Maurizio Malagnini, is one of the most talented composers working in TV and feature film music at this time. He was recognized as Breakthrough composer by MMI earlier this month and he has just been named as Breakthrough composer of the year by THE INTERNATIONAL FILM MUSIC CRITICS ASSOCIATION. CONGRATULATIONS MAESTRO.
What would you say is the purpose of music in film ?
I think that music in film is a component of the narrative and it has the purpose to tell the story. I think that music can go beyond what we see in the visuals and beyond what the characters can say with words bringing human warmth and depth to the characters on the screen. I believe that music can help the audience to connect immediately with a story and make a story close to the heart of the audience. I support the idea that a great score can transport the audience effortlessly back in time or in the most remote place of the universe and that music can bridge the gap between the pictures on the screen and the audience.
Are you from a family background that was musical in any way ?
Yes, my father was a professor of Italian and Latin literature and my mother was teaching English. My father had a collection of vinyl’s of recordings conducted by Toscanini and that was my first door to classical music when I was a kid.
Somehow I do think that my father’s passion for literature has translated in my passion for music: I don’t think of film scoring as a form of entertainment but I do think that it is possible to tell a story with music in a subtle way, with delicacy and elegance like you would do in poetry.
Do you have a set way of working or a routine when scoring a motion picture, do you like to begin with the core theme and maybe build the remainder of the score around this, or do you maybe tackle the larger cues first if the movie calls for them ?
I do think it is important to go straight to the “heart of the movie” and understand which is the scene that will define the entire score. I feel that when a composer captures the soul of the movie, and the themes are there than the entire score becomes more consistent because every idea is part of a bigger plan. So I do start from one of the main sequences that often are at the end of the film, and then I write all the longer cues without dialogue and I usually end with the less exposed and shorter cues. If there is a title sequence, like for example in Peter and Wendy I tend to compose this at the end, exactly how Rossini and most Opera composers would do with an Overture.
What musical education did you receive and did you focus upon one particular instrument whilst studying or a specific area of music?
I studied for 12 years in music Conservatoire in Italy, focusing on Symphonic Composition with 9 years of Piano as a secondary subject. One of the elements that has really shaped my technique has been studying Counterpoint and Fugue for 3 years. I find it quite amusing to tell the story of my final composition exam: as was tradition I was locked by the professors in a room for 36 hours and asked to compose 3 variations for orchestra on a theme that the professors gave me there on the spot. I remember the room was empty, all I had was just the piano, music paper, a pencil, a rubber and a bed. That was the same exam that composers used to do since the beginning of the 19th century in Italian Conservatoires. I know they have stopped doing that exam just a few years after I graduated. I then moved to London to study a Master at the Royal College of Music. That was an important moment of my life because I focused on film music and from that moment I started to work on my style and on my personal sound.
One of your recent projects was the wonderful score for PETER AND WENDY which was screened on ITV on Boxing day last year, how did you become involved with the project and did the director or producers have any set ideas about what style of music should be utilised?
I had already worked with the director Diarmuid Lawrence a few years ago, on my first British drama, The Body Farm.
When execs heard my music for “Muddle Earth” and for my Symphonic Suite “Running In The Clouds” they decided I was the right composer to help realise their vision. Diarmuid is a fantastic director to work with, he had the idea to have an orchestral score for the film and he created the temp track in collaboration with the super talented editor David Head. I knew David very well because he was on both The Body Farm and The Paradise. The producers Christian Baute and Stewart Mackinnon have also been fantastic creative collaborators.
How many times do you like to see a movie before you begin to get any firm ideas about what music it requires and where it should be placed to best serve the production ?
This can vary from time to time and level of connection that I have with the film. In the case of The Paradise I have started to write ideas that were quite important for the score several months before I have actually seen the film. This is because in that case I have started working on the script and many of those ideas have made it in the final film. In the case of Peter and Wendy I felt really moved by the film and it was love at first sight: I composed “I Believe in fairies” while watching the film for the first time! It’s a good idea to have a grand Piano next to the television when you are watching a film for the first time!
