One of the big draws to Italian Cinema is their use of atmosphere, using lush, clever, well composed soundtracks as a foundation for their images. Italy has produced a long list of brilliant composers throughout the years, and one of the most renowned and respected is Rome’s Fabio Frizzi. Fabio began his career working with famous Italian composers Franco Bixio and Vince Tempera, and went on to infamy scoring the soundtracks to Lucio Fulci’s most loved works. Cinema Suicide writer Tim Fife corresponded with Frizzi to learn about the history and the future of one of Italy’s most loved composers.
Fabio Frizzi was born in 1952 in Bologna, Italy, and grew up listening to Bach, the Baroque, and the Beatles. “I have been lucky,” Frizzi recalls, “I have loved music since I was a baby and had the chance to begin early. At 14 I had my first band, a quartet, and then many others until I was 19 playing Beatles, Rolling Stones, Mamas & The Papas, Crosby, Stills… today we’d call them “cover bands”, but we played with maniacal care on arrangements.” While his father pressed for him to attend college and become a lawyer, Fabio shopped himself around different publishing offices around Rome.
Through these visits to publishers, Frizzi met Carlo Bixio, the older brother of in a family that managed one of Italy’s most famous publishing companies, one that worked extensively with soundtracks. Bixio had an idea to create a trio of musicians that would each bring their different styles to compositions and create a unique sound. Frizzi was joined by Carlo’s younger brother Franco Bixio, and well known arranger and conductor Vince Tempera, thus beginning the famous Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera group that would start Frizzi’s career.
“Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera was a real co-operative team. My first instrument was the guitar, Tempera played piano and keyboards, themes were composed sometimes by one, sometimes by the other, sometimes together.” The first soundtrack they collaborated on was in 1968 on the early Fabio Testi western And Now… Make Your Peace with God. Frizzi returned with the trio in 1974 and would continue to collaborate with them for the next four years, composing no less than 18 soundtracks. In 1975, through a publishing contract, Frizzi got his first opportunity to work with future collaborator and friend Lucio Fulci. The movie was one of Italy’s last spaghetti westerns, The Four of the Apocalypse, and Fulci wanted the trio to compose a soundtrack, using a running commentary to tell the film’s plot and describe the feelings of the characters. Frizzi recalls the piece as “very hard work, but very satisfactory.” The trio would work with Fulci on two other films, The Psychic (aka Seven Notes In Black, 1977) and Silver Saddle (aka They Died With Their Boots On, 1978).
After 1978’s Silver Saddle, Frizzi decided it was time to leave the group and work on his own. “In 1979 when my first daughter was born, I realized that I was growing, that I had to end up the so called training period. I had to demonstrate, especially to myself, that I was good enough to be self-sufficient, to build up my own profession. Actually the time for our trio was coming to an end, and each one of us needed to be let free.”
Frizzi was then asked to work on what would arguably his most known and loved soundtrack, Fulci’s Zombi 2 (aka Zombie, 1979). Frizzi collaborated on the soundtrack with Giorgio Tucci; “Giorgio was a good guy, he worked for Alitalia (an Italian airline company), but had a great passion for music. He was the nephew of Ugo Tucci, a friend of mine and producer of these movies. Ugo asked me to give Giorgio the chance to have an experience in scoring.” Zombi 2’s instantly recognizable score is famous for its use of minimal electronics and a haunting choral sound made with the early sample based tape keyboard called a Mellotron (used famously by the Beatles on Sgt. Peppers).
This was also the start of a fruitful collaboration between Frizzi as a solo composer and Lucio Fulci. “Fulci loved music and knew very well what kind of score his film needed,” Frizzi says. “As usual, after reading the screenplay, we talked about our project; then it was time for demos, discussions, arrangements, and recordings. We were always in close contact.” Frizzi also talks about his personal relationship with Fulci; “He was a friend, probably my first ‘senior’ friend. I’m grateful to Lucio; he’s one of the [people] who helped me to learn how to compose my beautiful and hard work.” Frizzi composed the music for Fulci’s ultra violent mafia film Contraband in 1980, and then worked on the scores for the films that many consider to be of Fulci’s “golden era”; The City of the Living Dead (aka Gates of Hell, 1980) and The Beyond (aka Seven Doors of Death,1981). Frizzi’s film themes aided Fulci in his dark atmospheric works, by creating scores composed of dissonant orchestral themes and eerie sounds made from the most radical synthesizers of the time.
“There was a crop of new keyboards made by a lot of different manufacturers. The true revolution was the Yamaha line, with an incredible electric piano like CP80 and an extraordinary synthesizer, the CS80.” Frizzi worked exhaustively with ex Goblin keyboard player Maurizio Guarini to find new, unique sounds; “we actually tried and used every new instrument of that time, included vocoders, the Prophet 5, Arp 2600, Oberheims, Roland Jupiter 8 (Frizzi says he still has his), etc. But I already had a passion for vintage sound, so I brought with me things like Mellotron, Mini Moog, ARP Solina, Fender Rhodes, etc, etc, etc!”
