Music and Trauma

By John Mauceri

What is the appropriate response to trauma?

Today, January 31, 2014, we learned of the death of Riz Ortolani, a composer whose name was unknown to me. He composed film scores — and who knows what music he left behind? Most people in America do know one song: “More,” otherwise known as the “Theme from Mondo Cane” — a song recorded by many pop stars. It has a lovely Italian descending intervallic leap in its curving, melodic line, one that could have been the opening of a grand operatic duet in the hands of a Puccini or Mascagni. Life being what it was in the second half of the 20th century, composers with this gift could not have written in this style for an opera, and so they wrote for radio, television, and best of all, the movies.

Ortolani was born in 1926. If one does the math, one notes that he grew up in Fascist Italy where everything was owned and controlled by the state — much to the relief of the vast majority of Italians who seemed uncomfortable with taking responsibility for governing once their country had been reunited in 1871. But, continuing through the obituary, one also notices that Riz served in the Italian Air Force. The various biographies and obituaries skip over this detail, and it is difficult to know exactly when that was, but perhaps it was for Mussolini’s air force that fought side by side with the Nazis. If that had been the Luftwaffe, I wonder if “More” would have been “Less.”

Riz would have been 17 or 18 when, in 1943, Italy withdrew from fighting on the side of the Nazis, throwing the country into civil war. There was an Italian government, still under the titular control of Mussolini in the north, that was attempting to conscript Italians to fight with the Nazis, and there was the south, where overnight, the Italians were fighting their former allies, the Germans. And there were a lot of young men hiding in the basement as Italians starting killing Italians. Germans were rounding up something like one million Italians, who were now traitors, and putting them to work in mines, throwing them into concentration camps or hanging them in the piazza.

Riz would have lived in these times, probably the most humiliating and dehumanizing times since the Fall of the Roman Empire — an apt and pathetic metaphor. He played jazz during the war and, fifteen years after it was officially over, he wrote at least one beautiful melody that the world sang in 1962, admittedly accompanying a fake documentary montage portraying gross behavior throughout the world, called Mondo Cane — Dog World. The irony of Ortolani’s sensuous melody accompanying this particular film had the kind of impact that Kurt Weill first brought to the stage when he teamed up with Bertolt Brecht in the 1920s — the previous post-war European response to carnage and destruction.

Ennio Morricone shares a similar birth date, being a mere two years younger than Ortolani. …read more

Source: More Celeb News1

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