Nino Rota

Giovanni "Nino" Rota (Italian: [dʒoˈvanni niːno ˈrɔːta]; 3 December 1911 – 10 April 1979) was an Italian composer, pianist, conductor and academic who is best known for his film scores, notably for the films of Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti. He also composed the music for two of Franco Zeffirelli's Shakespeare films, and for the first two films of Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather trilogy, receiving the Academy Award for Best Original Score for The Godfather Part II (1974).

During his long career, Rota was an extraordinarily prolific composer, especially of music for the cinema. He wrote more than 150 scores for Italian and international productions from the 1930s until his death in 1979—an average of three scores each year over a 46-year period, and in his most productive period from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s he wrote as many as ten scores every year, and sometimes more, with a remarkable thirteen film scores to his credit in 1954. Alongside this great body of film work, he composed ten operas, five ballets and dozens of other orchestral, choral and chamber works, the best known being his string concerto. He also composed the music for many theatre productions by Visconti, Zeffirelli and Eduardo De Filippo[1] as well as maintaining a long teaching career at the Liceo Musicale in Bari, Italy, where he was the director for almost 30 years.

Nino Rota Rinaldi
Nino Rota Riccardo Bacchelli e Bruno Maderna
Nino Rota (left)
Giovanni Rota Rinaldi

3 December 1911
Milan, Italy
Died10 April 1979 (aged 67)
Rome, Italy
ChildrenNina Rota (daughter)

Early career

Nino Rota 1923
Rota at age 12.

Giovanni Rota was born into a musical family in Milan. Rota was a renowned child prodigy—his first oratorio, L'infanzia di San Giovanni Battista, was written at age 11[2] and performed in Milan and Paris as early as 1923; his three-act lyrical comedy after Hans Christian Andersen, Il Principe Porcaro, was composed when he was just 13 and published in 1926. He studied at the Milan conservatory there under Giacomo Orefice[1] and then undertook serious study of composition under Ildebrando Pizzetti and Alfredo Casella at the Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome, graduating in 1930.[3]

Encouraged by Arturo Toscanini, Rota moved to the United States where he lived from 1930 to 1932. He won a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Philadelphia, where he was taught conducting by Fritz Reiner and had Rosario Scalero as an instructor in composition.[3] Returning to Milan, he wrote a thesis on the Renaissance composer Gioseffo Zarlino. Rota earned a degree in literature from the University of Milan, graduating in 1937, and began a teaching career that led to the directorship of the Liceo Musicale in Bari, a title he held from 1950 until 1978.[3]

Film scores

Nino Rota wrote the score for the film The Glass Mountain in 1949. Notable was the singing of Tito Gobbi, one of the worlds greatest baritones. The film won a number of awards.

In his entry on Rota in the 1988 edition of The Concise Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Composers and Musicians, music scholar Nicholas Slonimsky described Rota as "brilliant" and stated that his musical style:

... demonstrates a great facility and even felicity, with occasional daring excursions into dodecaphony. However his most durable compositions are related to his music for the cinema; he composed the sound tracks of a great number of films of the Italian director Federico Fellini covering the period from 1950 to 1979.[3]

Furthermore, one of his compositional habits in particular came up for disapproving remarks: his penchant for pastiche of various past styles, which quite often turned into outright quotation of his own earlier music or even others' music. One of the most noticed examples of such incorporation is his use of the Larghetto from Dvorák's Opus 22 Serenade for Strings in E major as a theme for a character in Fellini's La Strada.[4]

During the 1940s, Rota composed scores for more than 32 films, including Renato Castellani's Zaza (1944). His association with Fellini began with Lo sceicco bianco (The White Sheik) (1952), followed by I vitelloni (1953) and La strada (The Road) (1954). They continued to work together for decades, and Fellini recalled:

