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Born in Italy in 1926, Bruno Nicolai studied piano and organ with the intent
of being a classic composer. Little is known, however, about his personal
life, except he lived in Rome, married and had a number of children. From the
time of his rise to fame, till his death from a heart attack in 1991, he
remained a private person, reluctant to give interviews or to capitalize on
his celebrity status. There are only a handful of photos of him in existence,
most of which reveal him to look a little like Al Capone.
It was during the rise of Ennio Morricone, whom he was friends with for many
years, that Nicolai started to gain fame as well. Morricone composed, Nicolai
conducted and together they made numerous soundtracks in this fashion.
Predominately, these were western scores such as For A Few Dollars More,
The Mercenary, The Good, the Bad and The Ugly and so on, but they worked in
several other genres as well.
It was either shortly before or shortly after Nicolai started composing on his
own that a violent breakoff transpired between the two men. Neither would
speak publically on the seperation, with Morricone reportedly commenting to
the effect of "He did me wrong, he did my family wrong, and I will not
talk about him any more," when asked and the other way around from
Nicolai's end, during the few times he spoke to the general public. Some
contend that Nicolai has rewritten compositions Morricone has not used in past
films, which may or may not have been true. The styles of the two men remained
remarkably similar, but this again, could have been from like-thinking due to
so many years together. The full story may never come to light.
On his own, Nicolai did a number of western scores, all sounding inseperable
with Morricone's style, the guitars, the trumpets, the whistling, the chimes.
Indio Black/Adios Sabata, $100,000 for Ringo, Hellhounds Of
Shoots First, Run Man Run, My Name Is Holy Spirit, Violent
Joe and various episodes in the Sartana-series all helped him rise in the
ranks as a composer himself and not just a conductor.
When the westerns started to die out, Nicolai smelled the coffee and woke up
to working in the upcoming horror genre. Jess Franco, the prolific cult
director, utilized him for various scores which were well-handled though not
as throbbing as the westerns. Rather than being regarded as a "second
fiddle" to Morricone, he seemed intent on branching out with his own
unique style here. The organ, one of the aforenoted trademarks of his youth,
became an integral part of his scores in scream cinema.
Franco's Count Dracula was one of the prolific director's most high-budgeted
works and was announced with the intention of following the Stoker book to the
letter. It did not and although major star, Christopher Lee, was placed in the
starring role and he did have a mustache (like the Count in the novel, but not
in past Lee or Lugosi interpretations of the role), there were tons of
improvisions not in the original text. Nonetheless, the movie is regarded by
Franco fans as one of his best products and in this, Nicolai established
himself for successfully breaking away from the Morricone-ish past scores.
The film soundtrack in this is brooding and far more subtle, unique from a
Nicolai standpoint. It remains available on CD.
Other horror films for which Nicolai composed include Demons Of The Undead,
What A Strange Drop Of Blood On Jennifer's Body, Caligula (though
his music cannot be heard in all versions of the film), Demons Of the
Undead, A Virgin Among The Living Dead and
Of the Blood Monster.
Aside from horror and western movies, he also made scores for comedies,
crime dramas, suspense films and romances.
One of the most overlooked of his scores as well as overlooked movies in
general would be Christ Of the Ocean. A diffcult film to catagorize because it
fits into various genres comfortably, but completely in none, the plot offers
an uncanny look at the return of Jesus. A mysterious stranger with a (briefly
shown) nail scar on his hand leaves the viewers wondering for most of the
While Nicolai LPs became hard to find (at one time Run, Man, Run was going for
as high as $300 among collectors), the advent of CDs wrecked the collector's
pricings, but brought back numerous long-gone Nicolai scores to light. More
are still coming.
There are several posthumous tributes on the net and webpages devoted to