THE GODFATHER, PART II – Nino Rota
Original Review by Craig Lysy
The Godfather proved to be a sensational critical success and cash cow for Paramount Studio. That there would be a sequel was a foregone conclusion, and studio executives planned to capitalize quickly. Francis Ford Coppola desired to produce, not direct the film, however he returned grudgingly to the franchise as director after the studio rejected his selection of Martin Scorsese to replace him as director. Regretfully Marlon Brando, who felt mistreated by the studio, refused to reprise his role, but six of his fellow stars did including Al Pacino as Michael Corleone, Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen, Talia Shire as Connie Corleone, Diane Keaton as Kay-Adams Corleone, Abe Vigoda as Salvatore Tessio, and Joe Spinelli as Willi Cicci. Joining the cast for the first time were Robert De Niro as the young Vito Corleone, and John Cazale as Fredo Corleone.
This second epic crime film is again loosely drawn from Mario Puzo’s famous novel The Godfather, written in 1969. It may be one of the finest sequels ever made; one that most critics believe surpassed its original. Most interesting is the fact that the film serves as both a prequel, and a sequel for The Godfather, and as such it offers parallel story lines: one which picks up the 1958 story of Michael Corleone, Don of the Corleone crime family who is determined to protect his business and family in the aftermath of the failed assassination on his life, while the prequel explores the journey of his father Vito Corleone from their ancestral homeland of Sicily, to the re-establishment of the family in New York City. We bear witness to the truly ugly and sordid nature of organized crime with its assassinations, treachery, and betrayal, juxtaposed to traditional Sicilian cultural traditions of familial love and honor. The film is a modern tragedy where we see that violence begets more violence with the Corleone family ultimately undone not from outside forces, but instead from within. The film was a huge commercial success and an equally impressive critical success, earning ten Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (De Niro), three for Best Supporting Actor (Pacino, Michael Gazzo and Lee Strasberg), Best Supporting Actress (Shire), Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Film Score, winning six for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction and Best Film Score.
Nino Rota had written a magnificent score for the first film, which suffered the misfortunate of having its Academy Award Nomination revoked when the Academy discovered that he had interpolated themes from his scores for Daniele Cortis (1947) Fortunella (1958), The Clowns (1971), and the concert piece Mysterium Catholicum (1962). This error would not be repeated in The Godfather II. Rota brought in three of his themes from the original film to ensure continuity of the franchise’s soundscape including; The Love Theme, Michael’s Theme and the Godfather Waltz. His instrument choices from the first film were also carried over to articulate traditional Sicilian auras including the mandolin, accordion, and acoustic guitar.
Joining the three themes from the first film are three additional themes Rota created for this latest effort. The first of these is a theme for the ages, one that earns Rota immortality, The Immigrant Theme. Rarely does a composer create music of such grandeur, sumptuous lyricism and refulgence, which perfectly captures a film’s emotional core. But Rota succeeds here, he captures our hearts, and we are powerless to resist. A kernel of hope emanates from this theme, which juxtaposes Michael’s Theme, whose grim darkness and growing dominance brings down a dark pall upon House Corleone. The second new theme is Kay’s Theme, which speaks to her growing realization of her husband’s business, violence and ruthlessness. She is held captive, helpless, and powerless to change the fortunes of her family. Rota informs us of this with a line of descending notes, which abound with an unabiding sadness and resignation. The third theme is the Sicilian Theme, a festive identity, which emotes with the sensibility of a traditional Sicilian dance, the Tarentella.
“Main Title – The Immigrant” is a wondrous score highlight where Rota graces us with his primary themes in sumptuous interplay! The film opens with Michael’s hand being kissed as an act of sublimation, as we see his father’s empty chair, whose mantel he now assumes. After a flashback to Sicily and the murder of Vito Andolini’s family, the music returns atop the Immigrant Theme as we see him walking on the ship’s decks. Juxtaposed is Michael’s Theme, which joins, cloaked in sadness, and portending his destiny. As we pan out for a shot of the faces of his fellow passengers, the Immigrant Theme so full of hope, bursts forth with all is sumptuous glory as they pass by the statue of liberty. As he is screened on Ellis Island, the Godfather Waltz carries his progress. What a splendid film opening. Bravo!
In “Ev’ry Time I Look In Your Eyes/After The Party” we see a grand first communion party thrown at Michael’s palatial estate on Lake Tahoe. Coppola offers a solo trumpet, which ushers in a classic 1950’s waltz, with Kay’s Theme and The Grandfather’s Waltz joining in delightful counterpoint.” In “Kay” Michael joins Kay in the their bedroom after the party. Rota offers another score highlight where we bear witness to a splendid rendering of her dance-like theme. How Rota transfers articulation of the melody from solo violin, to oboe, to flute, to piano, to longing saxophone, and muted trumpet is masterful. When Michael’s Theme joins we achieve a wondrous confluence. But a hail of machine gun fire through the windows, a brazen assassination attempt, shatters the idyllic moment.
