An Interview with Stelvio Cipriani by John Mansell
Did you come from a family background that was musical at all?
Nobody in my family was interested in music. I became involved with music accidentally: It was something innate inside me! I qualified and for one year I worked as accountant, but during this year I was also studying at the conservatory.
What musical education did you receive?
When I was a child I usually went to church and I was fascinated by the organ. A priest gave me my first lessons: he taught me the ABC… the five-line stave… and he was the one who signalled my grand father about my big improvements and great interest in music. Everybody in my family wondered who I was like! At 14 I took the exams to enter at the conservatory… and from that time I have never stopped with music!
Had you always wanted to write music for the cinema, or was this something that developed as your career progressed? What was your first film score?
My first movie was BOUNTY KILLER. A western, it was the 10 July 1966: my film music career started with that movie. I could exploit that opportunity thanks to my previous experience, differently from the present composers… Experience is very important: after my training and experience in piano, before starting with soundtracks, I lived many different situations. I played for 6 months, with a small music band, on cruise ships. At that time there were many ballrooms (or “balere” in Italian) – it was a very popular fad! – and we played in the manner of many other bands… like Peppino Di Capri and Fred Bongusto, to tell only two names. These ships sailed from New York to Portorico, Haity, and Caribbean Sea…
When I came back to Italy, I was enlisted as pianist and accompanist by Rita Pavone the famous singer, who at the time started her career. Again, I’m never stopping to repeat how these experiences were fundamental for my skill and proficiency. An essential platform who, after 5 years, would have given me an useful knowledge, necessary to work in cinema.
Your style and sound is very original and in many ways unique, do you undertake all the orchestration work on your scores for the cinema?
Generally yes, I personally interested in it. When you have the possibility to do it, I think it’s important.
When you are working on a motion picture assignment, how many times do you like to watch a movie in order to get any ideas as to, what type of music is to be written or where the music should be placed for best effect?
This is an interesting question. I think the answer is subjective for any composer. I certainly need to remember exactly the images while I compose music, but fortunately I have an impressing photographic memory! I don’t need to see the movie many times. Sometimes Dino Risi was impressed by my memory, because I remembered better than him any particulars of the frames. I would at times make fun of him joking about our age gap, saying he was getting old and he could not remember the movie.
You have toured with orchestras and given concerts of your film music and also other composer’s works, are there any composers that you find particularly interesting or original? Are there any composers that you think may have influenced you in the way that you compose or orchestrate your music?
When I was young I was a great fan of Henry Mancini… and still I am! He represented an aim for me, like a searchlight in the sea. While I was working at my second movie, UN UOMO, UN CAVALLO, UNA PISTOLA, I was very honored because his attention to my music theme from the film. I don’t know… it’s a very big satisfaction: it’s a sign of your artistic value! When a few years later I met him, he was amazed to know me in person and said: – I thought you were older, with white hair! I studied on his books, I still have them. I did not imitate him, but I considered him as an example by a professional point of view.
As for Italian composers, the great Nino Rota would have to be the top of my list, he became very famous thanks to his soundtracks in Fellini’s movies, and actually he was a very complete musician. I often play famous themes in my concerts (“Via col vento”, “Il padrino”, “L’amore è una cosa meravigliosa”, ma anche “Titanic”!) and I usually start with Nino Rota’s music this is out of, respect for his wonderful talent… then, in the end, I conclude with Anonimo Veneziano! Which of course is my own composition.
Your score for UN UOMO, UN CAVALLO, UNA PISTOLA, and in particular the theme is probably one of the Italian western genres most popular musical works. How did you become involved with this particular project, and what size orchestra did you utilise on the score?
It was because of the work I had done previously on THE BOUNTY HUNTER, the director wanted me so he contacted me and I agreed to write the score. I would say the size of the orchestra was number to between 30 and 35 players.
You have worked with both Alessandroni and Nora Orlandi’s choirs. Did you have a preference to which vocal group that you utilised, or was it just a matter of availability?
No preferences. They’re both very good and, moreover, they’re great professionals. My choices were merely based on their availability.
A number of your film scores, have recently been issued for the first time on the Digit Movies Label, are you pleased that these are now finally available to collectors, and did you have any involvement in the preparation of the releases?
Surely! It pleases me a lot! But I don’t intervene… I leave them free to choose.
BLINDMAN, is one of your popular works from the Italian western genre, within the score you use a sitar, an interesting choice of instrument for a western, was there any reason that you selected this instrument for the score?
