Carlo Rustichelli

An Interview with Carlo Rustichelli by Enzo Cocumarolo
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine No.10, 1977
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor and publisher, Luc Van de Ven

Carlo RustichelliHow did you become a film composer? By sheer accident or by choice?
By a coincidence which led quite naturally to a choice. I once composed the main themes of IL FIGLIO DEL CORSARO ROSSO and GLI TULTIMI FILIBUSTIERI. Pietro Germi had been the screenplay writer on both films and remembered my work. He looked me up at Terni while directing TOSCA and suggested that I write the score for GIOVENTU PERDUTA. I suggested that I either compose the music or conduct the orchestra. Although I was trained in composition, this meant entering an entirely new musical field, with modern theories that I didn’t share with other composers then and don’t share even now. Film music would allow me to express myself while ignoring those modern theories I mentioned, and I soon turned to composing film scores with considerable enthusiasm.

Do you believe movie music is a completely independent art that can exist on its own, without being backed by a film for instance?
I believe movie music presupposes the use of a variety of qualities, which are not inferior when compared to other kinds of music that are much more formal in their structure. I feel that calling film music “art” sounds presumptuous; some movie scores can indeed be listened to independently of the picture. I subscribe to the polemic that it is far better to cherish some cinema scores instead of a great many useless and incomprehensible symphonies. I want to point out that many competent colleagues who turn to writing symphonies do create interesting compositions (since musicians working in films must be very talented) while others who occasionally compose for movies simply do not have the necessary talent, or don’t exercise it well. This is not a personal polemic dictated by jealousy but an objective comment. Naturally some exceptions do exist, but they are rare!

Are you emotionally influenced by the subject matter of the picture or the opera?
Reading a great screenplay or seeing a marvelous film naturally helps my quest for musical themes inspired by the subject matter. This isn’t always possible, and quite often the composer creates through sheer fantasy that which is lacking in reality.

What do you think of the electronic music or certain musical techniques used by composers like Ennio Morricone, sometimes put to use in pictures where it seems unnecessary?
It’s often done to express certain moods, or for unusual situations – psychoanalysis, a science-fiction movie, etc. Electronic music can be very effective. It shouldn’t be over-used and it mustn’t be used to stress human feelings, for instance. Including electronic music really depends upon the situations than can arise in a film.

Without starting to compare accomplishments or judging scores by your colleagues, which Italian composers do you hold in highest esteem? Do you see a future for Italian film music or do you feel it can no longer renew itself?
There are many young Italian composers I admire. At the risk of inadvertently leaving out some names, I’d mention specifically Serio, Morricone, Nicolai, Savina, Plenizio, in fact nearly every young composer, including Bacalov. Also, of course, Lavagnino, Rota, Ortolani, Trovaioli, Piccioni. There are few really young composers, but as I said it’s a difficult field which requires a specialization beyond purely musical qualities. I get along very well with all my colleagues, since I feel not merely friendship but genuine affection for each one of them – I am merely trying to repay them in kind!

You wrote many film scores in your long career. Which are your favorite compositions, without taking into account the success a particular movie or its subsequent soundtrack release may have had?
That’s a really difficult question. I wrote hundreds of film scores… In my opinion, BRANCALEONE remains one of my best efforts. As to successful movies, I’d like to stress that many scores for low-budget pictures cost me a great deal of effort, with often surprising results; especially the music for L’UOMO DI PAGLIA, QUATTRO GIORNATE DI NAPOLI, KAPO, DIVORZIO ALL’ITALIANA, MALEDETTO IMBROGLIO. Obviously I cannot list them all, but I can’t help feeling that little-known movies like BUBU DI MONTPARNASSE, ANNIBALE, ANTINEA, ALBOINO E ROSAMUNDE deserved a better fate.

Which are your favorite composers of classical music and your favorite conductors?
It would be almost impossible to pick my favorite composers and conductors…, Bach is a giant among composers, but then so are Beethoven, Mozart and so many others. Besides the ones I mentioned, I must confess a certain preference for Wagner, Mahler, Brahms, Verdi, and Tchaikovsky. I also appreciate Puccini, Massenet, Bizet, and Gounod. Among living conductors, I admire Karajan, Pretre, Maazel, Celebidache, Muti and Abbado. A pity that maestro Franco Ferrara, the greatest one of them all, can no longer conduct because of his health. You’ll have to forgive me if I cannot select a single favorite; I recall that among great musicians comparisons are really unpopular!

Is composing for films a profession which results from training at the Conservatory and taking conductor’s courses, then perhaps a period doing theatre work?
In order to be a good film composer, it is of course necessary to study composition thoroughly since many pictures require scholarly attention. An excellent knowledge of contrapuntal music and dissonance is essential. Naturally not all musicians are competent in this field – they may have a tin ear or they may simply be song writers instead of composers. If I may borrow the words of certain indulgent colleagues: in this respect, Italy unfortunately occupies first place!