“Senza Mama/Ciuri-Ciuri/Napule Ve Salute.” offers a trio of source songs with vocal provided by Livio Giorgi. They support an Italian play in New York that Vito and Genco are watching in a flash back. “Vito and Abbandando” continues the flashback, which reveals Vito being fired by Abbandando because the mobster Don Fanucci has forced him to hire his nephew, and he cannot afford both. Vito thanks him for being like a father to him and they hug. Rota offers various woodwind voices emoting the Immigrant Theme, with sumptuous string adornment. When strings take up the theme the music is breath taking. At 1:23 we shift darkly to a new rendering of the theme and mandolin and harpsichord. “New Carpet” reveals Vito being asked by the mob to accept a new carpet, an offer he dare not refuse. The mobster forces him to aid in a break-in and steal the carpet. Rota introduces the festive Sicilian Theme, with contrapuntal statements of The Immigrant Theme on lush violins. A comedic statement of the Sicilian Theme by bassoon and tuba offers a most interesting and entertaining juxtaposition. In “The Godfathers At Home” Tom prevents Kay from leaving the Tahoe estate. It features an extended rendering of Kay’s Theme with disquieting phrasing by violin. The Godfather Waltz joins and we achieve an unsettling tête-à-tête of the themes, reflective of Kay’s inner state.
“Murder of Don Fanucci” reveals Vito seeking to eliminate a local gangster in a power grab. When Don Fanucci offers him work in his employ, Vito sees opportunity and accepts the offer. Vito knows that Fanucci believes himself to be untouchable in the community, and so travels unprotected by bodyguards. Vito breaks into his home, grabs a pistol he has plant ed, and when inside the residence, viciously guns down Don Fanucci in cold blood. Coppola’s festive parade music on the street outside masks his dark deed. “Ninna Nanna a Michele” (vocal by Nino Palermo) is a score highlight where we bear witness to a dark narrative, as Vito has seized his opportunity to gain power. Rota scores the aftermath of the murder, which features The Godfather Waltz. As its articulation shifts to a vocal rendering, a dark coda by Michael’s Theme closes the piece. In “Michael Comes Home” Michael returns home the joining of his theme and Kay’s Theme unfolds with a false gentility, which belies what she feels within. Rota however reveals her true feelings with a tragic statement of her theme, which closes the piece.
“Marcia Stilo Italiano” offers another flashback, which reveals Vito returning to his ancestral homeland. Coppola supports the return with a festive march abounding in Italian auras. In “Remember Vito Andolini” we are provided a wondrous score highlight. Vito has returned to Corleone to avenge the death of his father, mother and brother Paolo by the now aged and frail Don Ciccio. Rota offers beautiful statements of the Love Theme by solo piccolo, flute and florid strings. When it joins in a sumptuous communion with the Immigrant Theme we are swept away. He pretends to honor Don Ciccio who asks his paternal family name, when he replies, Andolini, he pulls out a knife and brutally guts him.
“The Brothers Mourn” offers the score’s emotional apogee, a masterpiece cue, which earns Rota immortality. What unfolds is a masterful passage where The Immigrant Theme has contrapuntal interplay with Michael’s Theme, not only musically, but also emotionally. The Immigrant Theme supports Michael’s outward appearance, while his theme his inner feelings. In the scene Michael walks over to his dishonored brother Fredo, which Rota supports with The Immigrant Theme. A sinister contrapuntal line by Michael’s Theme joins as Michael and Fredo embrace, imagery, which outwardly suggests that Michael has forgiven Fredo. But Rota informs us of Michael’s true motive with his theme emoted darkly and with malice. When he turns and signals Al Neri with his eyes Fredo’s fate is sealed. This marriage of film narrative, acting and music is stunning! “End Title” offers another score highlight, where we are graced with a parade of Rota’s Themes, which offer a wonderful listening experience. We open with a tragic Michael’s Theme, segue into a free-flowing, dance-like rendering of Kay’s Theme, and then launch into the festive Sicilian Theme, which yields to an impassioned rendering of The Immigrant Theme. We close as we began with the Grandfather Waltz. Bravo!
I chose to review the original soundtrack album in my collection, as there are no new or digital re-recordings. It is an AAD version; as such the sound quality does not measure up to current digital recordings. It was however more than good enough to enjoy this exceptional score. Rota builds upon the beauty of his Godfather score, with this new effort, which offers an exceptional listening experience. His efforts, and Coppola’s, perfectly capture the film’s sad and violent narrative, often juxtaposing brutality and tragedy with musical passages of sublime beauty. Rota’s Immigrant Theme is iconic, one of those themes where the composer captures our hearts, and we are powerless to resist. The “Brothers Mourn” cue is sheer genius, film score art at its finest where we bear witness to music, which not only elevates its film, but also transcends it. This score is in my judgment a masterpiece, fully deserving of its Academy award, and one that is essential for your collection.
I have embedded a YouTube link for the delightful End Title Suite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwmkJsFxFZE
Buy the Godfather Part II soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Main Title/The Immigrant (3:25)
- A New Carpet (1:58)
- Kay (2:58)
- Ev’ry Time I Look In Your Eyes/After the Party (2:33)
- Vito and Abbandando (2:36)
- Senza Mama/Ciuri-Ciuri/Napule Ve Salute (traditional, performed by Livio Giorgi) (2:34)
- The Godfathers at Home (2:33)
- Remember Vito Andolini (2:59)
- Michael Comes Home (2:18)
- Marcia Stilo Italiano (2:00)
- Ninna Nanna A Michele (performed by Nino Palermo) (2:18)
- The Brothers Mourn (3:18)
- Murder of Don Fanucci (2:48)
- End Title (3:51)
Running Time: 38 minutes 09 seconds
MCA Records MCAD-10232 (1974/1991)
Music composed by Nino Rota. Conducted by Carmine Coppola. Orchestrations by Nino Rota. Additional music by Carmine Coppola. Edited by George Brand. Score produced by Nino Rota.