The most precious collaborator I have ever had, I say it straightaway and don't even have to hesitate, was Nino Rota — between us, immediately, a complete, total, harmony ... He had a geometric imagination, a musical approach worthy of celestial spheres. He thus had no need to see images from my movies. When I asked him about the melodies he had in mind to comment one sequence or another, I clearly realized he was not concerned with images at all. His world was inner, inside himself, and reality had no way to enter it.[5]

The relationship between Fellini and Rota was so strong that even at Fellini's funeral Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife, asked trumpeter Mauro Maur to play Rota's Improvviso dell'Angelo in the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri in Rome.[6]

Rota's score for Fellini's (1963) is often cited as one of the factors which makes the film cohesive. His score for Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits (1965) included a collaboration with Eugene Walter on the song, "Go Milk the Moon" (cut from the final version of the film), and they teamed again for the song "What Is a Youth?", part of Rota's score for Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet.

The American Film Institute ranked Rota's score for The Godfather #5 on their list of the greatest film scores. His score for War and Peace was also nominated for the list. In all, Rota wrote scores to more than 150 films.

Orchestral, chamber and choral music

Rota wrote numerous concerti and other orchestral works as well as piano, chamber and choral music, much of which has been recorded and released on CD. After his death from heart failure[7] in 1979, Rota's music was the subject of Hal Willner's 1981 tribute album Amarcord Nino Rota, which featured several at the time relatively unknown but now famous jazz musicians. Gus Van Sant used some of Rota's music in his 2007 film Paranoid Park and director Michael Winterbottom used several Rota selections in the 2005 film Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. Danny Elfman frequently cites Nino Rota as a major influence (particularly on his scores for the Pee-Wee films). Director Mario Monicelli filmed a documentary Un amico magico: il maestro Nino Rota which featured interviews with Franco Zeffirelli and Riccardo Muti (a student under Rota at Bari Conservatory), and was followed by a German documentary Nino Rota - Un maestro della musica. Both explored film and concert sides of the composer.


His 1955 opera Il cappello di paglia di Firenze (The Florentine Straw Hat) is an adaptation of the play by Eugène Labiche and was presented by the Santa Fe Opera in 1977. In 2005 his opera Aladino e la lampada magica (Aladdin and the Magical Lamp), with Cosmin Ifrim in the title role, was performed in German translation at the Vienna State Opera and released on DVD. Il cappello di paglia di Firenze and Aladino e la lampada magica are regularly staged in Europe as are many symphonic and chamber titles

Written for a radio production by RAI in 1950, his short opera, I due timidi (The Two Timid Ones), was presented by the Santa Fe Opera as part of their pre-season "One-Hour Opera" program in May/June 2008.

Personal life and death

Rota had one daughter, Nina Rota, from a relationship with pianist Magda Longari.[8] He died , aged 67 from a coronary thrombosis in Rome.


Federico Fellini recalls his first chance meeting with Rota:

"Outside Cinecittà, I noticed a funny little man waiting in the wrong place for the tram. He seemed happily oblivious of everything. I felt compelled... to wait with him... I was certain that the tram would stop in its regular place and we would have to run for it, and he was equally certain it would stop where he was standing... To my surprise, the tram did stop right in front of us."

A critic conversing with Nino Rota at the age of eleven just prior to a performance of his oratorio, The Childhood of St. John the Baptist, in 1923:

Critic: "Do you like playing?"
Rota: "Whenever I can ... Is it hard to write for a newspaper?"
Critic: "It's not easy to do a good article"
Rota: "Have you come from Brussels specially to hear my oratorio?"
Critic: "I certainly have, my little friend."
Rota: "That’s really funny. I won’t be conducting it tonight. Yesterday the double bass snubbed me"

On his friendship with Igor Stravinsky:

"Stravinsky was fun; his mind struck sparks. Age was no barrier - ours became a true friendship, despite distance and meeting ever more rarely."

Nino Rota reflecting on the unhappiness of others:

"When I’m creating at the piano, I tend to feel happy; but - the eternal dilemma - how can we be happy amid the unhappiness of others? I'd do everything I could to give everyone a moment of happiness. That's what's at the heart of my music."

