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November 15, 2023

Why Nino Rota’s Score for ‘The Godfather’ is So Memorable

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By UMS
Composer Nino Rota

Legendary film composer Nino Rota

Fans of classic cinema have likely heard of Nino Rota, the Italian composer who created some of the most memorable film scores of all time. Rota is best known for his collaboration with Federico Fellini, for whom he composed the music for masterpieces like La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, and 8 1/2. But Rota also worked with other acclaimed directors, such as Luchino Visconti, Franco Zeffirelli, and Francis Ford Coppola.

One of Rota’s most famous and influential scores is the one he wrote for Coppola’s The Godfather, the 1972 epic that tells the story of the Corleone family, a powerful Mafia clan in America. The Godfather is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, and its music is an integral part of its success. Rota’s score captures the essence of the film’s themes, characters, and emotions, and creates a distinctive atmosphere that evokes both the Italian heritage and the American reality of the Corleones.

The Godfather score

The main theme of The Godfather is known as “The Godfather Waltz”, a haunting melody that is played by a solo trumpet at the beginning of the film, over a black screen.

The waltz is then repeated throughout the film, in different variations and arrangements, to underscore different scenes and moments. It is associated with Vito Corleone, the aging patriarch of the family, played by Marlon Brando. The trumpet represents his voice, his authority, and his legacy. The waltz is also a symbol of nostalgia, a longing for a simpler and more honorable past that is fading away in the face of violence and corruption.

Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in 'The Godfather'

Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in The Godfather

The waltz is contrasted with a different love theme used in the film as an instrumental motif for Michael Corleone, Vito’s youngest son, played by Al Pacino.

Diane Keaton and Al Pacino in 'The Godfather'

Diane Keaton as Kay and Al Pacino as Michael in The Godfather

Michael is initially reluctant to join the family business, but he gradually becomes more involved and ruthless as he tries to protect his father and his interests. The theme represents his love for Kay Adams, his girlfriend and later wife, played by Diane Keaton, and also reflects his inner conflict and struggle between his personal feelings and his family loyalty.

The Godfather‘s love theme was lyricized into the romantic ballad, “Speak Softly, Love”, and versions were released by vocalist Andy Williams, as well as Al Martino, who played Johnny Fontaine, singer and godson of Vito Corleone, in the film.

Rota’s score for The Godfather was nominated for an Academy Award, but it was later disqualified because it was discovered that Rota had reused some parts of his previous score for Fortunella, a 1958 Italian comedy. This was a controversial decision, as many critics and fans argued that Rota had transformed and adapted his own material in a creative and original way, and that his score deserved recognition. Despite this setback, Rota’s score for The Godfather remains one of the most admired and influential film scores of all time, and it has been covered and sampled by many artists in various genres.

We hope you join us for The Godfather Live, Sunday, January 7, 2024 in Hill Auditorium, presented in partnership with the Grand Rapids Symphony and Cineconcerts. Tickets start at just $14, and $12-20 student tickets are available.

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