Nino Rota (his birth name was Giovanni Rota Rinaldi) was born into a family of musicians on 3 December 1911.

His grandfather Giovanni was one of the best known instrumentalists and music composers of the second half of the 19th century and his mother, Ernesta Rinaldi, was an excellent pianist.

It was she who initiated Nino Rota early on in the study of the piano and composition, using a didactic approach devised by Maestro Perlasca to encourage the study of solfeggio through a playful activity, pandering to the children’s temperament (it was a kind of musical construction box).

This practice led someone to recall Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, child prodigy, who played with music using notes and the staff instead of marbles and rocking horses.

The result is that at the age of four, with an instinctive approach, Nino was already playing the piano and composing, so that by the age of eight he had already produced numerous compositions for piano, for piano duet and later for variously assorted instrumental ensembles.

The magical and evocative vision of music, combined with the instinctive playful aspect, soon led Nino to the writing, text and music, of the fable: Story of the Double Magician.

This composition, which for some was extraordinarily prophetic because it was a forerunner of what would become the film fables written with Federico Fellini, stimulated the interest of the academic world and induced Maestro Giacomo Orefice to take the young Nino as an auditor in his class at the Conservatory.

In 1923 Nino Rota entered the Milan Conservatory and became a student of Paolo Delachi and Giulio Bas. At the Conservatory, Nino had Gian Carlo Menotti, who was to become a world-famous Italian composer, as a playmate.

Nino and Giancarlo, both students at the Milan Conservatory of Music, were considered the two prodigy boys of the school. Their mothers were friends and naturally talked about their sons’ future. My Nino will be the new Beethoven, and his Giancarlo the new Mascagni. With this proud prophecy by Ernesta Rinaldo, superb for Nino and less demanding for Giancarlo, the relationship between the two ladies broke down.

In fact, Nino Rota’s mother had not gone too far: her son, with his opera ‘Il cappello di paglia di Firenze’, was compared by critics, in terms of style and atmosphere, to Rossini, if not to Beethoven, while Giancarlo Menotti, with ‘La santa di Blecker Street’, was considered very close to Mascagni’s verismo.

In those years, Rota’s house was frequented by important artists of the European music scene, such as Giacomo Puccini and Arturo Toscanini, who helped to shape the young composer’s professional soul.

And indeed, Nino wrote compositions of all kinds and continued to shape his musical culture in a very active and musically fertile Milan, assiduously frequenting the Teatro alla Scala.

Nino Rota’s first real opera dates back to 1922: ‘The Infancy of St. John the Baptist’, performed that same year in Milan and the following year in Turcoing, France, where, summoned to the limelight by an enthusiastic audience, he conducted its final performance. The impression was huge, the photo of the young Nino Rota appeared in the New York Times and all the world’s major newspapers began publishing fictional stories of the little genius, immediately dubbed as ‘Mozart’s emulo’.

In 1926, Nino Rota wrote ‘Il Principe Porcaro’, a small opera for children inspired by a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. Three quarters of an hour of music that with discreet maturity, intensity, an absence of smears, and at the same time with irony, convinces the critics.

The road to a luminous career is now open, while Nino Rota’s somewhat restless nature will be mitigated by the composer Ildebrando Pizzetti, who will succeed in harnessing Nino’s musical instinct by guiding his overwhelming compositional vein within a technical awareness, motivating the restrictions and aridity of certain rules of harmony and counterpoint with the instinct and confidence typical of the young composer.

After only two years, however, Pizzetti decided to dismiss his pupil, who would continue with another great of 20th century Italian music: Alfredo Casella. The latter will guide Rota to the discovery of new contemporary musical languages, a vast artistic and expressive panorama that will contribute in no small measure to the artist’s definitive maturity. In the years from 1924 to 1926, in fact, Nino Rota attended composition lessons at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia with maestro Alfredo Casella, a point of reference for contemporary music. He graduated in 1930 from the Conservatory of ‘S. Cecilia’ in Rome under the guidance of Maestro Michele Cianciulli, who was to remain his fraternal friend for the rest of his life, and who initiated him into those esoteric practices of which traces can be found in his musical compositions.

From this moment, Nino Rota’s passion as a collector also began: he collected thousands of volumes of works with esoteric content, now donated to the Accademia dei Lincei.

As the director and writer Mario Soldati testifies, Rota communicated with the beyond. Fellini himself, with whom Rota worked for many years, called him a magical friend precisely because of this esoteric soul.

Nino Rota’s career then took a turn thanks to the support of Arturo Toscanini, who allowed him to go to study at the ‘Curtis Institute’ in Philadelphia where, from 1931 to 1933, he studied and absorbed the great lessons of Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, Poulenc and, last but not least, two extraordinary composers of soundtracks: Sostakovic and Prokof’ev, with whom he shared an extraordinary melodic vein.

Rota specialised with Scalero for composition and with Fritz Reiner for conducting. During these years he had the opportunity to encounter different genres and musical forms, with particular attention to the development of jazz and its encounter with the cultured environment.

Thanks to the American lesson, he approached popular music and learnt to love Gershwin, Cole Porter, Copland and Irving Berlin and met a friend, Aaron Copland, who was to be decisive for his orientation towards film and the revaluation of popular music.

On his return from the United States and with the new musical lesson learned, Rota agreed to compose a catchy theme song for a film entitled ‘Popular Train’ (1933). However, the soundtrack was not a success and so he abandoned the soundtrack genre throughout the 1930s.

