Maurizio FabrizioBorn: March 16th, 1952, Milan (Italy)
Young Maurizio studied at Milan’s Giuseppe Verdi Conservatoire. “The main instrument chosen for me was the bassoon. On the side, I also studied the piano, contrabass, percussion, and composition. In hindsight, studying the bassoon didn’t help me that much in my later career, but I had a great teacher, Sergio Penazzi, who was the first bassoon player in the Scala Theatre Orchestra. He was more than just an excellent instrumentalist. To him, playing the bassoon wasn’t a job… first and foremost, he was a musician in the broadest sense of the word. He taught his students the beauty of composition. I wasn’t surprised when the man turned to conducting later on in life. In my six years at music school, I didn’t study any arranging or conducting myself. Nothing of the sort! Of course, I was taught the theoretical subjects, most importantly the study of harmony. Year after year, it became clearer to me how important harmonies are in the understanding of music. I think that’s the most enduring influence of those conservatory lessons on my life in music.”
“When I went to music school, I had no idea or conception of what genre of music appealed most to me personally. Around my thirteenth birthday, that changed. Listening to the radio, I discovered The Beatles. My elder brother Salvatore, who we all called Popi, was a Beatles fan as well – and he certainly egged me on in my enthusiasm. We thought their music was incredible, out of this world! I got myself a guitar and spent hours and hours with the radio and the record player teaching myself the chords. Perhaps even more than the conservatoire, doing this was my education in music. As a fifteen-year-old, I joined a professional pop band in Milan as a drummer. My percussion lessons at the conservatoire came in handy here. Touring with this group, I developed an understanding of what type of songs appealed to audiences… and I quickly took up writing canzoni myself – initially not with the goal of playing them with the band, but just because it was something I liked doing. Writing songs was an instinct. It came to me automatically.”
“In 1969, I had my first opportunity to work in the record studio. My nephew, Donato Renzetti, who studied at the conservatoire as well (and would go on to become a much acclaimed classical conductor – BT), occasionally did studio sessions to earn some extra money. He worked with the famous vocal octet 4+4. They were led by Nora Orlandi and did the bulk of the background vocals in Milan’s record studios. One day, Donato called to ask me if I were interested to join for a day of sessions. Someone else wasn’t available – and I thought to myself, “Why not?” The very first record on which I contributed as a background vocalist was a big hit in Italy, ‘Lisa dagli occhi blu’ by Mario Tessuto. From that moment on, I was heavily involved in all kinds of sessions with Nora Orlandi’s group. The music was good and I was enjoying myself. Orlandi’s singers were also the regular background group for the San Remo Song Festival – and for the 1970 edition, I was one of the singers on stage. I got to work with virtually all of Italy’s pop stars. It was a wonderful and informative experience to be there, with TV cameras, an orchestra, an audience, and of course lots of press around.”
“One thing led to the other, and I also had my first songs published. In 1970, three of them were recorded by quite important artists, the first being ‘Lungo il mare’ by Françoise Hardy. Soon others followed, Gigliola Cinquetti with ‘Solo un momento d’amore’ and Dik Dik, a very important band in Italy at the time, with ‘Vivo per te’. Even though none of these songs were very successful, I was over the moon that my work was deemed good enough to be recorded with session musicians and a large orchestra. A wonderful memory! Because I was too young to be a member of SIAE (the Italian publishing rights organization, BT), the music was signed not by me, but by my nephew Donato.”
“Because I became ever more deeply involved in the business, I decided to give up my studies. There was no way of combining them with my professional activities – and, to be honest, I never cherished the dream of being a classical musician. Already as a teenager, I understood that pop music was my strada. Still, I was lucky enough to perform twice as a replacement percussionist in the Scala Theatre Orchestra, first for Berlioz’s Requiem conducted by the great Georges Prêtre, and then some time later another piece with Claudio Abbado as our conductor. Playing the Requiem was a special experience, given that it is a piece which requires a huge orchestral set-up with four fanfares, two choirs, and five timpanists! The occasion was even more memorable as three of the other four timpani players for that performance were close relatives of mine – one nephew and two uncles. Can you imagine?”
“Around that same time, my brother Popi and I also took up writing songs ourselves. While we were together in the Abruzzi, one of our uncles listened to some of the tunes we had just finished. As he worked in the recording business, he promised to bring the material to the attention of some executives in Milan. Having prepared three or four titles, we were taken by him to the offices of several important record bosses. The first told us, “Find yourselves another job, guys, this will never work!” Fortunately, we didn’t allow ourselves to be downhearted – and, at CBS, they offered us the opportunity to record the first tune we had composed together, ‘Come il vento’, a song in the style of Simon & Garfunkel who Popi and I adored. The arrangement was done by Franco Monaldi, an adorable man and a great musician. To me and my brother, he was a father figure, looking after us while we took our first steps as solo artists. ‘Come il vento’ was picked to take part in the Venice Song Festival and in fact we did well there – we finished third, and the song received quite some airplay. It’s a composition that’s still dear to my heart.”
“After our relative success in Venice, the record company wanted us to do the San Remo Festival the following year – and they forced a song on us which didn’t really fit us, ‘Andata e ritorno’. In fact, it had been written by my brother and me, but because we knew that San Remo was important, we were thinking in a vein that was far too commercial… somebody should have told us that this wasn’t a good choice for us. In the early 70s, San Remo was the music event of the year – the whole of Italy came to a standstill to watch it. The pressure was on for us… and things went badly. We were eliminated in the semis. In fact, I had two songs in the running, the other one being my composition ‘Il dirigibile’, which was performed by Anna Identici and Antoine. Because you weren’t allowed to enter with more than one song, I put my own name on ‘Il dirigibile’ and asked my cousin Donato to sign ‘Andata e ritorno’ in my place. In the end, it didn’t matter much, because ‘Il dirigibile’ was eliminated as well. As would be the fate of some of my other songs later on, it wasn’t arranged and performed in the way I’d had in mind myself. After this festival in San Remo, I was devastated. It heralded the end of the duo with my brother, although we did one more single, but that was it. We separated, not only artistically but also in real life, because we were called up to perform our military service in different parts of Italy. This kept me out of the music business for a year and a half.”
“Coming back to Milan after my discharge, I had to start from scratch. The easiest thing to do was to ask producers and record companies to let me write arrangements for them. There was plenty of work. At the time, arrangers didn’t have to fight for commissions. It wasn’t a conscious career move. I didn’t choose to be an arranger. My career as a singer was over, even if I tried again half-heartedly in the following years by recording three albums, which all flopped – and deservedly so. One thing I always knew was that I was a musician… and I had always taken an interest in scores. On my own, I had been studying classical scores closely, simply because I loved them so much. I had already done one or two studio arrangements before joining the army. One of them, ‘Hai ragione tu’, was a hit for Marcella Bella. It was something which came naturally to me. Producers were always looking for young musicians able to create a contemporary sound. Any aspiring arranger must be contemporary. I didn’t listen to the work of older Italian orchestrators. Apart from some valuable advice from my lifelong friend Gianfranco Lombardi, my inspiration came mainly from abroad. I was particularly impressed by Paul Buckmaster’s arrangements for Elton John. The way he wrote for strings was simply genius.”
In the 1970s, finding himself much in demand as an arranger virtually from the beginning, Maurizio Fabrizio wrote scores for important Italian artists such as Ornella Vanoni, Al Bano & Romina Power, Nicola Di Bari, and Mia Martini. As a songwriter, on the other hand, his production dried up at this time.
“I was young and happy to be an arranger for a while. Writing arrangements was my job and it didn’t leave me much time to do other things. I composed some songs here and there, but not many. I simply put the idea of being a songwriter on the shelf for some years – that’s the best way to put it, I think. It was inevitable that I would revert to composing sooner or later, but those years as an arranger were very important in my development as a musician… learning to understand how instruments work; how to build a song; how to work with session players in the studio. I hardly ever encountered any problem in that respect. Even though I was young and inexperienced, musicians never gave me a hard time in the studio, perhaps also because I am quiet and easy-going in character. The easiest part of the job was conducting. In pop music, no conducting technique is required. This is not classical music with complicated tempo changes and things like that. Almost all arrangers improvise while standing up in front of an orchestra. The main thing is being able to spot mistakes in the score rapidly and resolving them without losing time unnecessarily.”
“Somewhere around 1975 I met a producer from Rome, David Zard. Somehow, he sensed that I could be the arranger he needed for a young singer-songwriter called Angelo Branduardi. Angelo didn’t enjoy success at the time, but Zard was convinced of his qualities. To me as well, it was obvious he was an immensely talented guy. Already at the time, Angelo was determined about the music he wanted to make. He never was the type of person who was willing to compromise – always staying close to his own beliefs, something I didn’t have in me back then and which I greatly admired in him. His style reminded me of a medieval minstrel. We started doing performances together as a duo; two guitarists, with Angelo singing his own creations. His concerts didn’t draw much of an audience; people simply didn’t know what to think of this strange young man. They were bored. But then, in 1976, the breakthrough came with his LP ‘Alla fiera dell’Est’, the second of his albums for which I did the arrangements. The title song was a huge hit, enjoying particular success with children – and whoever enjoys success with children, enjoys success with everyone!”
“Speaking of my activity as an arranger, I can say without hesitation that Branduardi is the most important artist I worked with. He and his producer David Zard gave me all the freedom to create the arrangements the way I thought best. When preparing a new album, Angelo gave me cassettes with just a guitar and his voice – and I did all the rest without him ever commenting on how he wanted the score to be written and without me asking a single question. We met in the studio and recorded the scores I had come up with. David and Angelo simply trusted my abilities as a musician. Working like this was wonderful. Unusually for an arranger, this gave me the opportunity to create scores which were at least as much a reflection of my tastes as those of Angelo himself. I adore baroque music and this style of instrumentation wonderfully fitted his troubadour-oriented songs. Combining elements of his musicianship with mine, we created something which was completely different from mainstream Italian music – in fact, different from anything else.”
For some thirteen years, including a short break, Maurizio Fabrizio was Branduardi’s arranger, scoring the tracks to eight of his albums. “But our collaboration went further than that,” Fabrizio adds. “As Angelo became popular in many European countries, I went on tour with him just about everywhere. I’ve never met any other artist who always manages to say something appropriate to an audience in any given language… French, German, or English, Angelo touched the right chord – without uttering banalities! He’s too intelligent for that. When touring with him, I wasn’t really his musical director, but just the guitarist. With certain songs, I changed to the piano. At the end of the 1980s, Angelo decided to work with another arranger to create a different sound – and it was the right decision, because it’s good to make a change once in a while and those new records were all wonderful. Still, we never lost sight of each other. In later years, he regularly called upon me to join him for new and interesting projects. Some years ago (in 2014 – BT), I had the pleasure of joining him on stage as a guitarist again for a series of concerts.”
“In 1979, for a short time, I was in dire straits. I fell out with David Zard and it seemed that I would no longer work with Angelo Branduardi; in fact, the matter was settled quite soon after, but I couldn’t foresee this at that juncture. Suddenly I was left virtually without an income. Then, out of the blue, I received a phone call from Giancarlo Lucariello, an important record producer at the time. As it happened, his arranger Danilo Vaona had left, following Raffaella Carrà who had moved suddenly to Madrid. He was pretty desperate, because he and Vaona were halfway through producing Riccardo Fogli’s new solo record. He needed another arranger to finish the job. Would I be interested? I vaguely knew Lucariello, but I’d never worked with him. Someone had advised him to get in touch with me – and of course I was happy to accept his offer. Rushing to his place, I found that he had prepared everything like a German would, because that’s how he is! He’s not a musician himself, but he knew exactly what kind of sound he needed from me. I worked in his house for days on end, from early morning until late in the evening, as a real impiegato della musica, an employee in music! I didn’t even go home, but slept in his spare bedroom, getting up early again to score the next song.”
“One night, we were about to go out for dinner after having worked all day on the scores. I sat at the piano and almost unthinkingly started playing a melody, a musical idea which had occurred to me that day. Stroking his beard, Giancarlo just stood and listened. After a while, he said, “Let’s forget about going to the restaurant. Let’s work on your idea here and now.” Apparently, the melody had struck a chord with him. That night, Lucariello decided to change the entire plan. Fogli’s single was ready to be released – even the sleeves had been pressed already. The piece was a Roby Facchinetti composition… but Giancarlo called the record company and said he had a new single and title track for the album. That song was my tune, ‘Che ne sai’, and it was a huge hit! From that day on, Lucariello wanted to work with nobody else but me – not only writing arrangements for Fogli and his other protégés, like Viola Valentino and Gianni Togni, but also composing the lion’s share of all of their songs. Often, he explained to me what kind of structure he needed for a song, which I then put into a melody. After several years of hardly composing any music myself, I finally became a songwriter again. Working with Lucariello wasn’t always easy, because he demanded complete dedication, but he taught me a lot about creating success – and we really had a string of hits in those years, one after the other!”
Chart successes composed by Maurizio Fabrizio in those years include ‘Malinconia’ by Riccardo Fogli and ‘Sola’ by Viola Valentino. In 1982, Fabrizio also composed the tune with which Fogli won the San Remo Song Festival, ‘Storie di tutti i giorni’. The song was an international success and covered by several artists worldwide, including the Netherlands’ Marco Borsato whose career took off after scoring a triple platinum hit with a Dutch-language version, ‘Dromen zijn bedrog’ (1994).
“It was enormously gratifying when I saw a video of a Borsato concert with a huge crowd singing along to the song syllable by syllable. Incredible, because I had never heard of the guy before, let alone that he had recorded my song all those years after San Remo 1982. In fact, I originally wrote the melody as an orchestral suite which Lucariello had commissioned – but then the record company decided that Riccardo was going to go to San Remo, and we absolutely wanted him to be confirmed as the country’s number one artist after all his hits in the previous years. We needed a winning song! Going through unreleased material in our library, we stumbled upon that orchestral piece. Giancarlo suggested using the main theme from the suite as the starting point for a song – this became the intro of ‘Storie di tutti i giorni’. We worked from there, copying the buildup of a song by Elton John. Giancarlo was the architect and, while composing, I followed his ideas and instructions – and so did Guido Morra and Riccardo Fogli while inventing the lyrics. When the song was ready, all of us agreed that the result was good. All that happened afterwards is a mystery; why the song won San Remo; why so many people went out to buy the single. I’ve long ago given up trying to explain the success of any song. It’s always an unpredictable mix of fortuitous elements coming together.”
“The following year, I went to San Remo again with Viola Valentino. Furthermore, there was Toquinho, a Brazilian star artist who appeared in the contest as a guest with my song ‘Acquarello’. I also had a third iron in the fire, a song called ‘Sarà quel che sarà’, which I didn’t pay much attention to. While I was abroad touring with Branduardi, I received a phone call from a music publisher asking me if I had a song for him – anything would do. He needed it for some girl who was to take part in a talent show, the winner of which was allowed to compete in San Remo. She was called Tiziana Rivale. Well, I had a melody on the shelf. There weren’t any lyrics yet, but at my request, Alberto Salerno did the job… and to my mind, he did it well, but Tiziana’s producer rejected them and commissioned someone else to write new lyrics. I thought they were pretty lousy. Therefore, I no longer wanted to be associated with the song. I decided to sign it using a pseudonym, Mushi. I never expected this girl would make an impact. Even on the first night, when she was voted in first place, I didn’t give it a thought. On the final Saturday, when they were announcing the results, I was in a restaurant in San Remo enjoying a meal with Toquinho. “Hey, can you believe it, my song won!,” I exclaimed. Then I went down to the theatre to meet Tiziana for the first time. There, on that stage, we congratulated each other and had a brief conversation – and that was it. I never saw her again! She was a one-hit wonder. As to the song, I’ve always liked the music. Such a pity the lyrics were so average!”
“Thanks to my successful partnership with Giancarlo Lucariello and those two San Remo wins, my career changed profoundly. With the exception of Angelo Branduardi, I gradually stopped writing arrangements for other composers’ output. Instead, from the early 1980s onwards, I focused on composing and arranging my own work. At some point, I broke ties with Lucariello, because I no longer fancied being an employee, writing one song after the other. Over time, I found my own preferred way of writing music… and that way involved waiting for the inspiration to come. Moreover, I wanted to diversify my activities a bit more. Being freelance allowed me to work with artists from all corners of the industry. In the 1980s, while continuing to write for Riccardo Fogli, I also composed songs for artists such as Rettore, Miguel Bosé, and Ornella Vanoni. With Lena Biolcati, I won the Newcomers’ Section in San Remo. As a producer, I teamed up with Rossana Casale for several albums. Helped by Ornella Vanoni who put me in touch with a film producer, I even had the opportunity to write the music to a movie picture, ‘Il buon soldato’. Like my idol Nino Rota, I had always dreamed of writing a film score. I wrote some of my best work in those years.”
