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Maestro for Fellini, ‘Godfather’ gets centennial treatment

Music for Screens: Winter 2012

Concerts around the world are marking the start of the centennial year for Nino Rota, the Italian composer whose music for “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Godfather” and numerous Federico Fellini films made him famous.

Rota (1911-1979) would have turned 100 on Dec. 3, and orchestras from Norway to Malaysia are scheduling tributes, performing everything from the whimsical “La Dolce Vita” and the wacky march from “8 1/2” to his poignant score for “Romeo and Juliet” and the Sicilian-inspired music for “The Godfather,” whose “Part II” score won him his only Oscar.

“Nino Rota was a romantic, a 19th-century composer transplanted by destiny into the 20th century,” says Franco Sciannameo, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who has written two books about Rota’s music. “He was suited to the cinema because he had incredible facility with the short form, the three-minute piece.”

He did 16 films with director Fellini, including “La Strada,” “La Dolce Vita,” “8 1/2,” “Juliet of the Spirits” and “Amarcord,” and his lighthearted tunes — often like circus marches — relate directly to Fellini’s notion of “life as circus” and his obsession with clowns, says Sciannameo. Rota’s 150 films also included collaborations with King Vidor (“War and Peace”) and Luchino Visconti (“The Leopard”).

The original “Godfather” score caused a brief scandal in 1972 when it was revealed that its love theme actually originated in a 1958 Italian film; Rota’s Oscar nomination was withdrawn. But that kind of self-borrowing wasn’t unusual.

“Rota never threw anything away,” Sciannameo says. “The same music floats from films to operas, ballet to concert works.”

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