Meanwhile, in order to have a spare profession, he graduated in modern literature at the University of Milan with a thesis on the composer Gioseffo Zarlino. In 1937, he taught theory and solfeggio at the Liceo Musicale in Taranto and began to develop a passion for composition again only in 1939 when he arrived at the ‘N. Piccinni’ Conservatory of Music in Bari, of which he became director ten years later.

It was in Bari that Nino Rota discovered the talent of a particularly talented 14-year-old student in 1955. After listening to him, Rota sensed his potential and convinced his parents to let him continue his studies at the Naples Conservatory: that young promise was Riccardo Muti. His regular homes became Rome and Bari.

In Rome, together with his mother (director from 1943 to 1944 of the women’s magazine Grazia), Rota frequented Emilio Cecchi’s salon, where he met Ungaretti and Moravia, among others. It was during the war that Nino Rota began his work as a film composer. After making his first musical accompaniment for Renato Castellani’s film ‘Zazà’ in 1944, he met Federico Fellini, who was busy producing ‘Lo sceicco bianco’. From then on, a 30-year-long friendship was established between the two artists and a collaboration for numerous films, made fortunate by the Maestro’s happy intuition to compose music at the service of images.

In the 1950s, he became the author of the main stage music for Eduardo De Filippo’s theatre, including that for ‘Napoli milionaria’. Rota alternated the composition of soundtracks with the composition of opera music and his consecration in this field came in 1955 with the opera ‘Il cappello di paglia di Firenze’, staged at the Piccola Scala under the direction of Giorgio Strehler.

For Federico Fellini, after “Lo sceicco bianco”, he composed the music for films such as “Otto e mezzo”, “La dolce vita”, “La strada”, “Il bidone”, “Fellini Satyricon”, “Le notti di Cabiria”, “Il Casanova”, “I Clowns”, “Giulietta degli spiriti”, “Amarcord”.

Rota collaborated with the greatest directors of the time. He wrote for Mario Soldati the music for “Le miserie del signor Travet”, “Jolanda la figlia del corsaro nero”, “Fuga in Francia”, for King Vidor the music for “Guerra e Pace”, for Luchino Visconti the music for “Il gattopardo” and “Senso”, for Franco Zeffirelli the music for “Romeo e Giulietta” and “La bisbetica domata”, for Lina Wertmüller the music for the eleven episodes of ‘Il Giornalino di Giamburrasca’, including the very famous ‘Pappa col pomodoro’, for Francis Ford Coppola the music for ‘The Godfather II’, and for Stanley Kubrick the music for ‘Barry Lindon’, although unfortunately the director’s rigidity induced the composer to terminate the contract.

But how did Nino Rota’s soundtracks come about? He worked on notes taken during talks with directors; he only saw the film after he had composed most of the music, and almost never in full. ‘He played the piano as others eat,’ Fedele D’ Amico said of him. Alberto Savinio echoed him: ‘He is the most musical of musicians that I know. He lives only in music, and there alone he is happy’. While composing, he seemed to let the inspiration flowing inside him.

Federico Fellini recalled their working meetings like this: ‘Suddenly, in the middle of the speech, he would put his hands on the piano and leave, like a medium. It was like a break in contact, and you felt that he no longer followed you, no longer listened to you, as if the concepts, explanations, suggestions were obstructing the creative course’.

Except that, just like a true medium, once he ‘came to his senses’, Nino could not remember what he had just played. So it was that Fellini decided to place tape recorders in the room during their meetings: ‘but they had to be put into action without him noticing, otherwise contact with the celestial sphere would be broken’.

During the same years, Nino Rota also continued to write opera music, sacred music and orchestral works, including: ‘La notte di un nevrastenico’, ‘Aladino e la lampada magica’, ‘Lo scoiattolo in gamba’, ‘La visita meravigliosa’, ‘I due timidi’, ‘Torquemada’, ‘Ariodante’.

In 1972, he composed the music for the film ‘The Godfather’ and two years later won an Oscar for music with ‘The Godfather II’. In 1977 he won the David di Donatello for best musician for the film ‘Il Casanova’ by Federico Fellini.

In his later years, he suffered more from the criticism directed at his music, which was also provoked by his agreeing to compose so much national popular music. Rota’s last work is Fellini’s Prova d’orchestra (1979), which can be considered the Maestro’s sad farewell to his public, to his friends: a sad and melancholic music that almost seems to want to give us a glimpse of that world of endless dreams that would soon welcome him with its melodies, as if the composer himself was aware of his imminent end and wanted to give us a last, moving farewell.

While planning an opera staging of the music composed for Eduardo De Filippo’s ‘Napoli milionaria’, Nino Rota died in Rome on 10 April 1979, at the age of 67.

Rota was characterised by his exceptional and boundless melodic vein, which did not preclude any musical genre, be it cultured or belonging to the so-called musica d’uso. His style was influenced by his ancient ties with La Scala and opera, which led him to prolong and transport themes, passions and emotions from the theatre into cinema, in a filmic vision of melodrama, apparently decontextualising it but maintaining its emotional characteristics and direct approach to the general public.

Rota’s expressive and stylistic choices are certainly far from the themes and languages of ‘contemporary music’ of cultured extraction, often aimed at researching and experimenting with new languages and different forms of expression that are not always easily accessible.

Time now shows that a huge amount of masterpieces of contemporary music, especially those of an intellectual nature, are scarcely or not at all performed. “Music,” said Nino Rota, “is a natural right of mankind because it speaks to everyone: the powerful and the humble, the rich and the poor, the happy and the unhappy, to all those who by a mysterious privilege granted to the human soul are sensitive to its profound and powerful message”.