Giancarlo ChiaramelloBorn: February 18th, 1939, Bra (Italy)
Young Giancarlo spent the war years with his father and mother in rural Bra. “There was a piano in the house where I grew up and this instrument interested me. When I was some five years old, I started improvising on it, composing some little things – I fantasized, as it were. The music which I heard on the radio was my inspiration. The day the Americans liberated Bra, the 25th of April 1945, was a key moment in my life in more than one way. The soldiers were accompanied by their regiment’s marching band which played ‘The stars and stripes forever’. It was the first time in my life I heard music outside the walls of our house. I was so seized with emotion, that I embraced my grandmother who was by my side, and wet my pants. Upon coming home, my grandmother told my father that she was convinced I was a future musician. Contrary to my mother, my father liked the prospect of his son becoming a music student. Though my parents could not afford sending me to a piano teacher, I did some little things in the following years, such as accompanying a puppetry performance for children. After my parents had moved back to Turin in ’48, dad sent me to his cousin Luigi Gallino, a music pedagogue who had even taught Marie José, wife of King Humbert II of Italy. After my dad had explained to Gallino that I seemed to have some talent for the piano, he allowed me two or three auditions. He discovered that I had absolute pitch. Upon this, he convinced the board of Turin’s conservatory to allow me to enter as a student. This was in 1949… I was ten years old.”
Between 1949 and 1960, Giancarlo Chiaramello studied at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatoire in Turin, graduating – and thereby earning the title ‘maestro’ – in four subjects: piano, organ, composition, and choral singing. “Frankly speaking”, Chiaramello recounts, “most of my professors at the Verdi Conservatory were useless. There was just one who commanded my respect: Massimo Mila, who taught music history; one of Italy’s biggest music critics of the twentieth century – a grandissimo. None of the others taught me anything… my main teacher was Grundig, the electronics manufacturer! My father bought me a Grundig tape recorder for my birthday in 1955. With it, I recorded radio broadcasts, taping music which I thought was interesting: Beethoven, Debussy, and especially Stravinsky. Subsequently, I replayed the pieces and wrote out the parts of all different instruments involved. By doing this for years on end, I became a much abler orchestrator than any of my fellow-students. Yes, in a way this makes me an autodidact. My ambition? I wanted to be a composer… a composer of symphonic music!”
Shortly after graduating from conservatory, Chiaramello made a name for himself by winning two important composition prizes: the Premio Ferdinando Ballo in Milan (1960) and the Prix International de Composition Musicale Rainier III in Monte Carlo (1962). “As for the Ferdinando Ballo prize”, Chiaramello comments, “it was named after one of the most famous personalities of Italian classical music who had died one year previously. 1960 was the first year the competition was held. Its goal was to promote modern classical music and the first prize was half a million lire. I worked on my composition all summer: four inventions for orchestra. When I was contacted by the president of the jury, impresario Remigio Paone, he was flabbergasted to find out that the sole prize winner was just twenty-one years of age. My composition was performed in the Teatro Nuovo in Milan under the baton of Nino Sanzogno. The Rainier Prize in Monaco was an even more prestigious affair: an international competition. The jurors included some of the best-known classical musicians of the age. I submitted a symphonic piece, which earned me first prize and prize money of one million French francs – in those days this was a huge sum… I could have bought myself a Jaguar or Mercedes with it!”
Meanwhile, the publicity generated in Italy by his obtaining the Ballo Award in 1960 had earned Chiaramello a job as a composer, albeit of a genre which was new to him: theatre music. “That was in Turin, the Teatro Stabile”, Chiaramello explains. “Its president, Gianfranco De Bosio, had read the newspapers, in which a successful career was predicted for me. He wondered if I was interested in writing music for theatrical performances. Of course I was! My most ambitious assignment in those years was composing music to Bertolt Brecht’s comedy ‘The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui’, which was due to be performed in the celebrations of the hundredth year of Italy’s unification in 1961. It was not until very late that news came through that the original composer, Paul Dessau, who lived in East Germany, refused to allow his music to be used in Italy. It was a disaster… Forty-five people were working on that production and we were just two weeks away from the actual performance! At that point, the director of the piece implored me to write new music to this comedy. I locked myself in and wrote new musical accompaniment to the entire play in three days! Upon that, I went to Milan to record it with a studio orchestra, telephoning back and forth to Turin about two or three seconds extra or less for certain parts. Quite stressful, of course! No, conducting an orchestra did not cause me headaches, though I never studied conducting at conservatory. It was something which came naturally to me. The performance of that play was attended by all the greats of the world of Italian theatre… it was hugely successful and earned me commissions from theatres from Genoa, Bologna, and Rome. It enabled me a very decent living in the early 1960s.”
