An interview with Alessandro Alessandroni by John Mansell © 2006/2008
For any collector of Italian soundtracks the name of Alessandro Alessandroni is probably a familiar one. He is undoubtedly the one artiste, composer/musician that is involved in almost 99% of all Italian soundtracks, his choir IL CANTORI MODERNI, has vocalised on scores for the Italian cinema that have been penned by the likes of Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai, Carlo Rustichelli, Nico Fidenco, Francesco De Masi, Franco Micalizzi, Stelvio Cipriani, Piero Umiliani and Gianni Ferrio. To name a few, he is also responsible for a handful of scores for Italian productions and has been a featured soloist on many soundtracks. His whistle is distinctive and flawless, and his performances on electric guitar are second too none.
It is Ennio Morricone that is the composer Alessandroni worked with most extensively during the mid to late 1960s and throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Alessandroni has recently scored a new Italian produced comedy western entitled TRINITY GOES EAST the score is everything that one would expect from the maestro, and includes many of the stock sounds and musical trademarks that are associated with the spaghetti western film and soundtrack. Hopefully this will herald a return to a more regular working schedule on films. The composer has also shifted his location, and is now based in London where he hopes to raise his profile in the music fraternity. I began by talking to the composer about his last CD release which was a compilation of his works for film entitled EL PURO.
“The compact disc is a collection of music from film scores that I have composed and also a few tracks which are from soundtracks that I have performed on. EL PURO was a western, I wrote the score in a very similar style to that of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, but the work on this score is all mine. The other pieces included on the collection are, SINBAD AND THE CALLIPH OF BAGHDAD, LA SPACCONATA and a suite of music composed in the style of the Italian western. This is my own personal tribute to the genre and its musical sounds I have called it, ONCE UPON A TIME: THE ITALIAN WESTERN. On this track I have used the wonderful voice of Edda Dell Orso. The other cues include three tracks that were recorded at a concert in Salerno, these are A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, DEATH RIDES A HORSE and KILL THEM ALL AND COME BACK ALONE. The latter being the work of Francesco De Masi who I have worked alongside many times and co-composed soundtracks with. The other two are of course Morricone. The qualities of the recordings are quite good considering that they are live. Also ROSSANA is included; this is a very brief cue composed by Armando Trovajoli, this is just whistling and guitar. Finally there is a track that is composed by Roberto Zamori entitled STELLA POLARE, this is also written in the style of the Italian western, and has a main part performed on electric guitar with whistling. Roberto is a music professor from Prato in Italy, and is one of the people responsible for the production of the compact disc, the other is my good friend and also my agent, Lionel Woodman of Hillside CD production in England”.
Alessandro Alessandroni was born in Rome in 1925. He initially studied economics at University, and it was only because of his keen interest in music that he decided to become more involved with it, and began to teach himself to play guitar and piano. Whilst playing in nightclubs in Europe he gained more and more experience and continued to pick up the rudimentary skills of composing and arranging whilst performing.
After touring on the club circuit the composer returned to his native Italy, and it was at this time that he met for the first time Nora Orlandi, for a short time he performed with her in a singing group called 2+2. After a while Alessandroni decided to part company with Orlandi, and went on to form his own singing group which he called THE FOUR CARAVELS, and it was this first vocal group that would be the foundation on which his now famous IL CANTORI MODERNI was built. Just after this Alessandroni received a call from Ennio Morricone, as Alessandroni explained.
“I was in Rome doing a television show called CANZONISSIMA. Morricone telephoned me and told me that he had been asked to compose the score for a western film which was directed by Sergio Leone, this turned out to be A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, Morricone asked me if I would play guitar on the soundtrack and also he needed me to whistle as well; of course I said yes. Morricone suggested that the choir be enlarged, so we added more vocalists making the choir 12 strong, and this is how IL CANTORI MODERNI was born. I am told that Nora Orlandi had been considered to be involved on the score but I think that this might have been before Morricone was asked to compose the soundtrack. After this first collaboration with Morricone, I worked with him on many occasions and as you know on all types of movies, the choir was also expanded further after this and increased to sometimes 16 members, depending on the requirements of the score”.
Considering the amount of scores that the composer has worked upon I asked if it was possible for him to identify one or two as being his favourites.
“This has got to be the million dollar question; most difficult to answer. I think that I will have to say that the score that I like a lot is SEVEN GOLDEN MEN. I have very nice memories of this score and also working with my very good friend Armando Trovajoli – I have worked with Armando many many times, and I worked with him quite recently on a film, but I did not compose I played guitar for him”.
I could not believe how modest the composer was. He is virtually the ‘SOUND’of the Italian film score especially the Italian western score and it is he who is the heart of the music for the Italian cinema but he makes no big thing of this achievement.
“I am a performer not a star, the stars are the composers such as Morricone, Nicolai, Bacalov and others”.
Working with Morricone so often I asked Alessandroni if he felt that he had been influenced by the composer at all?
“I think that all composers in Italy were influenced by Morricone. His output during the 1960s and 1970s was immense. It was also very good, I think, that he also influenced composers outside of Italy and he created a sound for the western that is still being employed today by some composers. His musical presence is impossible to ignore”.
Alessandro AlessandroniI went on to enquire about a score that Morricone had composed for THE BIBLE which was eventually rejected.
“I remember that they kept Morricone waiting in Rome for a long time. I think that the director had asked more than one composer to write the music and he was going to pick what score he thought to be the most suitable. In the end Dino De Laurentis decided that he liked the work by a Japanese composer. I felt really disappointed for Morricone. His score was I think superior, possibly his best work for the cinema, an exquisite soundtrack that was eventually re-arranged and used some twenty years later on a television film THE PRINCE OF THE DESERT. Morricone also composed some wonderful music for THE RED TENT, and although most of his score remained the better cues were not used, it is such a pity because the best music was not used. There is a sequence in the film where an ice wall falls into the sea, Morricone scored this with some really beautiful music, but the producer decided to play the scene with no music it was such a waste”.