Frizzi went on to compose a beautiful Egyptian themed score for Fulci’s 1982 movie Manhattan Baby and then parted ways with the director until 1990’s Cat In the Brain. During the eight year absence of their partnership, Frizzi worked on many different projects including the 1986 Bud Spencer Aladdin inspired family comedy Superfantagenio.
After Cat In the Brain, Frizzi took a long break from film composing, he says due to the slumping finances in Italian cinema at that time. Frizzi then went on to do work for Italian television;” I did many TV shows as orchestra director, which was a very amazing work, and could make my dream come true to bring the great Italian cinema scores to a classic symphonic concert. I actually was the first musician who tried and managed a project like this, through a lot of oppositions and prejudices.”
Frizzi returned to composing, working on soundtracks for Italian television shows. “I got back to composition in 1999, when I met Vittorio Sindoni, producer and director, who asked me to write the score for the TV series Non Lasciamoci Piu. This began a relationship that would continue to this day, as Frizzi still composes the music for Sindoni’s current television series.
In 2002, the trio of Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera regrouped to score a sequel to a film they scored back in 1976, the horse racing comedy Febbre da Cavallo (aka Horse Fever). “The theme from Febbre da Cavallo is truly loved here in Italy,” Frizzi says. “When the Vanzina brothers (the film’s writers and directors) asked us to write the music for the sequel we were very happy to be together once again. A big FESTA!” The film went on to have much critical and financial acclaim over in Italy.
Frizzi believes his current work has matured, and he is still using new technology to create his scores. Lately he is using ProTools and Digital Performer to create compositions, and is currently working with famous Eurodance composer Giuseppe Meddi, who works as his sound engineer. The two are still trying to find new and exciting sounds through plug-ins in the software.
Lately, the Italian soundtracks have had a rebirth of interest due to bands that were influenced by hearing the scores as kids on their old horror VHS tapes, and DJs that sample their work for new grooves and beats. Frizzi is happy that there is a new audience for him, but doesn’t like the idea of artists sampling his work without asking him first. “Everyone who loves my music gives me great joy, but it’s not correct to use, cut and work on someone else’s music indiscriminately. As a positive example there’s a band from UK called Evil Nine who formally asked me for the use of the rights of the Zombi 2 score: we’re signing these days!”
However, American fans will have a hard time getting Frizzi’s back catalog. Most of his classic soundtracks are out of print or are available as expensive imports. Many of Frizzi’s earlier works have never been issued; Fabio says some may be released in the future but soundtracks like Contraband may never see the light of day. “I have the original tracks,” Frizzi says “but the tapes are damaged.”
Frizzi has a sense of pride about his past, but is always looking and working towards the future. He is currently working on a new season of the Sindoni directed television series Butta La Luna and recently did the music for the series Per Una Notte d’Amore, a show produced by cult actress Edwige Fenech. For the past few years he has also been working on a musical and dance tribute to Lucio Fulci. But Frizzi says what he’d like the most is to be able to score for films in America: “I’d like to work on the other side of the pond!”
Frizzi’s most recent work can be bought through Warner Chapel Music Italy
You can also listen to current and unreleased compositions at his myspace page here: http://www.myspace.com/fabiofrizzimusic
Special thanks to Mr. Frizzi and Cinevox records for their help making this article possible.
FABIO FRIZZI SELECT DISCOGRAPHY
The Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera score for Lucio Fulci’s ultra violent spaghetti western features five catchy songs about the main characters, as well as fantastic instrumentals featuring chorus laden bass groves and atmospheric western soundscapes. The score wasn’t released until Cinevox issued it in 1998.
Fabio shares the credits for the soundtrack with the famous Italian progressive rock band Goblin on this one. It also features vocals by ex- Cherry Five singer Tony Tartani and the voice of many of Ennio Morricone’s famous recordings Edda Dell’Orso.
Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera creates a dark, moody atmosphere for the Fulci thriller. The soundtrack wasn’t released in it’s entirety until Digitmovies released it in 2006. The title track was featured in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 epic Kill Bill.
Frizzi and Giorgio Gucci’s famous score. Features fun Caribbean themes and tribal sounds to round out the electronic compositions. The soundtrack is available in two different versions; one on Beat Records with Frizzi’s 1990 score for Cat In the Brain, and another with Budy-Maglione’s 1981 score for Cannibal Ferox on Blackest Heart Media.
A classic Frizzi score with funky bass lines, discordant orchestral themes, and lots of Mellotron! The soundtrack is available on Beat Records and is coupled with Giuliano Sorgini’s 1974 soundtrack for the Living Dead at Manchester Morgue.
Arguably Frizzi’s most accomplished horror score. Gothic chorus alongside heavy bass lines and eerie synth sounds. Available on Beat Records with Stefano Mainetti’s 1988 score for Rat Man, and by itself on Dagored Records.
Frizzi regroups with old friends Vince Tempera and Franco Bixio to score the sequel to the popular Italian comedy. This movie was a huge hit, as was the theme in Italy.
Frizzi’s score for the popular action television show. Fabio’s great atmospheric music is accompanied once again by the beautiful Edda Dell’Orso. A soundtrack for the second season was just released.