But when did pop music enter the professional life of Giancarlo Chiaramello? The year was 1964. Chiaramello, just twenty-five years old at that time: “Honestly, I had never closely listened to light-entertainment music before. When I heard it on the radio, I was not interested. I did not know anything about it. I regularly recorded theatre music in the studios of record company Fonit Cetra in Turin. The theatres for which I worked paid for the time I needed to record the music for their productions. One day, the sound engineer told me Fonit’s general manager wanted to talk to me after the session. I believed he wanted me to arrange tickets for him for some play in the Teatro Stabile, but I was wrong… he wanted me as an arranger of pop music recordings for his company! I protested, explaining I was not an expert of that genre, but he insisted, offering me six months for study with a salary of 100,000 lire a month. It was too good an offer to turn down! In these six months, I went to studios in Milan and Rome to see how the business worked; I familiarized myself with rhythm instruments such as drums and the guitar, talking to musicians in the nightclub circuit in Turin. Later in 1964, I recorded my first arrangement, an old Neapolitan song called ‘Canti nuovi’. The singer, Tonina Torrielli, was of the old school and really out of business by that time. Her manager, who wanted to get rid of her, was very angry with me, because he thought my arrangement was much too good for her and ran the risk of turning the song into a hit!”
“I quickly realized that this was a business where good money was to be made for an easy job”, Chiaramello continues. “Compared to the worlds of symphonic music and theatre, the budgets were huge. Armed with my knowledge of music, my technique and my talent, I was better prepared for the job of record arranger than anyone else. There was an old generation of arrangers who were not really up to it… my predecessor at Cetra in Turin was William Galassini, but he did not know what he was doing. His approach was extremely old-fashioned and he worked with bad musicians barely capable of reading notes. Perhaps with the exception of Gianfranco Intra in Milan, all the others were no better than Galassini. I entered the business almost simultaneously with Ennio Morricone. His background, coming from a classical conservatory, was similar to mine. He quickly made a name for himself in the business with arrangements for Gino Paoli and Gianni Morandi, thereupon moving on to film composing. The difference between him and me is that he is a genius and I am not. But with our symphonic approach, the two of us completely changed the style of pop arrangements in Italy. The main qualities of a pop arranger? One needs a solid knowledge of harmony and orchestration, combined with lots of fantasy in music and a good nose for what will catch on with the general public.”
In the nightclubs of Turin, Chiaramello discovered a talented young singer called Franco Tozzi, who he launched at the 1964 Voci Nuovi di Castrocaro Festival with ‘Due case, due finestre’, which was chosen as one of two winners. At Castrocaro, Chiaramello met Gianni Ravera, the ubiquitous promoter of Italian song festivals, who became an important friend in the world of light-entertainment music. What followed was a participation the 1965 Sanremo Festival with ‘Non a caso il destino’, which failed to reach the final. This Franco Tozzi song marked Chiaramello’s debut as an arranger and conductor in the Sanremo Festival, by far the most important in the intricate patchwork of Italian song festivals. In spite of the lack of success at Sanremo, Chiaramello and Tozzi scored a huge hit later that year with ‘I tuoi occhi verdi’, which came second in the 1965 Disco per l’Estate Festival and sold 800,000 copies. Other artists Chiaramello worked for as an arranger in the second half of the 1960s for the Fonit Cetra label include Mara Danesi, Alberto Lupo, Gipo Farassino, Milva, and the New Trolls. In 1966, he wrote the orchestration to another considerable hit success, ‘Bandiera gialla’, Gianni Pettenati’s Italian-language version of ‘The pied piper’. In the middle of all of this, Chiaramello composed and recorded a club anthem for his favourite football team, Juventus (1964).