Also because of his association with Morricone, Alessandroni must have come into contact with Bruno Nicolai, I asked him what it was like working with him?
“Nicolai was a very competent conductor and also a great composer in his own right. I worked with him on many occasions also, even on an American movie, a western, the title of which I cannot remember (LANDRAIDERS -JM). I also worked on his scores for various westerns and some of the Mafia type movies that he scored. Nicolai deserved more recognition for his music, but he was overshadowed by the immense output of Morricone, I remember him being asked to compose in a style similar to that of Morricone by directors and producers because Morricone was not available to work on their film. Other soundtracks that I worked on with Nicolai included, SHANGHAI JOE, THE BOUNTY HUNTERS, FEMMINE INSATIABLE and 10,000 DOLLARI POUR RINGO.”
And what of conductor Nicole Samale, who was credited as conducting for Morricone on a few soundtracks after Morricone ceased to use Nicolai, or was this an alias for Morricone ?
“No, Samale did exist, again another very fine conductor, but he worked on very few scores, and Morricone began to conduct himself, what happened to Samale I cannot say, he just disappeared”.
A score that was composed by both Nicolai and Morricone was EL MERCINARIO or A PROFFESSIONAL GUN. This was a politically orientated western that starred Franco Nero and Tony Mustante with Jack Palance in the role of the villain Curly. Alessandroni and his choir did a lot of work on this score and it contains many solo performances by Alessandroni both as a whistler and as a guitarist. It is suprising then that Alessandroni is not credited on the film or the soundtrack album. I asked him why this was?
“It is probably my own fault. I would often forget to ask for my name to be put on the credits. I was working on so many soundtracks at that time that I would not really have time to finish one before starting on the next – there are probably a lot more soundtracks out there that I worked on and did not receive a credit. On the soundtrack to A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS I received a cheque for 50,000 Lire, this I think was about £25 of your pounds at the time, I actually only got the money because the record company RCA were so pleased with the record sales. Nothing to do with Morricone or the film company”.
So on A PROFFESSIONAL GUN how much music was Morricone’s and what cues were supplied by Nicolai?
“I have no idea, I was presented with the score when it was finished, Nicolai did conduct, but what music was his and what was Morricone’s I cannot say – maybe it will be revealed in years to come”.
Wasn’t the score for A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS originally going to be composed by Lavangnino?
“Yes, I think so, but Leone decided to have Morricone instead”.
THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, has got to be the most familiar western theme ever written and it was this that relay put the spaghetti western score and Morricone on the so called map. Alessandroni provided the shrieks and whistling on the soundtrack as well as the now familiar WAH-WAH sound. His choir also provided the excellent harmonising for Morricone’s landmark score. I asked Alessandroni if he knew how Morricone arrived at the sound that he achieved on the soundtrack?
“There were many stories circulating at the time about how the sound came about, some saying that the composer had based them on animal noises, others suggesting that Morricone had got the ideas by listening to Indian chants, but I can honestly say I do not know how they were conceived. All I know is that the work was all from Morricone”.
When Alessandroni is asked to work on a score, who decides where the theme or what section of music will be whistled etc?
“Again I cannot say for sure, when one works with another composer, things just happen, its a creative process that sometimes is a joint effort and other times is the work of just one person. I began whistling by accident – Maestro Nino Rota wanted a whistler for a soundtrack and I volunteered”.
And how does Alessandroni work out his musical ideas for a film score?
“Generally I use a piano to try things out, but sometimes I will use guitar. I have more recently begun to use a computer but still I prefer to use real musical instruments. A computer or a synthesiser can sound really bland and artificial at times. There is a time and place for this type of music, normally when time is short or the budget is very tight, or the movie is not so good”.
AROUND THE WORLD WITH THE LOVERS OF PEYNET was scored by Alessandroni although the theme for the movie was written by Ennio Morricone. I asked Alessandroni how he became involved on this score?
“Morricone was asked to do the score and he accepted the assignment but found himself unable to fulfil the assignment due to working on other projects, so he composed a piece which was used as the films main theme and asked me to provide the remainder of the score. I did base some of my music on Morricone’s theme but developed it further into other compositions. The theme that Morricone wrote was also used as the films love theme. I enjoyed working on this project – it was a full length animated movie and the soundtrack was issued in Japan on an LP, and then a little while ago it was re-issued on a double CD”.
Like Alessandroni, Edda Dell Orso is an artiste that has worked on many soundtracks and also has worked with most Italian film music composers. I asked Alessandroni about her.
“Edda, I liked very much to work with; she never ceased to amaze me. I have collaborated with her on numerous occasions and I have also worked with her husband Giacamo Dell Orso, who is a very underrated composer, and a very talented conductor and arranger. Edda,s voice is flawless and she has such a range in her vocals. Without her, Italian film music would not have been so popular, I am certain”.
My final question to Alessandroni was; are you working on anything at the moment?
“As you know my last score was for TRINITY GOES EAST and I was hoping things would begin to move now that I have moved my studio to London. There was some interest from various people and I have just finished filming a documentary for a British television company. I will also be performing in concert in London and there is also the possibility of another recording of my music being released by another British company; but at the moment I am travelling and enjoying life.”
The British company that the composer spoke of is a music library company, based in London, and there has also been interest in the composer from a British agency, who provide composers for various film companies.