Must a movie score necessarily be written in the style of a symphony or does light music work equally well in some cases? In Italy film music budgets are small, there’s little time to write a score, and dilettantism all contribute towards the disappearance of the real soundtrack.
I think I’d have to repeat the same comments I gave to your last question. I could add that these “improvised” musicians and their indulgent music publishers (their efforts to save money on the size of the orchestra and on the fee of the composer are less well known) are trying to change the concept of film music; they’re no longer concerned with synchronizing the score – though they’re still trying hard to produce the exact synchronization of picture to music – and they feel that asynchronic music sounds much more interesting as well as better. Composing for the cinema needs diligence; hard work and competence, there can be no two ways about it!

A few somewhat arrogant composers claim that soundtracks of the past needn’t be cherished because their style is bypassed. Do you agree with this theory?
Older symphonic film scores are unquestionably valuable and part of our patrimonium, and we ought to try to conserve them.

Which pictures created some problems for you as far as composing the score was concerned?
In some movies there are quite a few problems to be solved, as certain scenes can be one entity encompassing music, dance, and song; however, during play-back the musician should be able to solve the problems. Sometimes the composer will succeed, sometimes he won’t; in this case the results will be inappropriate if not downright ugly. In situations like these involving dance, choir, and so on, it is best to write the music first, and then mold it to the picture. Some movies require symphonic treatment, others less complex compositions. A few examples: KAPO, IL RICHIAMO DELLA FORRESTA, GUERRA AMORE E FUGA, ROSAMUNDA E ALBOINO, TESEO CONTRO IL MINOT AURO, ANTINEA.

I’d be interested in some anecdotes – a disagreement with a film director, problems when a score was rejected, unexpected difficulties with a movie studio, etc.
My relationship with the various directors I have worked with has always been most cordial. With the best of them there are never any problems because there is mutual trust and understanding; both composer and director try to reach the same goal and look for the best solution. With less modest directors this collaboration naturally turns out to be somewhat more difficult; however, in my experience even they listen to suggestions, and afterwards I succeed in giving the illusion of coming up with the director’s choice of music, while in fact I ignored his taste and present my own version! I certainly knew Germi and his ways very well; for instance his acceptance of a theme he liked by giving a pleased grunt! He was always very talkative but he did possess an exceptional understanding of music. He used to listen time and again to the various themes I was trying to construct, even to the extent of falling asleep once or twice and afterwards apologizing, saying that my music had soothed him to sleep… But whenever I found a theme I thought appropriate and played various times for him, I always got that “grunt”. Germi was a surly person, but a pleasure to work with when composing the music for his films.

Contrary to what happens in the United States, in Italy the composer is free to interpret a film musically without the slightest pressure from the director or the producer…
In Italy the film composer only receives indirect pressure from these people – they “suggest” that the music should be more listenable, or symphonic, or of aesthetical value, and the like. However, pity those composers who listen to these suggestions, since those who give in will – in the end, even in the best of cases – finish up doing the original music. Obviously competent directors should be excluded from those who bear pressure on film composers.

What has your experience been when working on foreign films, and what is your opinion of the way things are done in Hollywood?
I’ve scored several foreign pictures in Spain, Russia, America, etc. One I ought to mention is GUERRA, AMORE E FUGA with Paul Newman; I wrote the music on my own in a villa in Los Angeles. I never even met the director! My experience when working on another movie shot in Los Angeles was completely different: AVANTI! directed by Billy Wilder, with Jack Lemmon. Wilder is a really impressive director, and the way he works is not unlike Germi’s; he respected my ideas enormously, which was actually not all that important because his ideas perfectly corresponded with mine. Scoring this picture was an extremely satisfying experience for me. In this particular case, the American method of working on a movie was identical to the Italian system. With one interesting exception: in the States composers are contracted by studios like Universal, Paramount, Columbia, etc., who extend every facility: rooms where you can write at your ease, on the spot so to speak; and the finished film is at your disposal for checking the length of each scene to be scored, changing the character of a scene, and so on. If we had those facilities at our disposal in Italy, all those improvising musicians and dilettantes would be immediately unmasked! First rate facilities enable only the real composers to show off their craftsmanship.

You are a close friend of Ennio Morricone. Do you discuss music and movies or do you never mention your work, by a kind of unspoken mutual agreement?
With Morricone and Lavagnino, both close friends of mine, I talk about music, sports and our family problems. We even play cards!

Did you really apply all your talents to scoring ODISSEA, or was this assignment made easy by its subject matter, which lent itself quite naturally to a symphonic score?
The music for the TV programme ODISSEA – later released in the cinema – did not present any severe problems, since its theme presupposes that particular symphonic treatment. However I should add my task was made easier by the beautifully photographed images. In fact, I recall having a wonderful time composing for these shows. It was a stroke of luck in more ways than one, as I had little time to score each programme, and happily enough music and film meshed perfectly. I had to finish the score for each episode as fast as I could, because the assignment had been given first to another composer who turned out to be not up to the task, and time was really in short supply. My music was conducted by Bruno Nicolai, an excellent musician and composer and a superb conductor.


I am very grateful to James Marshall, who revised my translation of Enzo Cocumarolo’s manuscript. – LVDV.



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