Federico Fellini on Nino Rota:

"He was someone who had a rare quality belonging to the world of intuition. Just like children, simple men, sensitive people, innocent people, he would suddenly say dazzling things. As soon as he arrived, stress disappeared, everything turned into a festive atmosphere; the movie entered a joyful, serene, fantastic period, a new life."


  1. ^ a b "Nino Rota Music Catalogue".
  2. ^ Nicholas Slonimsky, The Concise Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Composers and Musicians (Simon & Schuster, London, 1988, ISBN 0-671-69896-6), p. 1063
  3. ^ a b c d Slonimsky, p.1063
  4. ^ AllMusic. Nino Rota - Le Molière imaginaire, ballet suite for orchestra
  5. ^ Rota & Fellini Archived 2010-11-20 at the Wayback Machine, Cadrage, April/May 2003
  6. ^ "fellini_funerali ITALIANO - Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri alle Terme di Diocleziano di Roma".
  7. ^ "Nino Rota".
  8. ^ Videtti, Giuseppe. “Amarcord Nino Rota“, La Repubblica Milano, 20 April 2014.

Further reading

External links

A Dog's Life (1950 film)

A Dog's Life (Italian: Vita da cani) is a 1950 Italian comedy film directed by Mario Monicelli and Steno.

Amarcord Nino Rota

Amarcord Nino Rota is an album by various artists, recorded as a tribute to composer Nino Rota.

Arturo's Island (film)

L'isola di Arturo (internationally released as Arturo's Island) is a 1962 Italian drama film directed by Damiano Damiani. It is based on the novel with the same name written by Elsa Morante. The film won the Golden Shell at the San Sebastián International Film Festival.

Boccaccio '70

Boccaccio '70 is a 1962 Italian anthology film produced by Carlo Ponti and directed by Mario Monicelli, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica, from an idea by Cesare Zavattini. It is an anthology of four episodes, each by one of the directors, all about a different aspect of morality and love in modern times, in the style of Giovanni Boccaccio.

Caro Michele

Caro Michele is a 1976 Italian comedy film directed by Mario Monicelli. It was entered into the 26th Berlin International Film Festival, where Monicelli won the Silver Bear for Best Director.

Doctor and the Healer

Doctor and the Healer (Italian: Il medico e lo stregone) is a 1957 Italian comedy film directed by Mario Monicelli.

I due timidi

I due timidi (in English, The Two Timid Ones) is a one-act radio opera (also described as a commedia lirica) composed in 1950 by Nino Rota with libretto by the film writer Suso Cecchi d'Amico.

La notte di un nevrastenico

La notte di un nevrastenico is a 1959 one-act opera by Nino Rota for Milan, to a libretto by Riccardo Bacchelli.

List of compositions by Nino Rota

This is a list of compositions by the Italian composer Nino Rota (1911–1979).

List of film scores by Nino Rota

This a list of 171 film scores by the Italian composer Nino Rota (1911–1979). The films are categorized by release date, the original title, English title, alternate title (other language, regional, theatrical or DVD title), and film director.

Nino Rota discography

Below is a selected discography for Nino Rota (1911–1979). He was a prolific composer; there are a great many recordings of all of his music—both popular and classical; and it would be impossible to list all of them. Indeed, there are new performances and recordings of Rota's music being made to this day.Nino Rota is best known for his many film scores—in particular for the seminal Fellini films La Strada (1954), La Dolce Vita (1960), 8 1/2 (1963), Juliet of the Spirits (1965), and Amarcord (1974). He also wrote the scores for Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968), Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard, and Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II. For Fellini alone, Rota produced almost 80 film scores starting with The White Sheik in 1952 and ending with the unfairly forgotten Orchestra Rehearsal in 1979, the year of the composer's death.

