Nino Rota

Nino Rota was unusual among film composers.  Usually the composer waits for at least the first edited cut of the movie, and then sits down with the director to decide where the background music should be introduced – and in what style.  The composer then writes the music as series of  short “cues”, each individually numbered to appear at the correct time sequence in the movie.

Nino Rota was different.  As we know from Zeffirelli’s autobiography, Rota would be present during rehearsals and sometimes at the actual filming.  He would be writing musical ideas from what he was witnessing and playing these on a piano.  He rarely wrote the music after the filming.  The director and the editor would then be given a menu of cues to chose from.  For example, in relation to Romeo, whose first appearance in the movie is after the civil riot, the music is in sharp contrast to the rioting scene.  Instead, it is thoughtful and reflective.  Rota wrote six different cues for Romeo in reflective mood. Not all were used in the movie.  For Romeo’s first appearance, in Scene 12, cues 3, 4, 5 and 6 are used in that order, starting from the moment we first see him walking up the street to the end of the scene.

A couple of years ago, I wrote to Rota’s daughter, Nina, to ask whether the music score was still available.  The family’s agent wrote to me to say that the score had been lost many years ago, but that Mike Townend had been commissioned in 2002 to transcribe the original studio recordings of the cues written by Rota.  These original recordings are still available.  Townend did a brilliant and painstaking job in orchestrating these, which were produced by Silva Screen Records with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra in June 2002.

The only problem I find with these transcriptions is that the orchestration is for a large symphony orchestra – the strings section alone has at over 40 players.  Rota wrote his music for a studio orchestra, which produced a more delicate sound.

As I have previously written and published piano and orchestral arrangements of film scores, I decided to write my own orchestration of the six cues for Romeo, based on the original recordings, and to set these for a smaller studio orchestra.  As for the results, you can judge these for yourself from the following video of my orchestral score:


There is a limited number of excellent online resources for understanding Nino Rota’s film music compositions.  The following are recommended:

  1. BBC Radio 3 Podcast Sound of Cinema, 9 August 2014: “Nino Rota”

Matthew Sweet is joined by Richard Dyer, Professor of Film Studies at Kings College London, the author of a study of Rota called “Music, Film and Feeling”.  They discuss a number of Nota’s film scores, including Romeo and Juliet (at about 20 mins 10 secs into the programme).  The podcast can be found here:

2.    “Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet:  Words into Picture and Music”.  An article by Kenneth S. Rothwell in the Literature/Film Quarterly Vol. 5, No. 4, Shakespeare on Film III (FALL, 1977), pp. 326-331 (6 pages).

It can be downloaded free (via a JSTOR login) at:

3.   One the best articles analysing Nino Rota’s soundtrack to Romeo and Juliet is: “How Silver-Sweet Sound Lovers’ Tongues’: The music of love and death in Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet”.  The article was written by Samantha Lin in The Soundtrack Vol. 7, No. 1, April 2014, pp. 39-46.  It is reproduced here by her kind permission: