Sijbold Tonkens: How did your career start in the past as a film composer? I believe you started as Ennio Morricone did at RCA to work with pop stars in Italy like Gianni Morandi, Dino, Rita Pavone etc.
Luis Bacalov: Yes, I was in the field of pop music to earn my life. My ambition was to play piano classical music. I understood that if you are not rich, and I was not, you could make quick money for pop music. The first year when I was in Rome, I was in film music as a pianist. And the composer Giovanni Fusco at the time asked me if I could arrange a piece of music for a film by Chico Marselli called La ragazza con la valigia (The Girl with the Luggage) a film of the ’60s.
The film song became a hit in the pop music. And RCA asked me to do more arrangements for pop music. I told them I had no real training in arrangements, but they told me that I did a good work for this song and we suppose that you can do it for all the songs. So I took the deal and I began to arrange pop music. A few years later Damiano Damiani the film director had a film ANOIA, and he needs a song that should be sung by Rita Pavone, a pop star in the ’60s in Italy. I told him that I could arrange a song, but I would love to write a score for the film as well. And he gave me the opportunity, I wrote the score and that is how it all began. the film, was successful and also the song. So I made my name into the cinema.
ST: You worked with Ennio Morricone on the western Quien Sabe, another Damiani film. How was it to work with Morricone?
LB: The story about Quien Sabe is not like people know.
ST: That is why I am asking…
LB: Damiano Damiani told me to do the music on Quien Sabe, thinking that I was from a Latin American country (Argentina) that has a history of Mexicans. And all the people agree with that, but then the producer told me, if you want to do the music, I want Ennio Morricone to supervise the music. I asked why? “Because I want Ennio Morricone’s name in the film because he is known for the spaghetti westerns.” I was and still am a close friend of Morricone. I told the producer, talk with Morricone, if he accept that, okay. Morricone called me told me the story and finally he told me that I had to write the music. And I told him that they want his name in the film for economical reason.
Morricone’s name was in the film, but in reality he never heard the music, he refused to do the supervision. Bacalov can do that. Another thing that was not fair, when the film came to Spain they took away my name and put Ennio Morricone as the composer. I talked to my lawyer and we were to attack the man responsible. My lawyer called me and said, Luis, we can’t do anything, because the company does not exist anymore. You cannot fight a ghost.
And that is the story about Quien Sabe? and I think I never talked about that because you are the first to ask.
ST: Was the music influenced by Morricone? Because it sound a lot like Il Mercanerio.
LB: Not at all, but maybe Morricone was influenced by my music? I don’t know.
ST: Let’s go to the Fellini film score you did La citta’ delle donne. Nino Rota died and how did you get the assignment?
LB: That story began several years before Nino Rota died. I was working in the same studio where Nino Rota was conducting Il Casanova by Fellini. [1976 and Carlo Savina was conducting the score. -ST] When I passed the window I saw Fellini and Rota talking to each other. There was a break for coffee for the musicians. And Nino saw me at the window and he asked me in. And Nino Rota was a nice man, very generous. And he said: “Federico, this man is good.”
And then a bye bye, work had to go on, and that was it for that moment. Years later, I was in South America playing, doing some concerts. The production of La citta’ delle donne called me. And told me that Fellini want to talk with me about the film. I was thinking that Nino wrote a piece for piano and he requested that I played it. [I saw the Bacalov concert in Valencia, unforgettable, Sergio Bassetti warned me years ago, if you ever want to listen to the best piano player in Italy, Luis Bacalov is the man. Sergio was right. I never saw anything like it in my life. And I have seen some concerts around. -ST]
But the lady on the phone said to me, “Sorry, you were a good friend of Nino, but Nino died.” I was shocked and sad about it. Fellini want to talk with me because he need a composer. “Can you come tomorrow?” I was in Bogota. I told him no I can not, because I have some concerts. He replied, “When can you come?”
I talked with my agent there, we changed the concerts, and called Rome again to inform them that I can be there in six days. So when I came to Rome, Fellini asked me, do you know why I want you here? I said: “No.” Fellini: “Do you remember several years ago we met here during the recording of Il Casanova. Nino told me then that you are good. And I do need a composer since Nino died. And as Rota said that you are good, I know it is the truth. So I want you to score the picture.”
ST: What is the story about Il Postino. You won the Oscar, and I think you had no idea when you wrote it that you would ever win such a price.
LB: The story is amazing, I was in the film at the very last moment. [They asked Morricone first, but he refused, too busy. Now he is sorry I think, he never won an Oscar. -ST] They were in contact with other composers before me, I never asked who they were. But at the very last moment I was asked to do the job quickly. Because they had to finish the film before the Venice film festival.
I knew that Michael Radford was a difficult man with composers. He had his own ideas. We went on well, he loved the idea to follow the tango. I found the girl in the film a sort of Carmen. So I wrote a Spanish/Latin American score. Michael loved the music. He was worried that the orchestration would make the score to big, but I told him that the score could also be small with a bandoneon. He gave me the free hand in the orchestration.
We never expected that this film would be such a smash hit as it is today. After 5 Oscar nominations one Oscar went to the film for the music. When I arrived in Italy many people said, Oh, yes 5 nominations, we deserve more than that. A price for the Oscar. You won it to let the film go with one price. As a concession to the film. Many press asked my opinion about that. I was very rude, telling them undiplomatic things. I said: IF GOD EXIST, HE IS NOT ITALIAN, AND NEITHER AM I. Even if I have an Italian passport. Film music does not mean much to the people, and if it comes to Oscars, they don’t know what they are talking about. In America if you have a nomination, it is for life, it opens doors for work. And the people in Rome are so ignorant that they don’t know that. That was my reaction. At the end I said that the most incredible thing was that the film was accepted as a very important film. If I had written a much better score for a less important film, I would never had an Oscar. In a way the Oscar was for the Italian film.
The Oscar changed my possibilities. The problem now is to say no, instead of yes to offers. To find the good films to go for. To do concerts with my music, not only film music, but the history of tango among other works