In 1966, Chiaramello became the arranger of Claudio Villa (1926-1987), the most lyrical of Italian pop vocalists. How did they team up? “Villa heard Franco Tozzi’s hit song ‘I tuoi occhi verdi’ and was struck by the orchestration. He phoned Turin’s branch of Fonit Cetra, expressing his wish to be introduced to this person. At his invitation, I flew to Rome, where he lived. We immediately got on well… we were both communists, for a start. We were like brothers! Our working relationship lasted for some ten years. Claudio Villa was a highly intelligent guy who knew how to gather the right people around him. He felt he needed a fresh sound, more adapted to the style of the day. His records sounded ridiculously old-fashioned. I invented this new sound – I wrote orchestrations for him as if it was symphonic jazz, using the brass instruments which so far had hardly featured in Villa’s recordings. We started in 1966 by doing some minor festivals in Bari and Naples and scoring a big hit with a remake of ‘Granada’, one of his old-successes. In 1967, we went big and won the Sanremo Festival with ‘Non pensare a me’. Winning the Sanremo Festival back then was hugely important for my reputation as an arranger… and, back then, a Sanremo winner automatically was pure gold in terms of record sales. I cannot say I liked Sanremo very much… it was all very hectic. In the 1960s, the concert was held in the Casino, which was so small that photographers were literally in my neck while I was conducting the orchestra!”
In the 1967 Sanremo festival, Chiaramello also arranged and conducted ‘La rivoluzione’ for another of his protégés, Gianni Pettenati, as well as Sergio Endrigo’s ‘Dove credi di andare’. He arranged all of Endrigo’s recordings between 1966 and 1969. In 1968, Chiaramello returned to the Sanremo Festival, conducting ‘La tramontana’ for Pettenati, ‘Stanotte sentirai una canzone’ for Japanese starlet Yoko Kishi, and ‘Canzone per te’ for Sergio Endrigo. The last-mentioned song was declared the winner of the competition, thus earning Chiaramello his second consecutive victory medal.
Chiaramello: “Sergio Endrigo was a wonderful person… and also a communist! Just like Claudio Villa, he had approached me personally to work with him. ‘Canzone per te’ is a beautiful song written by another good friend of mine, Sergio Bardotti. In 1968, all participating songs in Sanremo were performed by two singers. Gianni Ravera, who organized the festival, decided about which singer would perform which song. Endrigo was devastated when he learnt he would sing ‘Canzone per te’ along with Roberto Carlos, a Brazilian. He did not like his style at all! The funny thing was… worldwide, Roberto Carlos’ version of the song sold more copies. He and Sergio became good friends and they even performed together over in Brazil.”
Chiaramello has warm memories of working with Yoko Kishi. “She was a fantastic singer who recorded with King Records, a Japanese record company which represented Fonit Cetra and sold our records over there. Especially Neapolitan repertoire was hugely popular in Japan. King Records wrote us that Yoko Kishi was interested in participating in Sanremo. She was flown in and, in Milan, we recorded ‘Stanotte sentirai una canzone’ with her, though she did not speak one word of Italian. She sang the lyrics phonetically and learnt them by heart for the Sanremo performance. Her professionalism was staggering! Two years later, when the World Expo was held in Osaka, King Records invited me for a two-weeks-stay in Japan, during which I conducted ‘Stanotte sentirai una canzone’ for Yoko in some TV performance with a fantastic local orchestra.”
In a country in which music festivals were the motor of the record industry, participating in these manifestations was of the utmost importance. Between 1966 and 1971, Chiaramello arranged songs for Claudio Villa in the Cantagiro Festival and Canzonissima, for Fred Bongusto, Gianni Pettenati, Carmen Villani, and Gipo Farassini in the Festival Disco per l’Estate, and for Rommy in the International Show of Light Entertainment Music in Venice. In 1969, he wrote the arrangement to ‘Il tuo mondo’, with which Claudio Villa participated in the International Song Festival of Belgrade in Yugoslavia. Furthermore, he arranged and conducted several more Sanremo Festival entries in 1969 and 1970, most of them major chart successes: ‘Piccola piccola’ and ‘Hippy’ for Carmen Villani, ‘Lontano dagli occhi’ for Sergio Endrigo, and ‘Meglio una sera’ and ‘Serenata’ for Claudio Villa.
In 1970, at his own request, Chiaramello was transferred from Fonit Cetra Turin to the company’s branch in Rome, where he became the managing director. How did this come about? “Somewhere in 1970, very late in the evening, I received a phone call from songwriter Daniele Pace. He was in the process of recording his creation ‘Fin che la barca va’ with Orietta Berti in the studios of Philips in Milan. He was desperate, as Orietta had already refused four different arrangements which had been written to his song. She insisted on Chiaramello! The managing director of Philips Italy offered me one million lire for this one song. The record bears the name of Alberto Baldan Bembo as its arranger, but in reality, it was my work. Following this episode, Philips offered me a contract. They wanted me to become the Italian Paul Mauriat, recording instrumental albums with my arrangements to be marketed in the whole of Europe. What an opportunity! When I went to my boss at Fonit Turin to tender my resignation, he refused. As I insisted, he offered me the job of director of Fonit’s office in Rome instead. He knew my ambition was to make music for cinema and television… and, in view of this, Rome was the place to be. I accepted, also because it offered me an escape from the arranging job. With the arrival of all kinds of pop groups who did not really need an orchestral backup, I understood that it would not be long before the big studio orchestras would be extinct. I was proven right in the following years.”
