Interview with Ludovico Einaudi on writing music scores for Academy Award-winning films

Ludovico Einaudi, credit copyright to Cesare Cicardini, Decca Records

Ludovico Einaudi by Cesare Cicardini ©

Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi has penned music for successful films in many countries, from the United States to Japan; his cinematic scores are found in more than 80 films and TV projects, including the Golden Globe and Academy Awards-winning films The Father and Nomadland, starring Anthony Hopkins and Frances McDormand respectively.

In this exclusive interview, Ludovico Einaudi discusses his album Cinema released on Decca Records in 2021, which collects some of the best film scores he has put together through the years, including the soundtracks of Eric Toledano’s The Intouchables, Giacomo Campiotti’s Dr Zhivago and Shane Meadows’ This Is England, to name a few.

Ludovico Einaudi credit copyright to Ray Tarantino

Ludovico Einaudi by Ray Tarantino ©

Ludovico, who are your main sources of inspiration in music?

Oh, such a big question! Let’s start by saying that there are some timeless classics that belong to the history of classical music: they are always there and they pop out every now and you have your very own unique way of putting them on a scene. And then there is my love and passion for non-classical music. I grew up listening to a lot of popular music, rock, ethnic music, and electronic music, and I have experienced popular music and other genres in many ways in all my different projects around the world. After having listened so much though, this is a moment in my life when I’m maybe listening less – I mean, I’m still listening to stuff now and then, but I’m not as hungry anymore as I was in my twenties.

Why did originally draw you towards the piano?

The piano sounded like home to me; my mother played the piano, so this is a musical instrument we always had at home when I was a child. Also, the piano allows you to really “see” all the notes and chords, and when you’re writing music you kind of see everything. The keyboard is developed in such a well-ordered way that you can literally detect all the octaves in front of you, which gives you structure. The piano also encloses a very large range of musical scales and frequencies, so unlike any other instrument, you can go very low and very high on a piano, you can move around and create almost the range of an orchestra. The piano offers a lot of opportunities.

Which one of your film scores do you feel most attached to?

I’ve got lots of positive memories of several scores I composed for films and TV – I’m thinking about a movie I worked on with Giuseppe Piccioni some years ago in Italy [this is either Not Of This World, 1999, or Light Of My Eyes, 2001], and then another interesting experience I had, it was a three-part television drama for the British television titled Dr Zhivago, starring Keira Knightley. It was a very demanding project but we did a good job there, there is a lot of music and a lot of different themes: love, war, Russia and a lot of things that dried me out, but it was a very enjoyable experience. More recently, there has been a great partnership with Japanese film director Hirokazu Koreeda, it was probably three or four years ago [The Third Murder, 2017]. Every movie has its own story and the people you get to work with, which bring you great memories in all shapes and forms. You know, in the beginning, film scores were not really meant to be my main activity, but then I realised that there are over 80 films featuring my music. And so I’m happy to see my music eventually becoming a consistent part of it all, nilly-willy; this is part of my life, and the record Cinema is a celebration of my work in film scores. The Father and Nomadland winning Academy Awards, BAFTAs and Golden Globes in 2021 have further led to the making of this collection, and I’m fine with that.

How did you get involved in the making of The Father?

It was 2019 when Florian Zeller [the (French) director of The Father] got in touch to suggest we worked together on this film he was making. It was a very busy moment for me, I had this series of concerts I do every year just before Christmas at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan – it’s like ten concerts, one a day, and therefore it was very difficult for me to find the time for other projects. We eventually met, I watched the film with Florian and I liked both him and his work. He was just so enthusiastic and accommodating that he eventually managed to drag me into the project with him. Every afternoon, just before the beginning of the concert, we would go and record in a room of the theatre we eventually used to record all the film scores, and we finished the work in just a few days. Fortunately, The Father doesn’t feature a huge amount of music; the most difficult part to work on was the final scene, the monologue by Anthony Hopkins with the music playing in the background. It’s the most important part of the story, with the camera switching from him to the nature. It’s very moving. I enjoyed working on The Father, I had a very good team with very smart people, and I had great support to get the job completed to the highest standards.

How about Nomadland?

When it comes to Nomadland, it was already 2020 and we were in lockdown. I was contacted by director Chloé Zhao in April 2020 and she presented this film she was making, starring Frances McDormand. She didn’t know how to combine the footage and music together, and she’d found me by googling “music inspired by nature”. She’d bumped into my Elegy For The Artic video which led her to discover another project I had put out later, called Seven Days Walking. She finally felt she had found the music she wanted for the film, and it was pleasing to know that my music helped give her screenplay some structure. And so we talked, and at some point, it felt like she wanted to add some original music to the film, but then she was on a strict deadline to present Nomadland to the Venice Film Festival, so she gave up and resumed to only use the scores that were already been composed, which were not original. This was an easy job for me as I didn’t really have to do any more than agree to something that – in my opinion – was working really well. But, since the movie soundtrack didn’t include any original score, this meant that I couldn’t be nominated for Best Original Score at the Oscars.

How did you get involved in the making of This Is England in 2006?

Working with Shane Meadows on This Is England was a great experience. He told me the whole story about how he found me. He was in London, travelling in a taxi cab to the airport, off to the Toronto International Film Festival. He was wondering whether he really wanted to tell this story inspired by his childhood memories and trauma when the taxi radio suddenly put one of my tracks on. He immediately thought it was the right music for him to finally be able to tell his story in a film, but my name was mispronounced by the radio speaker and so he left without knowing how to find me. Then, once in Toronto, he got in another cab, and the radio was playing my song again. And so this time around he paid more attention and eventually managed to get hold of my name, although the radio speaker still mispronounced it! He finally got in touch with me, flew to Milan when I was at the time and brought the film, which we watched together in my living room. I was overwhelmed by his energy and intensity and how beautiful the movie was, so we ended up working together.

Is there a difference between making music for films in Italy and abroad? 

It wouldn’t really be any different for a composer, but maybe Italian filmmaking is more tied to comedy as a genre, while different film genres were probably more explored abroad. If I’m thinking about less traditional movies in Italy, somebody that comes to my mind is Michelangelo Antonioni, and also Sergio Leone in a certain way… but I haven’t watched much Italian cinema in the latest years, so I can’t generalise.

Sergio Leone had most of his films orchestrated by the late Maestro Ennio Morricone; what legacy did the Maestro leave to the world?

In addition to composing amazing film scores, Ennio Morricone was certainly a pioneer in the field. He managed to create a certain type of distinctive sound that is recognised and recognisable not only in Italy but literally everywhere in the world. And this will still live and survive forever.

Had you not worked in the music industry, what would you be doing today? Did you have a plan B?

I don’t know if this is in terms of career, but it is certainly about passion: I have a passion that I’m still nurturing today, which is photography. I love it. It’s my way of being on my own and meditating and looking at the world and searching for the right angle and lighting. Photography brings me inside my own mind, and back.

Ludovico Einaudi Zoom interview

Ludovico Einaudi showing a Kodak roll film

What kind of photos do you take?

I think it might be considered landscape photography. I focus on landscape details. Sometimes I portray people as well, but what I really like and enjoy is trying to follow the right lighting and angle. I’ve been out and about today strolling around the Italian Langhe here in Piedmont with my camera, taking photos. I do this every day, I go for a walk bringing my camera – look, I’m still using roll films! I mean, I’m also using digital cameras, but I actually prefer the rendering and effects on roll films.

Ludovico Einaudi credit copyright to Ray Tarantino

Ludovico Einaudi by Ray Tarantino ©

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