Well, this is an arrangement issue… it’s a sign of a musician’s intuition! To do an example, in another movie I used an anvil and a hammer. Their sound changed according to the part you stroke and it was very interesting. Another time, working for the movie “Tentacles”, I had to realize some music to communicate the effect provoked by some giant octopus’ enormous tentacles! And I’m not a great sea lover… I prefer mountains… so I can’t surely know anything about octopus! One day, walking in a record studio called Forum, inaccurately I trampled on some broken glasses on the floor: thanks to those accidents I realized the solution. I put a microphone in the right way to record the noise provoked by a big glass falling on the floor, being turned in thousands fragments. The record speed was 35, but in the movie we used a slower speed, 7 1/2: a very bizarre sound came out, a very realistic water whirling sensation…
Have you ever composed a film score under another name?
Surely! My nickname was Steve Powder, a “revisiting” to my real name: Stelvio became “Steve”, Cipriani became “Powder” (because in Italian it means the “beauty face powder”).
What do you consider to be the role of music in film?
It’s undoubtedly fundamental, it’s an integral part in a movie… but of course a good soundtrack is more enhanced when the movie is good too!
Have you ever had a score rejected, or declined to work on a film?
How much time were you given to compose a score for a movie, maybe you would like to use L’IGUANA DALLA LINGUA DI FUOCO as an example?
Generally… one month, considering all the movie’s phases: to watch the film, to compose the music, to orchestrate and record it.
When working on a film score, how do arrive at your musical solutions, do you use piano, synthesiser or do you write your music straight to manuscript?
I usually take some notes about the pictures, during the movie spotting session. Then, at the piano, I think again to the movie scenes and I invent the music. I have a great visual memory and I exploit it a lot to compose soundtracks.
When scoring a film, do you have any set routine in which you do this, by this I mean do you start at the opening titles and work through to the end or do you tackle smaller cues first leaving larger ones till later?
Generally I primarily work to the key scenes in the movie, then, according with the director, I start working to the theme. When the director gives me his assent about the theme, I go on with the remaining scenes, trying to respect and to express in the best way their sensibility and feeling.
You have worked on numerous movies and many differing storylines and genres, is there any genre in particular that you are happier working on?
Yes… I have a deep disposition in love movies, classic movies in which I can better express my piano. I’m a hardened Schopenian! I love Romantics! However I love to experiment new solutions too, relative to different genres… you have to be versatile in my work. Besides I like Italian Comedies, like Dino Risi’s. Sometimes, thinking to my past compositions, I remember some strange contrasts… metallic music by one side, the Opus Dei by the other.
You worked with Dave Brubeck at times, what was your involvement with him?
I met Dave Brubeck in a very emotional situation! I was in New York: when I was young I experienced for a long time on cruise boats and those was the reason of my American stay. At the end of every cruise they had to clean and control the ship, so we had a 3-4 days break. During one of those breaks, I was with my band’s drummer Fausto, we went in one of the more famous jazz night clubs of the place: the Birdland. As we entered the club we could smell a typical smoke and alcohol odour… and we couldn’t believe to our eyes: it was the Dave Brubeck Quartet who plays!!! I fainted. Then we came back again in the club… and I was honored to play for him at the piano the second prelude by Bach… it was one of the strongest emotions I’ve ever had in my life.
As a composer where do you get your inspiration from?
From the pictures surely, but I don’t know the way: it’s a mystery. Every time I am in front of something new and I am amazed!
You worked with Mario Bava on a number of films, what was he like to work with, did he have much involvement with where the music was to be placed etc?
My collaboration with Mario Bava has always been very good. He was a very careful director: he was always present when we had to record. Generally, however, I have been on good terms with all my colleagues.
ANONYMOUS VENITIAN has to be one of your most lyrical and beautiful film scores, did you perform piano on this soundtrack?
No… He was Arnaldo Graziosi: a big pianist, besides a wonderful person. When he was charged with having killed his wife and they asked my opinion (in an interview for the RAI, the Italian public television), I put in the recorder the disc of Anonimo Veneziano, and I said: – This is Arnaldo Graziosi.
He has a rare sensitivity and politeness. He is a friend with I have a marvellous relationship. He unfairly spent 15 years in a prison: I have no doubt about his innocence.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m working on a thrilling serial TV, who is going to be broadcast all over the world. It is being entitled “The 5 senses of death” and is being composed from 5 movies. Moreover now I am working for Pope Benedetto XVI: I am very religious. One time I met Pope Giovanni Paolo II in Torino: an immensely spiritual person. While he was walking he had all round a special light, he didn’t appear like a hearthly guy. I composed for him some music in honour of Don Bosco. Pope Wojtyla loved much salesians.
Thanks to Maestro Cipriani, BEAT records and a special thank you to Valentina of the press office at BEAT records in Italy for all her hard work with this interview