For twenty-three years, between 1970 and 1993, Giancarlo Chiaramello was managing director of Fonit’s branch in Rome. In practice, he spent most of his time recording theatre and film music which he composed himself. In the 1970s and 1980s, he worked with some of Europe’s best-known theatre directors, most notably Giorgio Strehler and Luca Ronconi, for whom he composed the music to the theatrical opera ‘Orlando furioso’ (1969) and many productions of serious plays and classical pieces in Vienna’s Burgtheater, including Aeschylus’ ‘Oresteia’, Euripides’ ‘Bacchae’, and Aristophanes’ ‘Birds’. For cinema and television, Chiaramello wrote the soundtracks to some fifty films, including ‘Crazy Joe’ (1975), L’affaire Suisse’ (1978), ‘Mani di fata’ (1983), and ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ (1986). For the music to the TV version of ‘Orlando furioso’, which was broadcasted as a mini-series in 1975, he was awarded with the Nastro d’Argento Award for best soundtrack of the year. One of the compositions of this soundtrack was picked up by UK crooner Matt Monro, who recorded it in English: ‘So little time’. In 1973, Chiaramello composed the music to Massimo Mollica’s poetry, which was broadcast on nationwide radio and released as a record, ‘D’amore si vive – I madrigali di Massimo Mollica’.
“In reality, I never stopped writing music for theatre after 1964”, Chiaramello explains, “though, of course, I had to turn down many commissions in the second half of the 60s as I was so heavily involved in the pop music business. My first soundtrack was for a documentary called ‘Giorni di furore’ in 1964. One thing led to another, and film directors continued contacting me to score their scripts. I thoroughly liked composing film music. It is a wonderful language of music, offering beautiful sensations. At the same time, you have to take the director’s wishes into account. In that sense, it is similar to the arranging job I did previously. In the 1970s and 1980s, film and theatre commissions were the lion’s share of my work. Simultaneously, I occasionally accepted a pop project, mainly in collaboration with Claudio Villa.”
For Claudio Villa, Chiaramello wrote the orchestrations to a sheer endless string of single and album releases in the 1970s, amongst which ‘L’Antologia della Canzone Italiana’, a series of four cover albums, as well as the LP ‘Romanze dell’800’ with the Milan Philharmonic Orchestra. Moreover, he arranged Delirium’s debut album ‘Dolce acqua’ (1971) as well as one more LP with Sergio Endrigo (1976), whilst he also teamed up with the likes of Marisa Sannia and Tito Schipa Jr. In a totally different genre, he was the producer of ‘Scolopendra’, the comeback album of psychedelic rock formation Gli Alluminogeni (1989). In the 1970s, Chiaramello released several instrumental LPs with his arrangements to opera and belcanto classics, most notably ‘Popoperaconcerto’ (1976) and ‘Naples’ pop dimensions’ (1978), both recorded with the Orchestra of Rome’s Musicians’ Trade Union. Under the pseudonym Charlie Mells, he also composed library music used for TV and radio jingles and commercials across the globe.
In 1977, Chiaramello was approached to write orchestrations for Luciano Pavarotti. He continued working with the tenor until Pavarotti’s passing away in 2007. “His record company, Decca in London, sent me a letter”, Chiaramello explains. “They were looking to recreate the sound of the nineteenth century Italian opera for Pavarotti for a recording project. At that time, Pavarotti was not a household name. I had not heard of him before. The letter mentioned Pavarotti’s telephone number. I called him and took an instant liking for him. What a pleasant and cordial man! I never got to know who dropped my name at Decca’s… it was not Luciano himself. Probably they found out about my work with Claudio Villa. I revelled at the prospect of working with a classical singer and accepted. Our first project was an album with Neapolitan songs, ‘O sole mio’, for which I wrote all orchestrations. That must have been released in 1979.”
