compose the score for a film entitled I SOLITI IGNOTI, The film was a comedy, and was the first film in Italy to have a score that was completely jazz music. Umiliani, s music was so successful that it led to other assignments, which included film scores and commissions for jazz compositions. Although I SOLITI IGNOTI is looked upon as the composer’s first cinematic encounter, Umiliani had in fact worked on a film some three years previous, as he recalled. ”I was studying in Florence, and I was asked to write a piece for a documentary called IL PITTORI DEL DOMENICA, this was produced and also directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, the theme that I composed PICCOLA SUITE–AMERICANA PER 4 ANCIE was not relay that melodic, quite avante garde I think, but at this time I was still young and enjoyed experimenting”. Many collectors of soundtracks associate Umiliani with scores for comedies, thrillers and films that fit into the category of being soft porn or striptease.

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Movies in all of these categories were produced in their abundance in Italy during the 1960,s thru to the mid 1980,s. Umiliani,s style and musical approach was very much suited to these types of films, his scores being mostly light in their construction and being influenced with jazz flavours, and it was probably due to this style or sound that was realised by the composer that the majority of his music is now being labelled as Exotica or Lounge music, and is also finding its way onto countless compilations that are easy listening. Umiliani has become a highly respected and widely known jazz musician and composer. His jazz efforts often outweighing and overshadowing his works for the cinema. The composer’s love of jazz is very evident and often manifests itself within his music for film. On many occasions this jazz style forming the musical foundation for his motion picture scores. But it has sometimes been difficult for the composer to incorporate jazz into his work for film.

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” It has always been something of a task to convince filmmakers that maybe jazz could be the right style of music for their movie, I have always been fortunate enough to be able to work with directors and producers that I have had a good working relationship with. But many times they have asked me to create a grand more symphonic sound, when really jazz music would have served the picture much better”. One particular piece of music that the composer is readily associated with is the quirky and somewhat offbeat and infectious composition MAH,NA,MAH,NA. The tune was originally released in1968, and has over the years been re-released on many occasions, and has become something of a musical calling card for the composer. ” MAH,NA,MAH,NA. is the most simple and elementary music that one could write, so maybe that is why people have found it so appealing over the past 30 years or so, the voice on the song is that of my good friend and fellow composer Alessandro Alessandroni. I have worked with him and his choir on many things; Sandro has a great talent, but maybe is not recognised as much as he should be”. Said Umiliani.MAH,NA,MAH,NA. Was given a new lease of life in the 1980,s and charted high in the British charts when Jim Henson’s Muppets gave it an airing, re-introducing the peculiar sounding tune to a whole new generation of listeners. As a composer Umiliani is very much like the proverbial chameleon, adapting and changing his styles for each project, enhancing and gracing each movie with his music, and applying his own individual mark upon it. He has also worked with and had his compositions performed by such great artistes as, Chet Baker, Helen Mirril and Gato Barbieri. The film music career of Piero Umiliani spanned some four decades, and during the composers later years he still continued to compose for the cinema and also write sophisticated and tasteful jazz, that was modern yet easily interpreted and understood, and above all listenable and entertaining. The Maestro passed away in Florence on February 16th 2001, aged 75, He will be missed by all who knew him and worked with him.

Ron Goodwin

Ron Goodwin
Ron Goodwin

Ron Goodwin was, and still is one of England’s most well known composers of film music. He was also a respected conductor of music that can be categorised as easy listening or light music. During the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, his compilation albums on the EMI studio 2 recording label were popular and sought after. Within the content of these albums the composer included film music compositions alongside instrumental favourites. The son of a policeman, Goodwin was born in Plymouth in 1930. In 1939, the composer’s father was transferred back to London, the family originally going to Kensal Rise then moving back to London before settling in Ruislip. Prior to the outbreak of war, Goodwin attended the Willesden County School. The school band had an orchestra and Goodwin was keen to join. The teacher in charge of music at the school told Goodwin that he could not do this until he had become proficient in playing the trumpet, this being the instrument that the young Goodwin had decided to take up. “My first performance in public was as third trumpet which started off with the grand march from TANHAUSER. Continue reading Ron Goodwin

Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson
Laurie Johnson

Born in London in 1927, Laurie Johnson received his musical education and training at the Royal College of Music. At the age of 18 he had a number of orchestral works published, which also had been broadcast on the radio. At the same time he was composing and arranging for the Ted Heath Band. Later he went on to work on compositions and arrangements for most of the major bands of the fifties. These included Jack Parnell, Ambrose, Geraldo and Mantovani. At the age of 21 Johnson was recording for EMI with his own orchestra. In the mid-fifties he began to compose music for films, and in 1955 he did his first film score, THE GOOD COMPANIONS. During the past 40 years Laurie Johnson has written for over 400 films and television productions. They include films such as FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, DR. STRANGELOVE, CAPTAIN KRONOS VAMPIRE HUNTER, THE BELSTONE FOX and TIGER BAY. For the small screen the composer has written the scores and themes for such popular series as THE AVENGERS and THE PROFESSIONALS, Continue reading Laurie Johnson