Arguably Fabrizio’s best-known composition in Italy is ‘Almeno tu nell’universo’, a haunting ballad with which Mia Martini took part in San Remo 1989. “Oddly, that song was already fifteen years old. I had written it with Bruno Lauzi – and we had Mia Martini in mind. I regularly worked with her in the 1970s, but she turned it down. In later years, Ornella Vanoni, Mietta, and Paola Turci also refused to record it. Then, suddenly, I received a call from Gianni Sanjust, a famous record producer. He told me he had taken Mia Martini under his wing, aiming to relaunch her career. Privately, she had been having a hard time – in fact, she hadn’t been performing for years. Gianni wanted to take her to San Remo and asked me to send him some songs. I picked four or five pieces, including ‘Almeno tu nell’universo’. When Gianni called me back, he told me they wanted that piece! He came to my place with Mia to record a demo. She looked horrible, old, down the drain. Due to an operation on her vocal chords, her voice had gone raspy, but it fitted this song remarkably well. The problem was getting San Remo’s organizers to accept Mia. They didn’t want her. Only after the intervention of Bettino Craxi’s wife (Bettino Craxi being a socialist former Prime Minister and one of the most powerful politicians in Italy – BT), who was friends with Mia, was she allowed into the competition. It wasn’t until the festival’s general rehearsal that I realized we had something special here. Mia received a standing ovation from the entire auditorium. It was an emotional moment. In the end, we didn’t win, but Mia was back in business… and that song is still being played on the radio in Italy every day. You could say it has become a classic.”
In the 1990s, Maurizio Fabrizio continued his involvement with the San Remo Song Festival as a songwriter and arranger, appearing as a conductor for nine songs and taking part as a composer with ten different compositions. Among his most successful entries are ‘Strano il mio destino’ for Giorgia, ‘È la mia vita’ for Al Bano (both in 1996), and ‘Sempre’ for Lisa (1998).
“A very young girl, Lisa was brought to my attention by my brother who was her producer. She was exceptionally talented. With ‘Sempre’, she finished third in the Newcomers’ Section and then second the following evening in the grand final, an incredible result given how many experienced artists were taking part. The songs for Giorgia and Albano in 1996 were both produced by my old friend Giancarlo Lucariello. Albano’s performance was important at the time, as it was his return to the scene after his divorce from Romina and his daughter’s passing. Listening to him singing ‘È la mia vita’ (Italian for ‘It’s my life’ – BT) was an emotional moment for me and many others. The song was a hit and has remained one of his ‘battle horses’ – a song which he is expected to perform at every concert.”
Away from San Remo, Fabrizio composed and arranged several tracks for Eros Ramazzotti and produced Fabio Concato’s debut album. In 1995, he bagged another colossal hit as a songwriter, penning ‘I migliori anni della nostra vita’ for Renato Zero. “One day, in my house in Arezzo, the phone rang. It was lyricist Guido Morra, a great friend who I have worked with for over forty years now. He had an idea for a song title, ‘I migliori anni della nostra vita’ after watching a classic American film with that title (‘The Best Years of Our Lives’ from 1946 – BT). Allowing myself to be inspired by this catchphrase, I sat down at the piano and wrote a melody, which I then sent to Guido who added the lyrics. We wrote the song for Giorgia, but she turned it down. Later, it was brought to the attention of Renato Zero’s record company, who thought it might be a good song for him. Zero himself didn’t agree though… he didn’t want to get close to it. The artistic director had to beg him to at least record a demo of it. Having done the demo, Renato realized this could work after all. The song was released as a single and it was an instant success! Many years later, it also was the theme tune of a popular TV show in Italy. Alongside ‘Storie di tutti i giorni’, ‘Acquarello’, and ‘Almeno tu nell’universo’, it ranks among my four most successful compositions of all time.”
In 2001, Fabrizio tried his hand at a new genre for him, penning a stage musical, ‘Il grande campione’, with Massimo Ranieri playing the main part. “To be honest, I was astonished to be asked to write a musical. I had never thought about it, but it was an exciting prospect. My absolute idol in music has always been Leonard Bernstein. ‘West Side Story’ is a masterpiece – in style more akin to opera than to musical comedy. His work and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals were my reference points. In ‘Il grande campione’, the main characters are Edith Piaf and Marcel Cerdan, a famous boxer she had an affair with. Massimo Ranieri had a hard time playing Cerdan’s part, singing and boxing at the same time, but he performed it excellently… a truly great artist. The production was rather successful. I was happy with the way it turned out, also because my old friend Guido Morra took care of the libretto. Following that, I was asked to do a follow-up about Rodolfo Valentino. Guido and I wrote several more musicals, but Italy doesn’t have a great musical theatre tradition and it’s virtually impossible to find a production company willing to stage it – in fact, we haven’t managed since 2002.”
As a songwriter, Fabrizio specialized in crossover repertoire, penning material for Italian tenors Alessandro Safina and Piero Mazzocchetti, while his composition ‘Alla luce del sole’ was a worldwide chart success in 2001 for American artist Josh Groban. “That was a wonderful surprise for me. The song must have found its way to Groban’s producer David Foster via a music publishing company. The album sold over six million copies all over the world; incredible, really. Following that, others started asking me to write songs in a similar, operatic style. Apart from Safina and Mazzocchetti, I also wrote the music to three poems by Pope John Paul II which were recorded by Plácido Domingo. It’s a type of music close to my heart. Nowadays, I hardly ever listen to pop music, instead preferring my favourite composers Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Debussy, Mozart, and Puccini. Ever since my childhood, they’ve been a part of me. I guess it was only a matter of time before that side of me found an outlet in my music.”
