(December 3, 1911 – April 10, 1979) was an Italian composer best known for his work on film scores, notably The Godfather
series and the films of Federico Fellini.
Rota also composed ten operas, five ballets and many instrumental works. His 1977 opera The Italian Straw Hat
, an adaptation of the play by Eugène Labiche was presented by the Santa Fe Opera. In 2005 his opera Aladino e la lampada magica
, with Cosmin Ifrim in the title role, was performed in German translation at the Vienna State Opera and released on DVD.
Born into a musical family in Milan, Rota studied at the conservatory there under Ildebrando Pizzetti. Encouraged by Arturo Toscanini, Rota came to the United States where he lived from 1930 to 1932. Receiving a scholarship to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, he took classes in orchestra with Fritz Reiner and had Rosario Scalero as an instructor in composition. Returning to Milan, he wrote a thesis on the renaissance composer Gioseffo Zarlino.
During the 1940s, Rota composed scores for more than 30 films, including Renato Castellani's Zazà
(1944). His association with Fellini began with Lo Sceicco Bianco
(1952), followed by I Vitelloni
(1953) and La Strada
(1954). They continued to work together for decades, and Fellini recalled:
- The most precious collaborator I have ever had, I say it straightaway and don't even have to hesitate, was Nino Rota--between us, immediately, a complete, total, harmony... He had a geometric imagination, a musical approach worthy of celestial spheres. He thus had no need to see images from my movies. When I asked him about the melodies he had in mind to comment one sequence or another, I clearly realized he was not concerned with images at all. His world was inner, inside himself, and reality had no way to enter it. 
Rota's score for Fellini's 8½
(1963) is often cited as one of the factors which makes the film cohesive. His score for Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits
(1965) included a collaboration with Eugene Walter on the song, "Go Milk the Moon" (cut from the final version of the film), and they teamed again for the song "What Is a Youth," part of Rota's score for Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet
After his death Rota's music was the subject of the 1981 tribute album Amarcord Nino Rota
. Produced by Hal Willner it is regarded as the first modern tribute album. Rota's scores for Fellini have served as an obvious inspiration for Danny Elfman's movie soundtracks.