Rota's film scores were a great commercial success. The soundtrack album of Romeo and Juliet, with combined dialogue and music, reached number two and spent 74 weeks on the Billboard charts. The theme song for La Strada sold more than two million copies in Italy alone.The film scores won many awards. For example, the score for The Godfather was nominated for an Oscar, won a British Academy Film Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Grammy.Less well known is the fact that Rota was a prolific composer of chamber music, operas, and orchestral pieces. In all he produced four symphonies, twelve operas, five ballets, three piano concertos, three cello concertos, various choral works, and dozens of chamber works—the best known being his Concerto for Strings.

Romeo and Juliet (1968 film)

Romeo and Juliet is a 1968 British-Italian romantic drama film based on the play of the same name by William Shakespeare.

The film was directed and co-written by Franco Zeffirelli, and stars Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. It won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography (Pasqualino De Santis) and Best Costume Design (Danilo Donati); it was also nominated for Best Director and Best Picture, making it the last Shakespearean film to be nominated for Best Picture to date. Sir Laurence Olivier spoke the film's prologue and epilogue and reportedly dubbed the voice of the Italian actor playing Lord Montague, but was not credited in the film.

The most financially successful film adaptation of a Shakespeare play at the time of its release, it was popular among teenagers partly because it was the first film to use actors who were close to the age of the characters from the original play. Several critics also welcomed the film enthusiastically.

The Belle of Rome

The Belle of Rome (Italian: La bella di Roma) is a 1955 Italian comedy film directed by Luigi Comencini.

The Godfather (soundtrack)

The Godfather is the soundtrack from the film of the same name, released in 1972 by Paramount Records, and in 1991 on compact disc by MCA. Unless noted, the cues were composed by Nino Rota and conducted by Carlo Savina (who was credited on the LP, but not the CD). The song "I Have but One Heart" is sung by Al Martino, who performed it in the film as character Johnny Fontane.

The score was nominated for an Academy Award; however, the Academy withdrew the nomination after determining that the "Love Theme" was a rewritten version of Nino Rota's music from the 1958 film Fortunella.

The Godfather Part II (soundtrack)

The Godfather Part II is the soundtrack from the movie of the same name, released in 1974 by ABC, and 1991 on compact disc by MCA. The original score was composed by Nino Rota and conducted by Carmine Coppola, who also provided source music for the film. Rota expands upon two of the three main themes from the first film: "The Godfather Waltz" and "Michael's Theme", while "The Love Theme" from the first film makes a brief appearance during a flashback sequence ("Remember Vito Andolini"). There are several new themes, including one for Kay (Diane Keaton), and two for young Vito (Robert De Niro): "The Immigrant Theme" and "The Tarantella", introduced in "A New Carpet".

The Taming of the Shrew (1967 film)

The Taming of the Shrew (Italian: La Bisbetica domata) is a 1967 American-Italian romantic comedy film based on the play of the same name by William Shakespeare about a courtship between two strong-willed people. The film was directed by Franco Zeffirelli and stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as Shakespeare's Kate and Petruchio.

Trombone Concerto in C (Rota)

The Concerto per Trombone e Orchestra in C was composed by Italian composer Nino Rota in 1966. The concerto is in three movements:

Allegro giusto

Lento, ben ritmato

Allegro moderatoThis concerto was given its premiere performance on March 6, 1969, at the Conservatorio di Musica "Giuseppe Verdi" in Milano, Italy, by trombonist Bruno Ferrari (to whom the work is dedicated), with the Orchestra I Pomeriggi Musicali conducted by Franco Caracciolo.This piece is considered one of the important trombone concertos in the classical repertoire. A performance of the concerto usually lasts around 13 minutes.

Two Cents Worth of Hope

Two Cents Worth of Hope (Italian: Due soldi di speranza) is a 1952 film directed by Renato Castellani.

It shared the Grand Prix prize with the film Othello at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival.

È arrivato il cavaliere!

È arrivato il cavaliere! (English: The Cavalry Has Arrived!) is a 1950 Italian comedy film directed by Mario Monicelli and Steno. It was shown as part of a retrospective on Italian comedy at the 67th Venice International Film Festival.

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