Ennio Morricone is undoubtedly a genius and the maestro of Italian cinema, but part of his genius is including the right people in his work; Edda Dell’Orso is the voice, Franco De Gemini is the man with the harmonica, and Alessandro Alessandroni is his wizard of sound. Alessandroni may not be a familiar name to most, but his contributions to the Italian cinema have been countless and indispensable. Alessandro reflects on his long career in soundtracks with Cinema Suicide writer Tim Fife.
Alessandro Alessandroni was born in Rome in 1925. He began his musical career playing with the locals of Soriano nel Cimino; “I became a musician step by step while I was a student. My first experience (playing music) was in a small village where I spent my summer vacations. I learned to play the mandolin in a barber shop; I was 12 years old. I soon moved to the accordion and later took three months of lessons in piano. On my own I gradually learned double bass, tenor sax and guitar.” Alessandro at the time was studying economics at a university in Rome, but eventually gave into devoting his life to music.
Alessandro began performing in nightclubs regularly and eventually met future collaborator Nora Orlani, who soon after meeting asked Alessandro to sing with her vocal group 2+2. Alessandro eventually left the group to start his own quartet, I Caravels. During this time, he also was recording music for television series, commercials, and documentaries. Through this medium, he found himself working on movie soundtracks and eventually caught the ear of frequent Fellini collaborator Nino Rota. During an early 1960’s session for a Rota score, Alessandro began to whistle and Rota was instantly floored at what he had heard. “Nino Rota was a very good musician—it was a pleasure to work for him—and also a great gentleman.” Alessandro recalls. “He was excited with my whistle and I recall he summoned me into the recording studio and asked me to whistle for Fellini!”
During Alessandro’s work in television, he became friends with the future maestro of Italian cinema, Ennio Morricone, as Morricone was writing arrangements for the popular TV station RAI. Morricone soon asked for Alessandro to play guitar and to have his vocal group to perform on his soundtracks. In 1964, Sergio Leone asked Morricone to score what would become one of the most popular and influential westerns of all time, A Fistful of Dollars. Morricone asked Alessandro to include 8 more vocalists to his choir, and the group then became the now infamous I Cantori Moderni. During the recording session, Morricone asked Alessandro to use his unique whistling talent, and thus the signature sound of the Italian western was born.
In 1966, Morricone scored possibly his most popular and influential score, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. For the score Morricone used Alessandro’s clanging guitar sound, his choir, and his trademark whistle. He also had Alessandro use his voice in several unique ways, and his voice is the one you hear when the movie’s theme starts. Alessandro went on to record numerous recordings with the maestro, including the fabulous score for Gui La Testa.
Alessandro then began to work with nearly every important composer in Italian cinema. He worked with Bruno Nicolai on some of his most infamous scores including Land Raiders and his giallo masterpiece Tutti I Colori Del Buio. “My working relationship with Nicolai was much the same as with Morricone,” he says, “based on a reciprocal appreciation and high regard for professionalism.” For Tutti I Colori Del Buio, as well as many other scores, Alessandro plays the sitar, which he says he began to play after hearing it on a Beatles record.
Alessandro also worked with Piero Umiliani on numerous scores, and is credited with introducing the idea of Piero’s biggest hit “Mah-Na-Mah-Na” (which later became a popular skit on the Muppet show). “I worked a lot with Umiliani. He liked my voice and that of my late wife Giula De Mutiis. I gave him the idea for Mah-Na-Mah-Na…and he’s reaped the fortune ever since! I’m still waiting for my recognition!” Alessandro has also contributed to scores composed by Nico Fidenco, Franco Micalizzi, Stevlio Cipriani, and Francesco De Masi among countless others.
De Masi is the composer that Alessandro says gave him his start into composing his own work for soundtracks. “Francesco De Masi was the composer who invited me to collaborate on many soundtracks. From then on, I was accepted into the world of cinema for which I write my own soundtracks. I am always grateful to De Masi.” Alessandro’s first credited score was for the western Go Kill and Come Back, a score he composed with De Masi.
