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© 2020 JOHN MANSELL. (Movie music international).
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.
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.