Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 masterpiece The Godfather is possibly the greatest gangster film of all time. Based on Mario Puzo's novel, it won three Academy Awards including Best Actor for Marlon Brando's portrayal of Vito Corleone. Nino Rota's atmospheric music was nominated for an Academy Award, but had to be withdrawn as a theme had previously been used for the 1957 film Fortunella.
Chiefly remembered for his career as a film composer, in which he excelled in over 150 examples and collaborated with Frederico Fellini, Nino Rota was also a successful composer of concert works. He is best known for his scores to the first two films in Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather trilogy.
Rota was born in Milan, Italy on 3 December 1911, the grandson of the composer Giovanni Rinaldi. He was quickly recognised as a child prodigy when, in 1923, his oratorio L'infanzia di S Giovanni Battista, was well received. He entered the Milan Conservatory and then studied in Rome with Casella. On the advice of Toscanini, he went to study at Philhadelphia's Curtis Institute with Rosario Scalero, discovering a love for American popular song, the cinema, and the music of Gershwin.
Returning to Italy, Rota's music began attracting the attention of critics and audiences with its innovative musical language that, nevertheless, maintained an unbroken link with the past. His symphonies at this time, for example, drew on the slav traditions of Tchaikovsky and Dvorák. In 1939 he became a lecturer at Bari Conservtory, later becoming its director (1950-77), and in 1942 began a long collaboration with the Lux Film company, creating music for approximately 60 films over the next ten years.
By the end of World War II, his music's 'traditional' sound was, decidedly, out of fashion. Although he continued to write for the concert hall and the opera house, Rota began to devote more of his creative energies to film music. In 1952, he began a life-long association with Frederico Fellini, collaborating on 16 films, including La dolce vita. He later worked with the illustrious directors Luchino Visconti, Franco Zeffirelli, and King Vidor. Rota died in Rome on 10 April 1979.
Rota's works for the concert hall and theatre encompass a variety of genres and styles, from opera to oratorio, string quartet to symphony. His music freely borrows from his own works, a trait particularly evident in his 1966 ballet La strada and the 1977 opera Napoli milionaria, using material from his film scores as well as previous 'art' works. Some of his finest works include the Symphony No. 3 (1956-7), the theatrical fairy-tale La vista meravigliosa (1970), and the nonet (1956-77).
Rota's twin careers allowed a great deal of cross-fertilisation, enriching both his film scores and his concert music. Through the popular appeal of his work for film, he has ensured that his talent has been heard by millions world-wide, perhaps encouraging some to sample his works for the concert hall as well.