Stelvio Cipriani: 1937-2018

Stelvio Cipriani, the prolific composer of film music, has died at the age of 81. Overshadowed by fellow Italians Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai in terms of breakout fame, he nevertheless contributed some timeless pieces, many of which have broken free of their original shackles and found new life as the basis for hip-hop and dance tracks.

In common with his contemporaries, Cipriani was classically trained at one of Italy’s conservatoires, though there was no musical strand running through his family. Exposure (and more especially, a willingness to embrace) both popular music and jazz led to work aboard cruise ships, as well as revelatory meetings with Dave Brubeck, under whom he studied music whilst in America. Returning to Italy, he accompanied the Italian singer and actor Rita Pavone, the visual aspect of her work perhaps leading Cipriani towards working across both mediums himself.

Cipriani’s work generally falls into the bracket of Italian genre films – from Westerns to poliziotteschi (crime/action films) to horror. As with Morricone, the quality of film or size of its budget didn’t impact in the slightest how much time and effort he put into creating its score. His style was as varied as you might imagine from a composer who worked in so many fields, though is recognisable for its use of guitars, poppy hooks and insistent, recurring main melodies. By his own admission he was as influenced by Henry Mancini as he was Fellini muse, Nino Rota, and it clearly shows in his compositions.

From his first score to 1966’s The Bounty Killer, there were many works for Spaghetti Westerns including The Stranger Returns; They Call Me Hallelujah and Blindman. His work on horror movies included Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City; James Cameron’s follow-up to his debut feature, Piranha II and Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood, though to many, his most familiar work was on a relatively obscure films, such as the thriller, The Laughing Woman (Femina Ridens)  and a crime film called The Great Kidnapping (La Polizia Sta a Guadare). The latter found itself recycled many times, often even by Cipriani himself, such as in the Shelley Winters post-Jaws cash-in, Tentacles. It also appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s paean to the exploitation film, Death Proof.

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