Fabrizio took part several more times in ‘San Remo’ after the turn of the century, most notably with the wonderful ‘Che mistero è l’amore’ for Nicky Nicolai & Stefano Di Battista – with a jazzy orchestration by American master arranger Vince Mendoza – and ‘Da grande’ for Alexia, both in 2005. In 2017, after a ten year break from the competition, he returned to the contest with a song for Albano Carrisi, ‘Di rose e di spine’.
“Of course, San Remo has been an important part of my professional life. Someone once explained to me that, with the possible exception of Toto Cutugno, there is no composer who took part in the festival with more entries – over thirty songs in my case. Admittedly, though, I’ve become less and less interested in the festival. First, I decided I no longer wanted to conduct in the festival, just focusing on my compositions, and then, with musicals and other challenges coming my way, I gave up on it completely. To my mind, the idea of a music competition is a bit obsolete – but perhaps it’s just that I am the one who is out of time instead of the festival itself! Then, for the festival in 2017, I suggested ‘Di rose e di spine’ to my long-time friend Albano; a tune in lyrical style which I had written with my wife Katia (actress and singer Katia Astarita – BT). When listening to the demo, he fell in love with it instantly. Alterisio Paoletti added the orchestration, which greatly enhanced the effect of the song. Because Pippo Baudo told everyone that he was convinced we would win the festival, we started having high hopes – but in the end things turned out rather differently. No doubt, Albano had the hardest time accepting the result, because there are few people on this planet who are more competitive than him!”
In recent years, Maurizio Fabrizio wrote a set of seven songs recorded by Renato Zero, while his composition ‘Forever’ was included on the soundtrack of Golden Globe and Oscar winning movie ‘La grande bellezza’ (2013). Furthermore, as a session player and arranger, he contributed to Angelo Branduardi’s albums ‘Il rovo e la rosa’ (2013) and ‘Camminando camminando in tre’ (2015), while Branduardi and Fabrizio toured together as a duo in 2017. Strikingly, for the first time since the 1970s, Fabrizio also made his mark again as a solo artist, recording several albums singing his own songs. In 2013, accompanied by his wife Katia, he did a concert tour which started in Rome and later took him to Canada and Russia.
“Perhaps climbing that stage in Rome in January 2013 to sing my own songs was the biggest emozione in my career as a whole – possibly only rivalled by the Venice Song Festival with my brother all those years ago in 1970. In the mid-1970s, I released several albums under my own name, but these were essentially studio projects. In the past, I was regularly asked to do concerts with my own most popular repertoire, but I didn’t feel like it – I was always happy being behind the scenes, writing music or backing up others, as I did for Angelo Branduardi for so long. Now, finally, there I was on stage because I really wanted to, surrounded by my wife and a group of session musicians who I had been friends with for decades. In those circumstances, I had a really good time. Having an audience in front of me listening to me singing my own compositions was immensely satisfactory – not because I all of a sudden longed to be in the spotlights, but simply for the joy of performing and meeting the audiences who have listened to my songs for all these years.”
In 2017, with his family, Maurizio Fabrizio moved to England to allow his son to study music at the London College of Performing Arts. “Since we all thought it was a good idea that he study there and given that I don’t need to live in Italy to write music, we just packed our bags and moved over. I thought of it as a new challenge… simply to see how I would like the Anglo-American part of the world. We don’t live in London, but in the beautiful English countryside. We’re very happy here – also because we have much more space here than we would have had in Rome, not an element to be dismissed since the Corona crisis started. I don’t know yet if we will move back after my son’s graduation. We’ll just wait and see what happens. In the meantime, I’m working on writing an opera. Fortunately, I’m not limited to waiting for commissions to write songs for artists, because that’s a market which has dried up dramatically over the last decade. For the future, I’m hoping to write more lyrical music, perhaps a musical, or, my ultimate dream, a second opportunity at composing a film score. I’m not the kind of person to think of the past too often. I’m convinced I have a lot more music left to write. If not everything, music means a lot to me. I never considered doing anything else in life than being a musician… I should thank my father for not even leaving me another choice. Grazie papa!”
Maurizio Fabrizio in the Eurovision Song Contest
“Albano asked me personally to write that orchestration,” Fabrizio recalls. “We were friends even before he and Romina began performing as a duo. I guess I first met him at the Venice Song Festival in 1970, where I made my debut as a singer with my brother Popi. I don’t remember exactly how we started working together. Albano knew I had begun working as an arranger; and also that, like Romina, I was a big Beatles fan – so I guess he was the one who asked me to compose a song in Beatles style for her. I also wrote the arrangement to it (the song referred to is called ‘Con un paio di blue jeans’, released in 1973 – BT). Following that, I was asked several more times to work on the arrangements for their solo records, mostly teaming up with Albano’s regular arranger Detto Mariano. Mariano was part of the ‘clan’ around Adriano Celentano, where Albano had started his professional career.”
“Then, at some point (in 1974 – BT), the decision was taken that Albano and Romina should become a regular singing duo. Albano, who has always had a keen eye for the audience’s tastes and preferences, realized the audience liked the combination of this beautiful daughter of an American actor and himself, a guy from a small village in Southern Italy who had succeeded in conquering the heart of this glamourous lady who seemed so far beyond his reach. They were some sort of leggenda, the ultimate showbiz couple. As soon as they became a stage duo, Italian audiences loved them and their romantic songs. From their first recording onwards, the arrangements were divided between Detto Mariano and myself.”