I think that the ideas become firm only after dialogue with the director, so it is important to start from the bigger themes, like when you are building a house you start from the foundation.
One of the main challenges for the music was to be able to create the sensation of flying that is at the heart of Peter Pan’s story and so the first cue I have played to the Director and Producers was “The Flight To Neverland”. When I played it to Stewart he told me: ”If this is not like flying I don’t know what flying is!”…he loved it!
THE PARADISE is an episodic series, when working on this and CALL THE MIDWIFE do you score the episodes in the order that they will be aired, also do you score them individually ?
Yes, I score the episodes in order and individually. I see every episode like a film and I write new themes for each episode. I have just completed the music for Call The Midwife 5 and that was a total of 9 hours and 15 minutes of film!
For these shows I have the luxury of recording each single piece of music with the orchestra and I think this is really important for developing the music together with the story and the characters.
Do you perform on any of your scores ?
Yes, I do play the piano in all of them.
Do you or have you ever been on location for a project that you are scoring ?
I love to go on the set! It is fun and I think that it is a good idea to capture the vibe of the movie before getting a rough cut. I went on location when they were filming the first scenes of The Paradise and that helped me a lot to shape the style I wanted to give to the music. I have been on set also for Call The Midwife and most of the times I play my music to the producer Annie Tricklebank in her office at Longcross Studios where the show is shot.
Have you any preferences between recording studios and orchestras, and what are the differences between recording here in the UK and in Europe ?
I have had a fantastic experience at Air Studios in London where I recorded The Paradise, Call The Midwife and Peter and Wendy. It is in my opinion the warmest and richest room in the world for recording an orchestra. In addition at Air Studios people is really friendly and you realise that since the first minute you enter the door. I also love a new studio in London called Masterchord Studio, where since a couple of years I am recording the piano and overdubs and doing all of my mixing.
I have recorded my music in the UK and Los Angeles. I have had an extraordinary experience with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, who premiered my Symphonic Suite “Running In The Clouds” and performed my first BBC score, the music for the series “Muddle Earth” and a fantastic experience also with the BBC Concert Orchestra who has performed my score for “The Paradise”.
Do you conduct at all, or do you find it is more constructive for you to supervise the scoring process from the recording booth ?
I find that it is more constructive for me to stay in the booth. I would conduct if I had more recording time, but I must be very efficient and I must get a lot done in a very short amount of time. For Peter and Wendy for example I had to record the entire score in only 11 hours and I had the complete Symphonic Orchestra for the biggest cues only for 3 hours.
Do you orchestrate all of your music for film and TV, and do you think that orchestration is just as important as the composition of the music
My heart is the orchestra but I love experimenting with new sounds and synths! I think that the Orchestration is very important and I do most of my orchestration while composing. I feel that many composers are too concerned about how to create new sounds and they loose contact with the story telling. You don’t need to invent a language to be a poet. You just need to select the right words of an existing language and you need to make it with style, and most importantly, you must have something to say.
I have created a workflow that allows me to be a pencil and paper composer and orchestrate my music but still creating with the computer very detailed demos for producers and directors. So I do orchestrate and arrange all of my music in detail and my orchestrator Jehan Stefan helps me to prepare the final scores: he is a great musician and an incredibly hard worker and in the last 6 years he has worked on my side on over 40 hours of films that I have scored. Furthermore my conductor is Jeff Atmajian and he brings on board the incredible experience he has gained orchestrating for some of the top Hollywood Composers on more than 200 movies.
Have you a favourite film score of TV soundtrack of your own or by another composer ?
My favourite Film Score is Morricone’s Cinema Paradiso. I remember being deeply moved while watching the last scene and that moment changed my life and made me think I wanted to be a film composer and I wanted to be able to have that same impact on an audience: I felt that last sequence of kisses in Cinema Paradiso was something magical.
