Watching the stars with the magician Nino Rota. Interview with maestro Nicola Scardicchio

Watching the stars with the magician Nino Rota.  Interview with maestro Nicola Scardicchio


The sign of the composer in the music and in the memories of the author and former professor at the Niccolò Piccinni Conservatory “He taught me the importance of cultural education, because it makes a person free. Not snobbery or mere erudition”

Some time ago, while interviewing the musician Lorenzo Mattei from the University of Bari for this section, the conversation fell on Nino Rota, which has left an indelible mark on that city. Mattei on the occasion mentioned in the margin a person who “really knows everything” about Rota: the maestro Nicholas Scardicchio, composer and professor at the Niccolò Piccinni Conservatory until November 2021, when he retired due to age limits. Scardicchio, from Bari della Muraglia, was not just a pupil of the Milanese Oscar winner but a favorite disciple, a sharer in extraordinary encounters, a witness to the most odd of twentieth-century Italian musicians. Because Rota’s personality was not expressed only on the pentagram in all its forms, but in a variegated network of relationships and esoteric interests for which, weighing the term with a Renaissance tare, we can define him as a magician.

Since Christmas is the most magical time of the year, he happily arranges a conversation with maestro Scardicchio, who will perhaps reveal some of Rota’s twists even to those who already know him.

How did you meet him?

I was a child intrigued by music because we had the cult of the Opera at home, but the electrocution came when I listened to Beethoven’s Fifth and asked for the record as a gift for San Nicola. While I was studying piano with Elena Vigliano, at the age of 14, I saw Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” at the cinema. The soundtrack enchanted me and when I told the teacher that I was looking for the notes by ear, she told me that she had studied with the author, Nino Rota, director of the Bari conservatory. I attended classical high school but as soon as I could I went to the conservatory to talk to him and I wanted to devote myself completely to music. But he opposed it.


Because he had high regard for classical studies. He knew Latin and Greek perfectly: to be precise he spoke them and often helped me translate the school versions. Then she knew English very well: I remember her conversations with Francis Ford Coppola on the telephone, as I remember one in French with Maria Callas’s lady-in-waiting, when he and Eduardo tried in vain to convince her to play Donna Amalia in “Millionaire Naples”. She also knew the German that she had started him as a child nanny. Do you know what I discovered? When La Fenice gave her precocious unpublished opera, “Il Principe porcaro”, they asked me to orchestrate it because the score had been lost. On the original piano manuscript, I found that she had also written the libretto in German, moreover in verse. And one evening I heard him chatting with Stravinsky on the terrace of the Danieli. In Russian.

When did you enroll at the conservatory?

In 1970 Armando Renzi arrived in Bari and Rota told me that the time had come. My first lesson fell on December 16, the anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. But I continued my classical studies and graduated in Literature. Like Rota, who had graduated with Antonio Banfi. But his true teacher was Michele Cianciulli, an esotericist with whom he had studied for the classical maturity as a private student, also multifaceted in the sciences and a member of clandestine Freemasonry under fascism. He instilled in him an interest in hermeticism and appointed him executor of huge assets, which Rota made sure were destined for the charitable works indicated by Cianciulli. He left only a telescope that he kept among his dearest possessions. Every now and then he told me, in the Roman house at the Pantheon, that sooner or later we would have to mount it on the terrace to look at the stars.

Another fundamental partnership of Rota was with Vincenzo Verginelli alias Vinci, as D’Annunzio had renamed him during the Fiume enterprise.

Vinci had been engaged to Elena Croce but had given up on marriage and an academic career for the sake of freedom. He taught at the Virgilio high school in Rome. He wrote many librettos for Rota and after his death he kept their collection of hermetic texts. By selling some of them, he could have lived like a nabob: I recall a 17th-century “Zoroaster” estimated at just that, at the beginning of the 1980s, at 700 million lire. But he left everything to the Accademia dei Lincei for the benefit of scholars.

What do you remember of Fellini?

There are geniuses who turn out to be trivial outside their field. Fellini, on the other hand, was also a genius of extraordinary intelligence. The conversations between him and Rota were sparkling.

What was the greatest teaching that the master left you?

The importance of cultural education, because it makes a person free. Neither snobbery nor mere erudition: Rota was not passionate about football but could comment on the results of the matches.

What things surprised her most about him?

Only after he died did I discover that we had friendships in common, because Rota frequented different circles without connecting them as if to avoid confusion and waste of time. Music was music, hermeticism was hermeticism and cinema was cinema, nor did he ever indulge in gossip even about those he knew very well.

Who was Rota?

The compositions of Mozart as a child reveal the brain of a brilliant child, those of Rota as a child appear to have been written by an adult. Toscanini, who had discussed it with him when they were in America, was convinced that certain cases can be explained by the memory of previous lives. As if one picks up where he left off.


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