“By the time they were invited to represent RAI Television in the Eurofestival, they were household names in Italy, but internationally they were as yet relatively unknown. Eurovision wasn’t an event which was very important to Italy or Italy’s musicians, but Albano was ambitious; he didn’t say no to the opportunity to perform for an international audience. The song chosen for the contest was written by Detto Mariano, but Albano decided that I should write the arrangement. Mariano was much older than me, and Albano probably guessed that it would be good to have a young, contemporary approach to the arrangement. Whatever the truth, I don’t think Mariano himself would have done a different job than I did on the song… it was a pleasant tune and I enjoyed working on it, but Albano and Romina’s repertoire was commercial pop, nothing more, nothing less. The arrangement didn’t require much imagination; in fact, a more intricate approach such as that which I used for Angelo Branduardi’s songs would have been out of place here. I just kept it very simple. Detto Mariano was present when the studio recording was done, and I don’t remember him interfering at all with my job. He seemed happy.”
“When Albano asked me to do the arrangement, he also told me this song was destined to take part in the Eurofestival – and he made it clear he wanted me to conduct the orchestra in The Hague for them as well. True, Eurovision was the first time in my life I conducted an orchestra on television, but it wasn’t something which made me feel nervous. In fact, I’ve never felt anxious about conducting an orchestra, either in the studio or later in my life when I led the orchestra in the San Remo Song Festival (Fabrizio’s first stint as a conductor in San Remo being in 1991 – BT). Conducting one’s own arrangements with an orchestra of excellent musicians in front of you is very gratifying! This job of ours is not a job, it’s something very pleasant and beautiful.”
“In The Hague, as it turned out, the orchestra had been well prepared by their own conductor, who had already rehearsed the arrangement with them. For me, there was little more to it than just raising my arms. Perhaps I made some little comment here or there, some point of advice for the drummer, but probably not even that. Actually, after having counted them in, I might just as well have walked off for a cup of coffee; it wouldn’t have made any difference. In the old days of San Remo, the string players were usually guys of the old school with little sense of swing and rhythm, but in the Netherlands – and also at the contest in London the year after – they were well ahead of us in that respect. In terms of organisation too, the difference with San Remo was huge. All three Eurovisions in which I was involved were organized to perfection. In San Remo, the preparations and rehearsals were always extremely chaotic, as you would expect in Italy. Even the general rehearsal usually ended in disaster, but the broadcast itself was always fine. In the Eurofestival, everyone knew exactly when which rehearsal started and ended… to the minute. This was a mentality we weren’t used to in Italy.”
“The one outstanding memory I have of The Hague is that this Eurovision was the first time I worked with Rossana Casale. With her sister Angela, she was in the choir backing up Romina and Albano on stage. Rossana was only sixteen years old at the time and she sang very well. We became friends there and then in The Hague, but we went our separate ways afterwards. She recorded one or two singles produced by someone else, until, in 1986, Polygram asked us to work together to go to San Remo, where she sang my composition ‘Brividi’. Following that, I was her producer and songwriter for three albums. At the time of the festival in The Hague, though, neither of us imagined that our paths would cross more often than just that once!”
“For me personally, Eurovision 1976 wasn’t a particularly important moment. The contest didn’t change my life. At the time, I was already working with Angelo Branduardi and writing arrangements for various artists, and I continued doing so in the following years. Of course, I was aware that this was an international festival and that I was representing my country, but essentially it was little more than a very pleasant and relaxing one-week holiday. With the possible exception of Albano himself, that is how the whole Italian delegation saw the contest. For us Italians, there wasn’t any pressure of having to win the contest – the audience at home was largely uninterested in the result anyway and RAI Television tended not to attach too much importance to the Eurofestival. They were terrified of winning it and having the organize the contest the year after. Make no mistake, once we were there, we had a very good time, enjoying the company of delegates from all over Europe. All three Eurovisions in which I took part were the same – very pleasant, one happy swarm of musicians.”
“Working with Albano and Romina was always enjoyable, even though their characters are very different. Albano is a dedicated professional, while Romina always had her head in the clouds. Watching the video of their Eurovision performance in The Hague, you can see that she wasn’t nervous, while Albano forgot his lyrics at the beginning. He must have been overcome by the emotion of the moment. Even so, I can’t remember him being very disappointed when we didn’t win (Italy finished in seventh place – BT), although he is the type of person who always wants to win. In 1982, he was so disappointed when Romina and he didn’t win in San Remo with ‘Felicità’! That year, my song ‘Storie di tutti i giorni’ beat them into second place – and I can assure you that he was convinced victory couldn’t escape them! Even so, Albano and I have always remained close on a personal level. We continued working together for two or three years after Eurovision, but our friendship has never wavered. Until this day, he has remained one of my best friends.”
In spite of the lack of success in the festival itself, Albano and Romina enjoyed their first modest international success, as the French version of their Eurovision entry, ‘T’aimer encore une fois’, peaked at number 2 in the French singles charts. Still, the real international breakthrough for the duo didn’t happen until they produced a string of worldwide hits in the early 1980s. How come it took them several years to find the ideal mix? When asked about the matter, Fabrizio comments, “I think there is a mix of reasons. At some point, Albano and Romina gathered a new group of musicians around them and signed to another record company, which coupled them with different arrangers. The songs they released from then on were very clever and commercial – and people loved them. Also important was how, also in the artistic sense of the word, they became a couple. In the days when I worked with them, they also continued recording solo work, while in the 1980s they never appeared on television other than as a duo. Even more so than before, their love story caught the imagination of audiences. It was this combination of an attractive couple singing pleasant, accessible songs which brought them this incredible success.”
