An Interview with Claudio Gizzi by Marco Werba
Originally published in CinemaScore #15, 1986/1987
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor and publisher Randall D. Larson
Claudio Gizzi, a classical pianist, started working for cinema in a very strange way. While he was a little boy, Gizzi was one of the sopranos in the Cappella Giulia in St. Peter. Armando Renzi, the director of the choir, gave him some piano and composition lessons. Then he studied at the “Instituto di musica sacra” as St. Agostino. His background as a pianist allowed him to meet Luchino Visconti who was shooting DEATH IN VENICE. Visconti, for a particular scene, needed a pianist who, intentionally, played the famous Per Elise piano music with some defects.
“After that,” said Gizzi, “I started to arrange some music by Mahler as if he was playing it himself!” It was an important experience for him, even if the music was taken from classical composers and conducted by Franco Mannino. Gizzi did all the “source music,” including piano arrangements of Mahler.
Visconti hired Gizzi for his next film, LUDWIG, in which the composer did some acting as well as arranging, conducting classical music, and transcribing Wagner’s Tannhauser for carillon. After this, Gizzi met Roman Polanski who asked him to arrange the music of Mozart and Schubert in his own personal style. Polanski and producer Mara Blasetti introduced Gizzi to Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey, who were in Rome to direct two films – Warhol’s own peculiar versions of DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN. Gizzi was hired to compose the music.
In these films, director Morrissey wanted a strong contrast between the humor of the scenes and the dramatic/romantic music. “FRANKENSTEIN was filmed first, and was musically quite different from DRACULA,” said Gizzi. “The Frankenstein theme is strongly romantic, simple and ‘easy,’ while Dracula’s theme is a bit more sad and subtle. So there is an evolution, a progression between the first and second score which matured in only a few months. Gizzi’s working relationship was mostly with Morrissey, since Warhol was not a great speaker. “Warhol was a strange guy always recording and taking pictures of whatever he could,” said Gizzi. “But, looking at the film images it was easy to understand the purpose, and therefore easy to feel which music was needed.”
Warhol and Morrissey were both satisfied with Gizzi’s score. “They had a large budget, so I had the opportunity to work with sixty or seventy musicians,” Gizzi said. “It’s not the orchestra that Goldsmith or Williams use, but it wasn’t bad! Today it’s almost impossible in our country to get a large orchestra. Only some important composers like Morricone have that possibility.”
The orchestra that Gizzi used for the Warhol films was the “Unione Musicisti de Roma” which regularly performs film scores. He also included some notable violin and cello soloists with large string and woodwind sections. Gizzi himself played the piano solos (another concert pianist played the piano among the orchestra).
Gizzi was given complete freedom to choose the style and instrumentation he wanted for the scores. “The only restriction they gave me was to write serious music in opposition to the various ironical scenes being shown on the screen,” Gizzi said, “even if the film was very poetic in places itself. I listened to some folkloristic Roman music trying to recreate the same atmosphere (like some dances by Bela Bartok). There is a sequence in DRACULA in which I think the relation between music and images is perfect.” This scene shows Dracula on his way to Rome, and the music begins romantically and, progressively, becomes simpler while Dracula gets to Rome.
Gizzi and Morrissey worked together in perfect harmony. Only seldom did the direct change the location of some of Gizzi’s cues. “I did the composition and orchestration quickly because there wasn’t so much time, and because I normally imagine the various instrumental colors at once,” said Gizzi. “There was an evolution of style from film to film. The DRACULA score is more complex even if both main themes are equally simple. Dracula’s music is nearly 19th Century music (like Satie, Bartok and Stravinsky) while Frankenstein’s score is closer to 18th Century music (Mahler, Brahms).”
Gizzi also worked with Italian director Liliana Cavani on THE NIGHT PORTER. She was preparing the film, which was scored by Daniele Paris, and found that she needed a particular arrangement of an old German song. Gizzi was selected to do it. He chose a simple trio combination: piano, accordion and violin. The music was performed live during he shooting, so the musicians on screen were the ones really playing the music.”Today, the only music that opens the composer’s imagination is film music,” Gizzi said. “I am now doing commercial and “easy” music, but of course it doesn’t give me the satisfaction I get when I score a movie. Unfortunately I have lost some important international connections so I am not doing many films. I hope the two Varese Sarabande records [of the Warhol scores] will help me to meet some other important directors. Already I have met you and CinemaScore ÄÄ that’s something!”
Among his recent non-film work, Gizzi has released some French pop records under the pseudonym of Jean Pierre Posit, and a record with Italian flutist Severino Gazzelloni. Gizzi is also very interested in contemporary electronic and computer music. “I would like to score a movie like TRON,” he said, “which was completely made by computers. But in Italy, we don’t yet have that kind of technical ability. Today it is possible to find incredible sounds with a computer digitally connected to a keyboard. I am now working with a keyboard called a Kurtzwiel, which I am told is one of the best in the world. Electronics can let you have a complete idea of what you are going to do in a recording studio while you are still at home, or even let you create a final complete product. If I had the opportunity to use a good synthesizer while I was scoring DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN I would have used it!”
Gizzi feels it is important, however, to know how to do different kinds of music, and not just synthesizer music. “I think it’s good to know how to do a string quartet as well as computer music,” he said. “I’m open to all kinds of music from classical to dodecaphonic. I once did a record for string quartets that started in a baroque style and ended with contemporary music! I respect all music that must be connected to a certain image or idea. I think I’m able to do different styles since my mind is open to various sorts of music, and I am musically prepared to compose them.”