Giovanni Rinaldi “Nino” Rota (December 3, 1911 –April 10, 1979) was an Italian composer, pianist, conductor, and academic best known for his film scores, notably for the films of Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti, who also composed the music for two of Franco Zeffirelli’s Shakespeare films, and for the first two films of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy, receiving the Academy Award for Best Original Score for The Godfather Part II (1974). Rota was born on December 3, 1911, into a musical family at Milan, Italy. He was a renowned child prodigy—his first oratorio, L’infanzia di San Giovanni Battista, was written at age 11 and performed in Milan and Paris as early as 1923; his three-act lyrical comedy after Hans Christian Andersen, Il Principe Porcaro, was composed when he was just 13 and published in 1926. He studied at the Milan conservatory there under Giacomo Orefice and then undertook serious study of composition under Ildebrando Pizzetti and Alfredo Casella at the Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome, graduating in 1930.
Encouraged by Arturo Toscanini, Rota moved to the United States where he lived from 1930 to 1932. He won a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Philadelphia, where he was taught conducting by Fritz Reiner and had Rosario Scalero as an instructor in composition. Returning to Milan, he wrote a thesis on the Renaissance composer Gioseffo Zarlino. Rota earned a degree in literature from the University of Milan, graduating in 1937, and began a teaching career that led to the directorship of the Liceo Musicale in Bari, a title he held from 1950 until 1978. During the 1940s, Rota composed scores for more than 32 films, including Renato Castellani’s Zazà (1944). His association with Fellini began with Lo sceicco bianco (The White Sheik) (1952), followed by I vitelloni (1953) and La strada (The Road) (1954). They continued to work together for decades, from 1950 to 1979. Rota’s score for Fellini’s 8½ (1963) is often cited as one of the factors which makes the film cohesive. His score for Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits (1965) included a collaboration with Eugene Walter on the song, “Go Milk the Moon” (cut from the final version of the film).
Rota wrote numerous concerti, the best known being his string concerto, and other orchestral works as well as piano, chamber, and choral music, five ballets, and ten operas. Written for a radio production by RAI in 1950, his short opera, I due timidi (The Two Timid Ones), was presented by the Santa Fe Opera as part of their pre-season “One-Hour Opera” program in May/June 2008. His 1955 opera Il cappello di paglia di Firenze (The Florentine Straw Hat) is an adaptation of the play by Eugène Labiche and was presented by the Santa Fe Opera in 1977. He also composed the music for many theatre productions by Visconti, Zeffirelli and Eduardo De Filippo. Rota, who had one daughter, Nina Rota, died on April 10, 1979, from a coronary thrombosis (heart failure) in Rome, Italy, aged 67. During his long career Rota was an extraordinarily prolific composer, especially of music for the cinema. He wrote more than 150 scores for Italian and international productions from the 1930s until his death in 1979—an average of three scores each year over a 46-year period, and in his most productive period from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s he wrote as many as ten scores every year, and sometimes more, with a remarkable thirteen film scores to his credit in 1954.
The following works by Nino Rota are contained in my collection:
The Godfather (1972): Love Theme (Speak Softly, Love).
Romeo and Juliet (1968): Love Theme (A Time for Us).