In the following year, Maurizio Fabrizio made his second appearance in the Eurovision Song Contest, this time at London’s Wembley Conference Centre, conducting the orchestra for Mia Martini and her performance of ‘Libera’, a song composed by Maurizio’s brother Salvatore – or ‘Popi’ – with lyrics by Luigi Albertelli.
“I knew Mia from my early days as an arranger in Milan,” Fabrizio recalls. “I regularly met her in the offices of a young music publishing company in which me and my brother had a share. We could be found there every day, not just us, but also Bruno Lauzi, Dario Baldan Bembo, and Luigi Albertelli… we came there to show each other our newest creations. “Hey, I just wrote this new song – how do you like it?” In the evening, the whole bunch of us would end up in a restaurant. There, the party continued until the early hours. Mia was contractually involved in our company and she showed up in the offices regularly as well. When we were writing songs, it was natural for us to think of Mia’s voice. That’s how many songs for her were born – one of them being ‘Almeno tu nell’universo’, which she refused to sing at the time.”
“Those were the circumstances in which ‘Libera’ was written, the song which RAI chose for the Eurovision Song Contest in 1977. The music wasn’t done by me, but by my brother. Actually, he didn’t write that many songs – and, later on, in the 80s, he changed tack and became a record executive. As a producer, he discovered Biagio Antonacci and Giorgia. For the lyrics of ‘Libera’, he asked Luigi Albertelli, one of the friends I just spoke about. We knew him from our earliest days as professional musicians. We were hugely impressed when he agreed to write the lyrics for me and my brother’s San Remo entry ‘Andata e ritorno’ in 1971. Two years before, Luigi had written ‘Zingara’, a San Remo winner, and we couldn’t imagine how such a famous person would want to work with us. In the following years, we remained close. To us, he was like an older brother, who taught us the tricks of the business. At some point, he went into television writing. We lost contact with each other, but I spoke to him on the phone shortly before he died unexpectedly earlier this year (2021, at the age of 87 – BT). I was shocked and sad. Luigi was an important person in my life.”
“In those years, Mia worked with different arrangers… mainly Dario Baldan and Natale Massara, but I did several songs for her too. I was probably asked to write and conduct the arrangement to ‘Libera’ by my brother. It was the natural course of things. Popi usually asked me to do the orchestrations to his songs. I don’t remember exactly, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I already gave him one or two suggestions about the composition while he was writing the song. ‘Libera’ was intended to be a ballad, but somehow someone must have convinced us to add an arrangement in disco style – Mia’s producer might have had a say in that, arguing that we had to write something which was international given that we were due to perform in Eurovision. That’s why the song has those disco strings which were so fashionable back then. When listening to it now, I wish I could turn back time. This simply wasn’t a good arrangement for that melody. I guess I am to blame as well. I should have insisted on staying faithful to the original idea. The same thing had happened to me several years before, when my song ‘Il dirigibile’ was chosen to be performed by Antoine at San Remo. No doubt because the record company wanted him to do so, Antoine’s arranger (Natale Massara – BT) wrote a bumpy orchestration to it which didn’t fit the song. I was very disappointed at the time – and I should have learnt my lesson.”
“I was rather excited about that Eurofestival being held in London. Already from the time I discovered the Beatles, London was a mythical place. It became even more exciting when I found out the auditorium was right next to the Wembley football stadium. I am a huge football fan, so this made the week we spent there only more special. Although I enjoyed all three Eurovisions I was involved in, this one in England was just a tad better than the two others. The Italian delegation was a happy bunch. Among them was my brother, who was one of the backing singers. The BBC had done a great job on the organisation. One night, all delegations were invited to a large restaurant, with each country being assigned a large table. It was a wonderful coming together of people from all parts of Europe, and there were waiters who sang and danced for us. It was a show inside the show, so to speak – and a dear memory.”
“I was good friends with Mia as well, although, speaking broadly, I’ve always found the female artists I came across in my career more difficult to work with than the male ones. I’m thinking of Ornella Vanoni, Patty Pravo, and also of Mia. They were all very nice characters, but also outgoing, very unpredictable, and a little mad. Mimi and her sister Loredana Bertè came from a complicated family and were both rather hard to handle at times, even though they were both excellent artists. Mia and I had a fine working relationship and there were no problems in London. I had the impression she was enjoying herself, just like the rest of us.”
“In the voting, we didn’t fare particularly well, did we? (in fact, ‘Libera’ finished thirteenth with eighteen countries taking part – BT) Again, I partly blame myself for this. Back then, we didn’t work with an electronic click yet. I just counted in the orchestra… and I indicated a tempo which was a little too fast. Mimi also noticed and told me after coming off stage she felt it was not the tempo which she had been expecting. She wasn’t happy with her own performance either. Watching the video now, our entire performance was rather chaotic. The backing group were dressed in a way which wasn’t fitting for an occasion like this. To be frank, they looked a bit disorganised. There doesn’t seem to have been a well thought-out plan. We did it the Italian way, once again – perhaps also because we didn’t believe in our chances to win. Our purpose was never to win the festival and it showed in the performance.”
“‘Libera’ isn’t a song which stuck in Italy’s collective memory. The single didn’t sell particularly well and Mia quickly moved on to other projects. In retrospect, it’s a bit surprising she went to Eurovision with a song composed by my brother. Her biggest hits in the 1970s were written by Dario Baldan Bembo. Dario’s songs, especially ‘Minuetto’, were very important in her career. Who knows, maybe Dario would have done a better job than us.”
Maurizio Fabrizio’s third and last involvement in the Eurovision Song Contest came in 1983, when his composition ‘Per Lucia’ was the Italian entry for the festival in Munich. The song was performed by Riccardo Fogli and arranged and conducted by Fabrizio himself. Fogli was invited to the contest by Italy’s broadcaster RAI after winning the preceding year’s San Remo Song Festival with ‘Storie di tutti i giorni’, another of Fabrizio’s compositions.