My favourite TV soundtrack is a score by Ennio Morricone for a Mini-Series released in 1988 called “The Secret Of The Sahara”: it is an amazing score for full orchestra and choir. I love how Ennio’s approach to writing for TV is simply to ignore the fact that he is writing for the small screen and not for the cinema. It is exactly what is happening now, almost 30 years later: TV Shows are becoming more filmic and TV scores are becoming more cinematic. These are exciting times for being a composer.
Do you involve yourself in the compiling of a soundtrack release if there is to be one ?
Yes, I love Soundtrack Albums and I produce my albums personally. What I find magical about a good soundtrack album is that listening to the music the audience can live once again all the emotions of the story in an intimate and personal way.
I would like audiences to leave the theatre with the main theme of the score in their head! For many iconic films of the past we can immediately remember the Main Theme but this is becoming less and less frequent now.
How much time were you given to work on PETER AND WENDY and what size orchestra did you utilise for the score?
For many reasons, including my commitments with Call the Midwife and my scheduled trip to Los Angeles for the Emmys, I had only 25 days to compose the entire score. I call them “Lion Days”: when you work 20 hours per day and the adrenaline is as high as if you were actually performing live with the orchestra. Following the actual composition I had another week to improve some details of the score after approval and 2 days of recording and 3 days of mixing.
I had 3 different size of orchestras for Peter and Wendy, the largest orchestra was 60 players, the smallest 35. I think we got an amazing sound for what we actually had and the merit is also of the genius of the mix, the recording and mixing engineer Jake Jackson who has mixed the entire score and most of my projects.
What composers or artist would you say have been influential upon you and your career?
Beethoven, Puccini, Chopin, Stravinsky, Ravel, Morricone, Horner, Williams, Newman.
You worked on a series called MUDDLE EARTH, this I think had 26 episodes, when working on so many episodes do you ever re-use cues from previous episodes as the series progresses?
I re-use cues from previous episodes on every show and I think this is an important part of writing for a TV Series. I think that the best TV scores are made of cues that can be re-used but at the same time adapted on the scene. In addition I think that it is very interesting how on long running shows some of the ideas can develop together with the characters for several hours of film. In the case of the Paradise for example some themes have gone through 16 hours of variations and it is quite a wonderful journey for a composer.
This aspect of variation and development is in my opinion more interesting in long running Episodic Tv Series than in feature films: it is more difficult in films to have such evolution in just a few hours of storytelling.
The downside of writing for TV are the very short deadlines: sometimes I had to score an entire episode in 5 days, that is 35 minutes of orchestral music. For this reason it is indispensable to be able to re-use cues with style, adapting them when needed.
How do you like to work out your musical ideas, do you adopt a traditional approach, i.e. piano, manuscript and pencil or do you opt for the more technical methods as in computers etc ?
Most of my music is arranged directly in my computer, but what I don’t like, especially for major themes is to have the idea in front of the screen in my studio. I prefer to have the idea while I am walking, cooking, travelling in a train, relaxing, or in front of a piano. I record my ideas on my phone and then I transcribe them on the piano and arrange them on the computer.
For electronic music I spend more time on the computer but I try to have always an idea before I sit down in front of the machines. For many film scores I can hear that a lot of music is just improvised in front of a computer…and it does sound like that!
CALL THE MIDWIFE is a popular series, when working on the score are you conscious of the source music or period music that is sometimes used on the series?
I am conscious of the source music, in every episode there are 2 or 3 songs. I don’t want my score to be too influenced by the source music because I think that what I do is strictly connected with the inner feelings of the characters and I need to have my own voice to define the tones of the story and to be part of the narrative.
Have you ever given any concerts of your music for film and TV ? If not would this be something that you might consider in the future ?
Yes I have had performances of my music and I would love to do more in the future. I am very impressed by Ennio Morricone touring at the age of 87 – his energy and passion are really majestic and inspirational.
What is next for you ?
Producers are starting to talk about Call The Midwife 6 with some very interesting development in the story. I have declined a couple of other offers for films, my goal is to write a score for a film that allows me to go beyond what I have done previously so it has to be a very special project. Fingers Crossed!
Many thanks to Maestro Maurizio Malagnini for this wonderful interview and for his beautiful music.