Over the years there have been so many soundtrack releases and at times it seemed like it was a never-ending wave of titles hitting the shops. Italian releases especially were difficult to keep pace with and that is something that has never changed, even now the record companies in Italy are issuing and sometimes re-issuing items that one probably never knew existed. I was thinking maybe I could enlighten the collectors who did miss out on a few, and now because most Italian scores are available either digitally or on CD, focus upon a few that in my opinion are outstanding. I do realise that Ennio Morricone was a huge influence on many of us, but for this article I thought steer clear of his scores and concentrate upon other composers. I will not, say lesser known composers although there might be a few you are unfamiliar with.
LA MORTE ACCAREZZA A MEZZANOTTE or DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT is an interesting and absorbing mystery. The gripping and taught story was the work of now famed film director Sergio Corbucci and contained a screenplay which was courtesy of the combined efforts of Ernesto Gastaldi, Guido Leoni and Mahnahen Velasco (under the alias of May Velasco). Valentina is a beautiful fashion model who agrees to take part in a scientific experiment which involves the taking of a new drug. Whilst under the influences of the drug Valentina experiences a vivid vision of a young girl being brutally murdered, the murderer hacking at her with a spiked metal glove or gauntlet. It transpires that Valentina had an hallucination or a nightmare of a murder that has taken place and soon she finds herself being stalked by the same killer. The musical score for the movie is the work of Italian film music Maestro Gianni Ferrio, who’s unique style and sound had already by this time established him as a highly polished and talented music-smith when it came to scoring motion pictures. Ferrio had been particularly active within the Italian western genre but he never conformed to what became known as The Italian Western Sound, his works for the genre were original all on their own, the composer utilising a fusion of jazz oriented sounds and grand Americana styles to create his own particular “sound” for any westerns he scored. LA MORTE ACCAREZZA A MEZZANOTTE is in my opinion one of the Maestro’s best scores, it contains so many strong thematic passages and vibrant motifs which are arranged and orchestrated with such flair and imagination. Primarily an upbeat sounding work, with the composer making effective use of percussion, choir, big band sounding brass and an ample amount of mysterious and dark atonal material.
The popular Italian female vocalist MINA makes a massive contribution to the soundtrack adding her fragile but sensual sounding voice to the proceedings, performing the haunting central theme from the score VALENTINA augmented and supported by harpsichord which is set to a Bossa nova tempo. Hammond organ too is used enthusiastically giving us the true sound of the 1970, s with its groovy and vibrant sound. Musicians who featured on Ferrio’s score read like a who’s who in Italian music from this period and beyond, Alessandroni’s distinctive sounding IL CANTORI MODERNI are present throughout as is Oscar Valdabrini on trumpet and flugelhorn, Carlo Pes on guitar, Dino Asciolla on viola, Antonello Vannucchi on piano and Hammond organ, Franco Chiari and Carlo Zoffoli on vibes, Dino Piana on trombone and Sergio Conti keeping the beats going on drums and percussion. All of which are under the baton of Gianni Ferrio. Originally released on a long-playing record on the Ariete label (ARLP 2012) the compact disc release on Easy Tempo was an expanded edition, with a handful of previously unreleased cues included. includes a couple of bonus tracks that did not appear on the original release. The soundtrack was also released on a double long playing record by Easy Tempo, ET 902 DLP, which is like most of that labels catalogue difficult to obtain. However, don’t despair or pay fortunes for a copy as there is a digital recording available on the usual platforms so click and enjoy. Staying with Gianni Ferrio, originally issued on a CAM long playing record in 1967, I DOLCI VIZI DELLA CASTA SUSANNA is a simple theme laden score that combines slightly dramatic musical styles with comedic flourishes and romantic interludes. It has within its running time a number of haunting and infectious themes, performed in the main by strings, brass underlined by percussion and little wisps of woodwind that are at times enhanced and punctuated by harpsichord flourishes which are themselves supported and augmented by subtle use of harp, both of which add a certain periodic authenticity to the proceedings. Ferrio was certainly an inventive and at times highly original composer, for this assignment the Maestro created a work that included, epic sounding cues, and also embellished these with little nuances that were either romantically laced or others that at times verged upon the mickey mousing style employed by various composers when scoring animated shorts or comedy features, add to this a luxurious string soaked arrangement of the central theme and we have here something that is a little bit special. The score also includes a few pop orientated themes, which are upbeat and certainly grab the listeners attention. In the liner notes it states that maybe this latest BEAT release will not instigate a revolution in one’s collection, however I have to disagree because it is a score that hit’s the entertainment spots adequately and therefore is a worthwhile addition to any Italian film music enthusiasts collection.
Upbeat themes, lilting melodious tone poems, a richly lush arrangement of the scores principal theme which re-emerges on a number of occasions and fast paced chase music all go to make up an enjoyable listening experience and with one of the themes baring a striking resemblance to Ron Goodwin’s MISS MARPLES theme it’s a score that one does not really have to think about just merely pop it into the disc player and listen.