It took several years before Pavarotti took off on an international scale. After a second album with Neapolitan repertoire, ‘Passione’ (1985), his breakthrough for an international audience was a concert with Placido Domingo, José Carreras, and conductor Zubin Mehta at Rome’s ancient Baths of Caracalla on the eve of the FIFA World Cup final of 1990. What followed were more Three Tenors’ concerts, whilst Pavarotti also started performing with artists from other genres on several Pavarotti & Friends tours. Chiaramello took care of countless orchestrations used for Pavarotti’s studio recordings and live performances, including ‘Caruso’, ‘Granada’, ‘Ave Maria’, and ‘Funiculì funiculà’. “Thus, through the back door”, Chiaramello smiles, “I became the arranger again… but this time, the repertoire was so much more interesting than those pop songs in the 1960s! Experiencing the professionalism of lyrical singers and world stars such as Liza Minelli, who joined in the Pavarotti & Friends concerts, was a privilege. I never did it for the money… just to work with these stars and because I so thoroughly liked Luciano Pavarotti as a person. He was a true friend. Occasionally, it was hard work and orchestrations had to be produced at short notice, but it was all worth it. My favourite piece still is ‘Granada’, which I had previously arranged for Claudio Villa. It is a song which has brought me luck throughout my career.”
For three years, Chiaramello was a professor at the Santa Cecilia Conservatoire in Rome, teaching composition (1985-’87), eventually giving it up “because the board consisted of idiots and I could not bear having to cope with them any longer.” Until today, he has continued accepting composing commissions for theatre plays. After relinquishing his post as Nuova Fonit Cetra’s managing director in 1993, he left Rome and settled down in Èze, French Riviera, not far from Monaco and the Italian border.
Giancarlo Chiaramello in the Eurovision Song Contest
Reportedly, in 1967, it was not until very late that the Italians found out about the new rules. Some even claim that Claudio Villa sang his Sanremo winner ‘Non pensare a me’ at the first rehearsal of the Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna, being perfectly sure that this was the song with which he would represent Italy. Chiaramello, who conducted this rehearsal as well as the performance of Villa’s eventual Eurovision entry ‘Non andare più lontano’ in the TV broadcast of the festival, emphatically denies this theory.
Chiaramello: “That story is absolutely false! It is true that he would have preferred to sing ‘Non pensare a me’, but we were aware of the regulations and in the weeks leading up to the competition, a new song was written by Gino Mescoli and Vito Pallavicini. For me, it was the first time in Vienna, which I later visited on many occasions due to my involvement in theatre productions at the Burgtheater. The orchestra consisted of string players from Viennese classical orchestras and a rhythm and brass group which had mainly been recruited in Munich. Though I do not speak German, the rehearsals did not pose any problems. Later onwards, I conducted orchestras in recording sessions in Prague and Sofia and the language barrier never played any part… music has a language of its own. Why Claudio Villa only finished eleventh in Vienna? Well, ‘Non andare più lontano’ is a wonderful song, but it failed to catch on internationally. For a European audience, Claudio was a singer who sounded too classical. His approach was hardly suited to Northern-European ears. Perhaps he was a little old too, certainly compared to Sandie Shaw, who won the contest. In commercial terms, ‘Puppet on a string’ was an excellent song performed by a beautiful young girl. Moreover, it had the advantage of being performed in English.”
In 1968, the Eurovision final was held in London’s Royal Albert Hall. Italy was represented by singer-songwriter Sergio Endrigo, who had just won the Sanremo Festival with ‘Canzone per te’. For the Eurovision Song Contest, he chose to sing ‘Marianne’, which he had penned in collaboration with Giancarlo Bigazzi. Accompanied by his arranger and conductor Giancarlo Chiaramello, Endrigo picked up a mere seven votes, obtaining a tenth spot on the scoreboard, far away from Massiel’s winning Spanish entry.
“We travelled to London after having recorded a French-language version of ‘Canzone per te’ and several other songs in Paris”, Chiaramello recalls. “I had never been to England before and was much impressed by the Royal Albert Hall. Like the previous year in Vienna, the orchestra turned out to consist of extremely good professionals, making my job very easy indeed. It was a pity that ‘Marianne’ was not strong enough to make an impression. There was nothing which made it stand out and I was not surprised that it was not a hit even in Italy (Cliff Richard recorded the song in English, scoring a minor chart success with it in Britain, BT). It was much weaker than ‘Canzone per te’. I am sure that Sergio Endrigo hoped that the Eurofestival would be the stepping stone to an international career. In the end, he succeeded in conquering the Mediterranean countries and Brazil, but this had nothing to do with this Eurovision participation.”
“To be quite honest with you”, Chiaramello concludes, “nobody in Italy cared about the Eurovision Song Contest in those years. People took no interest in it and, contrary to other European countries, Eurovision songs hardly ever climbed the charts here. ‘Puppet on a string’ was one of the few exceptions…”
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