Piero Piccioni

Composer of 170-plus film scores
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Piero Piccioni was a prolific Italian film composer in dazzling styles ranging from lounge to avant-garde.

Piero Piccioni, film composer: born Turin 6 December 1921; died Rome 23 July 2004.

Piero Piccioni was a prolific Italian film composer in dazzling styles ranging from lounge to avant-garde.

His father, Attilio, a Christian Democrat MP, encouraged Piero to follow family tradition and practise law. But ,while studying, he taught himself music, organised jazz concerts and played piano for the radio, eventually dropping law to become musical director of a radio orchestra.

His versatility and speed in scoring radio plays led Alberto Lattuada to suggest film work, though it was Gianni Franciolini who commissioned him for Il mondo le condanna ("The World Condemns Them", 1952). Initially Piccioni used the improbable moniker Piero Morgan to distance himself from a drugs and sex scandal involving his father, dropping it in 1957 when the case collapsed, though he further anglicised it to Peter Morgan for Qualcuno ha tradito ( Every Man is My Enemy, 1967).

Piccioni's early career saw a prodigious amount of work; 10 films a year was not unusual. A jazz lover inspired by the film composer Alex North, Piccioni unsurprisingly developed a line in lounge music, though it eventually blossomed into a kaleidoscope of kitsch, abounding in popular dances, fat bass lines, Hammond organs and, in La decima vittima ( The Tenth Victim, 1965), scat singing. Beyond that he perfectly captured the bittersweet tone of comedies such as C'era una volta . . . ( Cinderella, Italian Style, 1967), while avant-garde scores include Le mani sulla città ( Hands Over the City, 1963).

Outside the art-house, Italian cinema may be best known for "spaghetti" westerns and Piccioni did his share, managing to escape the gravitational pull of Ennio Morricone in Minnesota Clay (1965), but he also produced appropriately glaring scores for Steve Reeves's sword-and-sandal epics.

He worked with Luchino Visconti ( Lo straniero, 1967: The Stranger) and Michelangelo Antonioni ( I tre volti, 1965: Three Faces of a Woman), but his most important long-term collaborators were Francesco Rosi and the comedy actor/director Alberto Sordi, working with both for around 40 years. Rosi's Salvatore Giuliano (1962) has a prize-winning score, and with Incontri proibiti ( Forbidden Encounters, 1998) he and Sordi shared a last credit. Between them Rosi and Sordi account for over 50 of Piccioni's 170-plus scores.

He did not break into Hollywood like Pino Donaggio, Riz Ortoloni or the ubiquitous Morricone, though he worked on some non-Italian films, giving Puppet on a Chain (1970) a funky score. He wrote music for the Italian releases of Jean-Luc Godard's Le Mépris (Contempt, 1963; also playing organ in a heavy, erotic jazz score) and, replacing Burt Bacharach, Vittorio de Sica's After the Fox (1966).

Unsurprisingly he also wrote popular songs and slipped others into films, managing to get " Funiculi funicula" into Cristo si è fermato a Eboli ( Christ Stopped at Eboli, 1979). He also wrote theatre and television music and a ballet, Stress, was premiered in 1966.

John Riley