Stelvio Cipriani was a much sought-after composer of film music, but he did however at times become involved with movies that were, shall we say less than worthy of his music. He scored a number of comedies, that because were in the Italian language were less than successful outside of their country of origin. But he did however establish himself as a composer wo was obviously talented and produced numerous soundtracks that were not only supportive of the film but had a life away from the screen for people to enjoy. THE GREAT ALLIGATOR was a dire film and Cipriani did the best he could, it was an attempt to cash in on the success of films such as JAWS and PIRAHNA, but an extremely weak one I have to say, Cipriani’s music, was supportive but never really managed to hit the heights and at times the composer began to parody his own score for PIRAHNA ll-FLYING KILLERS. So, from a Cipriani score that you probably will not want in your collection to one that is atmospheric, and theme led. In the 1970’s the composer worked on a version of the classic SHE.
The tale is filled with romantic and tense scenarios, it is steeped in mystery and has to it an aura that is magical and compelling. Stelvio Cipriani, worked on this particular version in the early part of 1970, the Maestro was no stranger to scoring movies which contained both action, romance and excitement, after all his career in scoring movies began back in the early 1960,s and continued to flourish and grow with the composer remaining active up until shortly before his death in 2018. Cipriani was born in Rome in 1937 and after leaving school decided to train as an accountant, eventually however he decided that it was music that he would follow as a career. He was particularly active during the 1960,s through to the mid-1980,s scoring numerous Italian made westerns and penning one of the most famous themes from that genre A MAN A HORSE AND A GUN which was written for the movie THE STRANGER RETURNS in 1967.
Cipriani excelled when it came to creating infectious and haunting themes for motion pictures his most famous or notable non-western score being for the award winning movie THE ANONYMOUS VENETIAN in 1970, a soundtrack which is still today held in high regard by many and remains available as a recording after numerous re-issues etc. The composer is also able to create spine chilling and fearsome musical cues for the horror genre working on movies such as BAY OF BLOOD and BARON BLOOD. Cipriani’s score for SHE is a varied and powerful one and contains lush and rich sounding thematic material that would not be out of place in one of the many epics as produced by Hollywood during the Golden Age of cinema. Mysterious interludes combine with romantic tone poems and are underlined by a dramatic and apprehensive atmosphere. The score is available digitally but was also released on KRONOS records in 2016.
There have been a number of cinematic versions of the classic H.Rider Haggard tale of adventure, mystery and romance SHE. This particular incarnation of the story was released in 2001, Directed by Canadian born Timothy Bond who has mostly worked in television contributing to series such as MUTANT X, GOOSEBUMPS, HERCULES-THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS, FOREVER KNIGHT and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS among others. This particular re-working of SHE tells the tale of Leo Vincey (Ian Duncan) who has received a map from his late Father, the map shows the whereabouts of the legendary lost city of Kor. Vincey accompanied by his partner Roxanne (Marie Baumer) sets out to not only find the City but also to find out the mystery that surrounds his own ancestry. After a while it transpires that Vincey is a direct descendant of an Egyptian priest who dared to fall in love with a Princess and for his crime was executed. On finding the lost city Vincey discovers that the ruling Queen is in fact that same Princess, AYESHA-SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED (Ophelie Winter) who has somehow via magic remained youthful throughout all of the centuries that have passed. When Vincey is presented to the Queen she becomes convinced that he is the reincarnation of her dead lover who has returned to be with her but is enraged and becomes intent on killing him. H. Rider Haggard’s inventive and exciting story has transferred to film well on more than one occasion, in fact one of the first cinematic presentations of the story was in 1925, it was then filmed again in 1935 which is the version that many say is probably the best, which as we all know contained a score by Max Steiner.
On SPARA GRINGO SPARA, composer Sante Maria Romitelli, provides us with a score that just bursts with energy and vibrant original musical content. It boasts several up tempo almost beat/pop tracks which are entertaining, foot tapping stuff. The score also includes a few tracks that can be categorised as dramatic, symphonic and near operatic. Like many scores for westerns which were produced in Italy during the 1960s and 1970s the soundtrack features performances on electric guitar, harpsichord, trumpet and organ, which are either as solo instruments or as a combination of all of these elements to create a score that is not only perfect for the movie it was written for, but also has the ability to stand alone away from the images and remain an entertaining and interesting work. SPARA GRINGO SPARA is a soundtrack that is made up of themes for the films principal characters. For example TEMA DI STARK (track number 7) is a powerhouse of a cue, it begins with an organ motif which is joined and eventually overwhelmed by strings and brass, this then leads into an electric guitar solo, backed up by organ and vibes, the track develops into a full blown version of the theme for Stark, which is carried along by the string section with organ and guitar making entrances along the way, certainly stirring and inspiring stuff. There are also a handful of compositions on the soundtrack that can be described as suspense cues, not musical or thematic, but nevertheless go to make up an interesting part of this score. Another great release from the GDM/Hillside partnership. Which should still be available at certain retail sites.