In 1971 Alessandro ventured into the world of the Italian exploitation market with the horror film The Devil’s Nightmare. The score is one of the more notable things about the movie, evoking a haunting erotic feel; “I was always searching for new sounds. In the Devil’s Nightmare I chose an obsessive sound and doubled it over many times.” The obsessive sound Alessandro is referring to his the vocalist, who sounds like she is singing with generous amounts of delay on her voice. The score also features a snarling guitar sound that is integral to the score, which Alessandro says he made by putting two magnets next to the pickups of the guitar.
Still searching for new sounds, Alessandro says he began to compose his work using Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-note technique. In this system the composer uses all twelve chromatic notes, and the result can make the composition include extreme dissonances. Alessandro says he used this technique to compose the music for Lady Frankenstein, among other scores in that period.
Between the early seventies and early eighties, Alessandro composed over 40 scores for nearly every genre of film. In 1978 he composed an amazing score for the controversial film Killer Nun. Using his choir and a unique way of playing traditional instruments, Alessandro composed a fitting score for the bizarre movie; “I used many instruments including 12 string guitar, banjo, classical guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, and others- but I manipulated them many of them, detuning and altering their original sound.” You can also hear an early drum machine, a singing saw, and plenty of effects on the masterful recording.
In the early eighties Alessandro scored for such erotic films as Hard Sensations and Le Porno Schiave Del Vizio, before nearly retiring from composing in 1981 with La Guerra Sul Fronte Est. He returned to composition in 1998 for the modern take on the Bud Spencer/ Terrence Hill franchise, Trinity Goes East. But Alessandro was unhappy with how the score eventually turned out; “I’m not satisfied with the final result of the soundtrack. If the script is not interesting, then the music also becomes mediocre.”
Lately Alessandro has been performing concerts all over Europe, playing compositions on guitar. When he performs, audiences are still excited to hear his amazing ability to whistle. “Audiences are always enthusiastic about Spaghetti Westerns,” he says. “I’m asked to whistle or play a piece that even if the program is jazz music, Italian folk music, or my own compositions or arrangements in classical music.”
At age 83, Alessandro is still writing scores and crafting his work. “I am always in search of new sounds and new ideas using more modern technology such as computer sounds mixed with acoustic instruments.” There are still many scores he has composed that have yet to be released and new generations of fans inspired by Italy’s wizard of sound.
Special thanks to maestro Alessandroni and John Mansell for their help in this article.
SELECTED SOUNDTRACK DISCOGRAPHY
Arguably Morricone’s most known score, and easily one of his best. Alessandro adds much to the music with his jangly guitar, unique vocal interpretations, his choir, and, of course, his whistle. Although many of the unique sounds on the recording came from Alessandro, he credits it all to Morricone.
A great Piero Umiliani “mod” sounding score. The classic song “Mah-Na-Mah-Na” comes from this score, and became a huge hit all over the world. Alessandroni claims he’s the one who came up with the lead vocal line but never received the credit.
Alessandro penned this score with Francesco De Masi. A great score in the vein of classic Italian scores, with wonderful female vocals.
One might say 1971 was a good year for Alessandroni scores, and this may be the best one of the bunch. Haunting church organs and guitars that sound heavier than Black Sabbath. This score was available (paired with Nora Orlandi’s amazing score for A Doppia Faccia), but is sadly now out of print.
Possibly Bruno Nicolai’s greatest Giallo composition. Alessandro contributes his sitar and his choir for
the album’s strongest track “Sabba.”
A fabulous compilation of Alessandroni scores. Lady Frankenstein has a lush, exotic feel, with lots of crazy orchestral moments. The Mad Butcher has a classic German sound, and moments would not be out of place at Oktoberfest. Killer Nun is an amazing score, with lots of dissonant sound collages mixed with classic Italian soundtrack fare, and may be Alessandro’s most varied work.
A great poliziotteschi score composed by Alessandro. He really takes the style on, and even sounds a bit like Isaac Hayes at moments in his composition. Recently issued for the first time by a collaborative effort by Cinedelic, GDM, and Escalation records it is most likely already out of print as there were reportedly only 500 copies produced. The title track from this can also be found on the fabulous Attori a Mano Armata compilation.