“When news came in that Riccardo was to represent Italy in the Eurofestival, his producer Giancarlo Lucariello, with whom I worked extensively in those years, organized a meeting. Lucariello wanted to make the most of this opportunity to make an impact abroad. He was looking for a ballad – a melody which was above all memorable, romantic and typically Italian. Furthermore, he came up with the idea of a song title with an evocative Italian girl name in it. Once we had settled on ‘Lucia’, lyricist Vincenzo Spampinato explored the possibilities of an attractive storyline for the verses – and we all tried our best imagining which rhythm would best fit such a song; then I added the melody, and lastly Vincenzo and Riccardo finished the lyrics together. You see, this wasn’t a song which was the result of a stroke of inspiration. It was the result of a brainstorm session. This was how Lucariello preferred to work. In fact, ‘Storie di tutti i giorni’ had been created in a similar way.”
“The orchestration I wrote is nothing special. Like the arrangement for Albano and Romina in 1976, it served the song and the vocalist. True, in terms of arrangement and production, ‘Per Lucia’ sounded very different from ‘Storie di tutti i giorni’ from the year before. In San Remo, the festival was done without an orchestra in the 1980s, which allowed for a different type of production which was more synthetic. It would have been hard to recreate the sound of the studio version of ‘Storie di tutti i giorni’ with an orchestra. As for the Eurofestival, we knew we were going to work with an orchestra – and we took this into account when preparing the production. Our approach was a little more classical, more conservative if you like. The difference became even more marked because Eurovision took place in Munich that year. This German orchestra sounded a bit like the Italian counterparts I was used to – a bit old-fashioned and without much swing. In the Netherlands and England, the musicians were more modern in those years. On the other hand, the German players were fine and the rehearsals were flawless. Not a bad word from me.”
“No, the problem we had was not related to the orchestra... In the days leading up to the contest, Riccardo himself was very tense. Giancarlo Lucariello is a great producer, but he put too much pressure on him. Usually, this worked well, because, as an artist, Fogli was born to follow instructions. Just as a soldier taking instructions from his officer, Riccardo was used to being told by Lucariello which repertoire was best for him and how to behave in a studio session. Riccardo liked that – he came to the studio, we told him how we wanted him to sing, he did just that, and then he went straight home. He is an absolutely wonderful person and a great singer, but didn’t have that many artistic ideas of his own. Unfortunately, at the Eurofestival in Munich, Lucariello overdid it. He gave Riccardo too many instructions. The contest in itself was nerve-wracking enough, but Giancarlo wanted to direct Riccardo’s every move. “Put your hand in your pocket when you sing this line,” “grab the microphone stand at that point,” and so on. Right before Riccardo had to go on stage to perform the song in the contest, he repeated all instructions to him. Everyone watching the television could see Riccardo was stressed out. As a result, he didn’t perform naturally. The guy was panicking.”
“In the voting, we were disappointed not to do better (Italy finished eleventh in a field of twenty in Munich). We were expecting more – perhaps secretly even contemplating first place. Maybe in other conditions we could have won, who knows… or finished last. For publicity reasons, that would have been better than ending up somewhere in the middle. Be that as it may, I still think the song wasn’t bad. We came up with a typical Italian song – and, let’s face the facts, whenever Riccardo performs in Russia or one of the other countries in Eastern Europe, where he is still very popular, audiences want him to sing ‘Per Lucia’. In Italy, it wasn’t one of his biggest hits, though I guess many people still remember it. I didn’t write a masterpiece, but the song didn’t fail either. If, nearly forty years on, it is still on Riccardo’s concert repertoire, it cannot have been that bad, I would say!”
“Looking back, even though I took part in it three times, I wouldn’t say Eurovision was an important part of my career. I’m quite proud of those three participations and they were good experiences, but that’s about it. You see, conducting in the Eurofestival is about being an arranger – and even though I worked as an arranger for some years, I never really felt like one. I liked it for a while, but my ambition was always to do other things – composing, and in some parts of my life also singing. Furthermore, maybe I fell victim to this Italian disease of looking at the Eurofestival as some minor event; less important than San Remo, for a start. We looked at Eurovision as an opportunity to be away from home and have a good time… even in Munich with Riccardo Fogli, this was the case for me. Now, I realize this was a mistake. If there was still an orchestra available, I wouldn’t mind having a try again, because I would know better how to prepare for such a competition. When you are willing to take the festival seriously and come up with a strong stage presentation, a performance on that stage can have an impact. ABBA showed everyone how it should be done. They had an international career on the back of their Eurovision win.”
We interviewed Maurizio Fabrizio in the summer of 2021, shortly after Italy had bagged its third Eurovision victory with Måneskin. We couldn’t resist asking Fabrizio about the band and their song. “Well, possibly for the first time in my life I hadn’t watched ‘San Remo’, simply because I couldn’t be bothered and because the direction Italian music is taking at the moment is not to my liking. Then I tuned in for Eurovision, but I only saw the voting – and the reprise of the winning song. I was surprised that an old-school piece of rock music could make such an impression either in Italy or in Europe. To my ears, it really sounded quite old-fashioned. Now, those guys are charting all over the world, so what do I know? Just this morning, when I accompanied my son to school, he was listening to a Portuguese song. A wonderfully understated jazz ballad! He told me it had won the Eurovision Song Contest some years ago. Who can tell what kind of music young people want to listen to these days? Perhaps I’m too old to understand, but let’s simply say that there is room for all types of music!”
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