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22 Sep 2021

ROTA: Suite from La strada

by Jeff Counts

Duration: 30 minutes in seven sections.

THE COMPOSER – NINO ROTA (1911-1979) – Though he wrote extensively for concert halls and opera houses during his productive professional life, Nino Rota will always be remembered first for his contributions to cinema. It’s the abiding curse, if they (or we) choose to see it as such, of a certain few mid-century European artists, including Miklós Rózsa and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Even Stravinsky tried his hand at film scoring, though it would never have defined him in the same way if he had been successful at it. For Rota, there was no question. The success confirmed the legacy.

THE HISTORY – Rota already had several excellent movie scores to his name when he began his long and important collaborative relationship with legendary director Federico Fellini in 1952. They would continue their partnership for decades. The two men differed on the role of music in cinema, approaching each other often from the extreme poles of a visual/aural perspective contiuum. But they were a devoted team. “The most precious collaborator I ever had…” Fellini once said, “…was Nino Rota.” The film La strada (The Road) dates from 1954. It is the heartbreaking story of a girl (played by Fellini’s wife Giuletta Masina) who is sold to a traveling circus strongman (Anthony Quinn) and must endure his callous brutality to somehow maintain her care-free spirit. It was a big success for Fellini and won the first ever Oscar in the Foreign Language Film category. Rota was not nominated for his score, but it was very well received and is still remembered as one of his best. He made a ballet based on the music and subject matter of the film in 1966. The one-act theatrical version of the tale was commissioned by the Teatro alla Scala and was highly successful in its own right, earning numerous revivals in the years that followed. On full display in this music is Rota’s ability to match his serious classical training with a masterful instinct for popular charm. His natural feel for the balance required by a cinematic score between the reverent and the irreverent was what made him so valuable to Fellini, who sought the same perfect symmetry in all his visual creations.

THE WORLD – Elsewhere in 1966, Bill Russell became the NBA’s first black coach, Guyana declared its independence from the United Kingdom, Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister of India, and the Star Trek television series premiered.

THE CONNECTION – These concerts mark the Masterworks Series debut of Rota’s ballet music from La Strada.