Beyond Morricone: Piero Piccone and Friends

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For many, Italian film music is synonymous with Ennio Morricone. Moving beyond Morricone, however, reveals a musical landscape in the Italian film industry with almost unrivaled talent – particularly in the three to four decades following WWII. Composers like Piero Piccioni, Armando Trovaioli, Giovanni Fusco, Piero Umiliani, Nino Rota, Bruno Nicolai, Riz Ortolani, and Stelvio Cipriani, among others, were instrumental in defining the sound of European arthouse and pop cinema, and much more open to experimentation and new forms of music than their Hollywood counterparts. This series will focus mostly on the work of Piero Piccioni, but will also include films scored by Armando Trovaioli, Giovanni Fusco, and Bruno Nicolai.

Piccioni’s musical career began in Italy’s burgeoning jazz scene shortly following the liberation of Italy (he is even said to have sat in with Charlie Parker’s group while in NYC in 1948). However, Piccioni began his film career not as a composer but as a lawyer, responsible for negotiating distribution deals. His musical output during the 1950s were a product of his passion for music. After spending most of the 1950s writing music for radio and assisting other film composers with arrangements, he started to score films on his own around 1957. Piccioni’s early scores point to his obsession with jazz but he would begin to incorporate other styles and genres such as lounge, exotica, pop, soul, beat, and rock by the mid-1960s. With his score for CAMIILLE 2000, Piccioni created the template sound for what critic Tim Lucas has coined the “Continental Op” film. This sound would be refined by Piccioni and others into something simultaneously haunting, melodic, and spacey – with lush, romantic orchestral arrangements and the ethereal voice of Edda Dell’Orso (a favorite vocalist among composers from that period). Piccioni would go on to work with many important directors such as Francesco Rosi, Alberto Sordi, Luchino Visconti, Antonio Pietrangeli, Sergio Corbucci, and Lina Wertmüller, among others.

Piccioni and other notable Italian composers from that era were rediscovered by record collectors in the 1990s, with a few labels dedicating themselves to reissuing old soundtracks. Piccioni, Umiliani, and others were frequently sampled by Italian DJs in the 90s club scene. Within the last 20 years, music by these composers has appeared in a diverse array of media ranging from big Hollywood films by the likes of the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, and Steven Soderbergh to CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM and samples on hip hop tracks – most recently with Piccioni’s “It’s Possible” used as the main sample for “Jermaine’s Interlude” by DJ Khaled.