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"Music is a matter of transpiration and awareness". Pasquale Catalano on Volare.

Margherita Buy's directing debut Volare sees the return of the Italian composer with a compelling original soundtrack that doesn’t compromise on feelings.

Pasquale Catalano, composer of Volare

Twenty and odd years after his debut as a soundtrack composer Pasquale Catalano has no intention of slowing down. Born in 1966 in Naples, Catalano has worked on some of the most cherished modern classics of 2000s Italian cinema and television, including Romanzo criminale - La serie (Sergio Sollima, 2008-2010), Barney’s Version (Richard J. lewis, 2010), Mine vaganti (Ferzan Õzpetek, 2010), Magnifica presenza (Ferzan Õzpetek, 2012), and his breakthrough film Paolo Sorrentino’s Le conseguenze dell’amore (2004).

After a prolific 2023, in which the neapolitan maestro sealed off a multitude of works – including the score for Mimì - Il principe delle tenebre, the much awaited debut by Brando De Sica, nephew of Vittorio – today come the release of Volare.

The soundtrack sees the collaboration between the composer and Italian cinema legend Margherita Buy. The film marks her debut behind the camera in the double role of director and protagonist, following the successful example of colleague Paola Cortellesi with her critically-acclaimed C’è ancora domani.

Volare by Margherita Buy, 2024

Volare marks the directing debut of Margherita Buy.

At the core of the comedy is the fear of flying, which actress Annabì (Buy) has to challenge when offered a potentially career-defining role in a Korean movie. Aerofobia takes the best of the protagonist who regretfully turns the role down, but she will at last face her fears when her daughter decides to move to the USA for her studies and flying becomes a matter of motherly love.

“When you face your fears and anxieties, you can find yourself in comical situations in an attempt to defeat them. Or the anxiety can take on a surreal dimension. The idea I had was to tell the comedy part, without losing the realism of the moments of anxiety in which one is left alone with oneself,” commented Buy in her director statement.

A realistic, deeply human and emotional matrix is indeed what inspired the music by Pasquale Catalano. Composed and recorded in one month, the 25 tracks offer a glimpse into the art and sensitivity of Catalano, a firm believer that the success of a soundtrack is, first of all, a matter of harmony between music and images. 

Stream Volare, the new soundtrack by Pasquale Catalano on CAM Sugar.

We sat in conversation with the Neapolitan maestro to find out more about the creative process behind the score and the place diegetic music has in contemporary cinema and culture.

Lorenzo Ottone: What has been the approach to the soundtrack? Did any particular genres of atmosphere inspire its composition?

Pasquale Catalano: Having had to work on the edited film, I let 3-to-4 emotions guide me. One of tender irony relating to the characters and the storyline, the others instead were referred to the protagonist and her feelings of solitude and melancholia, especially when her daughter wants to leave and go abroad. Another important theme, which is the only one featuring the orchestra, comments on the figure of the protagonist’s father and his passing. It is an emotional moment that we decided to keep as such, with no shame of feelings.

LO: At the core of the film is a feeling of fear. From a musical perspective, did you challenge any fears when working on the soundtrack?

PC: As far as I am concerned, a soundtrack always is made of 15% inspiration and 85% perspiration. Mine is a very theatrical method, in the style of Grotowski, since I come from that background. I transpire feelings that come from elsewhere when I work on music. The image, in the end, remains very important, because it changes the final conception of the work. It is the essence of cinema. Let’s say, if a film is shot in 16mm with grainy photography, it’d feel out of place to have a full orchestra.

LO: Your career has been spanning for over twenty years, with some modern classics of Italian cinema including Mine vaganti, Magnifica presenza and Le conseguenze dell’amore. How profoundly have the role of diegetic music in cinema and its impact in popular culture changed, especially if compared to the golden age of Italian soundtracks?

PC: First of all, cinema has changed. Gramsci would talk about how the means of production influence an artistic work, today we have to talk about the means of distribution. 

LO: So you are saying that there is pressure on the composers to conform and step back?

PC: From an aesthetic point of view, the last big shift in the way people approach film music happened with Greenaway. Before him, there have been moments like Morricone with his Spaghetti western soundtracks or works like Indagine su di un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto which changed collective imagination. Today, there is no real shift in the way we listen [to soundtracks], instead there is a demand from distribution platforms to compose music that does not have a strong thematic presence. Think about Dune, which won an Oscar without having a recognisable theme. Similarly, Joker was very monothematic. This brings us to question the importance of diegetic music today compared to the presence of music libraries. 

LO: What are the challenges of this shift?

PC: Schoenberg would say that soundtrack composers had the great privilege of not having to feel guilty although using the tonal system [laughs]. Having recognisable themes is what truly makes the difference, and to that extent I was lucky to work with directors, like Özpetek, who recognise the importance for a theme to retain its character. When explaining a film, bringing a theme on set and having the actors listen to it, counts as much as a thousand words.

LO: When looking back at the CAM Sugar catalogue one cannot help but notice the great willingness for experimentation that composers coming from academic backgrounds had. Do you think that this drive has now been partially lost or limited by the industry itself?

PC: In part, it is limited, yes. Even in the past, though, maestros such as Morricone could compose tracks with leaps of sixths, without the director noticing. Today, many of the big distributors pretty much ask for affirmative music. The inclusion of different elements is a freedom the composer has to take, but with it comes awareness. 

It is like in the 1950s, when at Hollywood during McCarthyism there was the possibility of making films that went against the status quo, but they had to be done subtly, undercover. Now, similarly, in film music there is the possibility of doing so for those with the will.

LO: You have mentioned Morricone a lot. What is your relationship with the composers that made the history film music, and especially that of CAM Sugar?

PC: Working with CAM is a honour for any composer. Its catalogue has such gems, often unknown to most people. One of my favourites is the score by Carlo Rustichelli for I compagni by Roberto Rossellini: a masterpiece of empathy, made with such skilfulness. I did a reduction of it for orchestra to be played at the Teatro Regio in Turin. As a matter of fact, there are scores by other composers reworked by Stelvio Cipriani, or Rota reworked by William Ross: some of the greatest orchestrations in the world.


Volare by Pasquale Catalano is out now on CAM Sugar and available to stream on all digital platforms.


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