Italian Soundtrack Masters
The golden age of Italian movie scoring started in the '60s with the birth of so-called spaghetti westerns, which would be a huge subgenre until the early '70s. The films were casually violent, peopled with unshaven scoundrels, reveling in brutality and gleeful amorality and often pointedly political. John Ford's westerns these were not. Their soundtracks were just as radical, breaking with Hollywood tradition by incorporating electric guitar, purposefully jagged structures, minimalist arrangements — and a whole lot of whistling.
The most famous name in the world of Italian film composers is the staggeringly prolific Ennio Morricone. A precocious child who joined the conservatory to study the trumpet at ten, Morricone embodies the Italian mix of rigorous training and pop-classical interaction: After studying composition, he worked as a house arranger for RCA, which got him to collaborate with pop singers of the time. He went on to arrange soundtracks before getting credited under his own name. In 1964, he started collaborating with director Sergio Leone, establishing his musical signatures: harmonica, gnarly guitar (Morricone is often covered by punk-surf bands) and ubiquitous whistling by Alessandro Alessandroni, who also contributed zither, guitar and vocal harmonies with his group I Cantori Moderni (the Modern Singers). Now, hearing these elements together instantly triggers visions of Clint Eastwood in a duster.
But of course Cinecitta wasn't limited to westerns, covering a huge stylistic range thanks to directors as diverse as Federico Fellini, Dino Risi, Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci, all of whom made memorable movies that came with equally memorable scores. Even better, crap movies often had brilliant scores, courtesy of composers like Luis Bacalov, Piero Umiliani, Armando Trovajoli and Piero Piccioni — look for these names and you won't go wrong. Some of the best Italian pop songs from the late '60s actually originated in movies, often serving as main titles, while the composers 'mastery of atmosphere was hard to match. Sure, dipping your toes in Italian-soundtrack music is daunting because there's a whole lot of it out there, but these records should get you started.