San Giorgio and the Salute can be clearly seen from Ca’ Giustinian, the headquarters of the Biennale Musica, in Venice. Bar facing motorboats and gondolas, a nice place to talk, even if the wind “whips” the tables. Paolo Buonvino, born in 1968, author of music for the cinema – and not only – is a guest of the contemporary festival directed by the composer Lucia Ronchetti (he has just given a lesson scheduled in the program at the «Benedetto Marcello» Conservatory). «Spiritual disciple» of Franco Battiato, the Maestro worked with many directors, such as Virzì, but also with Italian and non-Italian music stars, such as Elisa and Skin; as a boy he left his native Sicily to conquer the world of celluloid. Today Buonvino is one of the major Italian authors of film soundtracks. He wrote notes for Muccino’s “L’Ultimo Kiss”, “Romanzo Criminale” (Michele Placido) and “Caos Calmo (Antonello Grimaldi). And for the TV the music of “The octopus 8 and 9”. It brought home a David di Donatello and nine nominations. There is so much to talk about. In front of a coffee he is keen to tell about his origins. «I come from Scordia, in the province of Catania – he attacks – What happens in our lives leaves a mark on us. And Sicily is in my DNA».
Let’s talk about «his» island.
«I was born in a context of simplicity, which for me is richness. My father, Rocco, was a master bricklayer, my mother, Giuseppina, took care of the children, as was the custom back then».
A poor family in an area that lives on the cultivation of oranges.
«No, poor no. Because here being a master bricklayer is an art. Whoever practiced it was a bricklayer-architect-sculptor. My dad built the houses from top to bottom. Proud, he told me it’s not that I earn my day, I make people’s homes ».
An art cannot be improvised, right?
“That’s right, my father learned from his father. My grandfather was born in 1884. At that time, being a master bricklayer also meant inventing the mechanisms for building a house, as Leonardo Da Vinci did».
So where does your love for music come from?
«At home there was a certain culture, not academic. My dad painted, wrote poetry and played the guitar. My mom came from a farming family; she wanted to meet a master mason because it was like moving up a level.’
From there, the road to the cinema seems long. What is he working on now?
“At a concert where I’m rethinking my live music that I’ll be touring next year, and I’m finalizing the music for two series, one for Netflix and one for Sky.”
According to the biographies, she does not spare herself at work, perhaps there is a desire for redemption?
«When you are born in a place where there isn’t much, this becomes an incentive to get busy, instead of complaining, because you are hungry to create; the absence of supply can be experienced as a crazy input. This happened in my country, where it was often necessary to invent something».
Where did grit and inventiveness push you?
«For example, as a young man, getting to know Franco Battiato; by the way I wasn’t a fan of him. At the time I listened to the Beatles, Baglioni and Intillimani. In any case, Franco was another imprinting, an older brother».
How did it happen?
«To get to know him, I invented a degree thesis on the relationship between cultured music and pop. And so I looked for him, I would have done better to meet the Pope. One day, by chance, I find him in front of me in a musical instrument shop in Catania. However…”
«However, says the philosopher Schopenhauer, your desires are your destiny. Battiato gave me an appointment for the interview, which lasted three days».
“A friendship was born with him that lasted 31 years. In my library there are still volumes that we have half read together, from a distance, talking to each other on the phone; there was an exchange on a certain spiritual dimension».
Love for one’s land, music, spirituality: but affections, family and love?
«I’m engaged to a girl from my town, Maria Cristina, who is a vet, it has nothing to do with music. Given my work, at a certain point I began to feel hungry for something else, even in my affections. My best friend, Pino, teaches Physics in Sicily; many of my friends at the Celio, my neighborhood in Rome, are busy with other things».
Speaking of his region, which is somewhat complicated…
«Precisely because it is complicated it is wonderful. The way I live it, Sicily has always been wealth. If I speak Sicilian, I speak five or six languages without knowing it; from Arabic to French via Greek; legacies of contamination and invasion. The same at the table, I eat different cultures, from the arancino with saffron, to the caponata of Arab origin. A land that has seen experiments in social and cultural hospitality as stupendous as those of Frederick II».
A religious land: what relationship does it have with faith?
«I define myself as a Christian, to follow the path of happiness indicated by Jesus. I have a certain interest in things of the spirit, I composed a mass, Epiklesis. In Sicily there is the great tradition of religious festivals, but I’m more attracted by mysticism and putting it into practice, even if making a procession in silence can become a meditative act».
«For me, religiosity is a way of being, in everyday life. A certain religious practice, such as going to church and praying, helps orient the person. But true religiosity is expressed in daily behavior, without making it into an ideological position”.
Does your origins enter into your work?
«They can’t not be there, my way of being and therefore of making music is imbued with who I am and therefore also with my origins. Some soundtracks came by accident. But in chance there is also a motivation, it is not a blind case but a case that follows rules that are not easy to identify».
«Inside me there is great awareness of what is happening in Sicily. Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were Sicilians. There are several Sicilies in the same place, sometimes opposite. And I live this kind of problem very carefully, but it doesn’t mean that I make music necessarily linked to this».
But the island makes itself felt, it is no coincidence that you wrote music for the «La Piovra» series.
«Director Giacomo Battiato, who has nothing to do with Franco, had to shoot Piovra 8. Instead of calling Ennio Morricone, who had written the previous seasons and was the natural candidate, after hearing things I had composed, he bet on me ; I was 26 years old, with zero experience in this field».
«Morricone’s music, beautiful, described the negative force of the mafia. Instead, I focused above all on the pain of the perceiver; this makes me understand my different approach, a different response to the same theme».
The magical world of film, meetings with directors.
«Every director is a new adventure. I owe a lot to the first, Giacomo precisely, with whom I learned so much, and to Muccino. We have been and are brothers of discoveries».
Characters and stories have struck you, can we give some examples?
«I remember La piazza delle cinque lune (film inspired by the kidnapping and killing of Aldo Moro, ed), with the director Renzo Martinelli. To understand and write the music, I got to see some documents that he had collected, some materials had been top secret. The impressive thing, I realized, is that not everything you see is exactly what you see.”
Work and mysteries aside, what other people did or do they matter to you?
“My mother I would say. She will soon turn 90, she has a very open mind and it is a continuous discovery, because she knows how to be simple but at the same time profound. With people she has the ability to be direct. She says the things she has to say, but with affection and without filters, which is very rare nowadays.’
Let’s turn the score: a photograph of her, away from family, from work, from the obligations of life…
«Among my interests is reading, for example books on topics that Battiato and I had in common, philosophies and spirituality. I am very curious about how, in the different cultures of the world, a very similar concept is translated».
Can you explain more?
«I am interested in the different approaches to the spirit, I like to find analogies within the various spiritual researches, such as Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity and Islam. Unfortunately, we often dwell on the differences and this causes disasters, in reality the true substance of all spiritual research has a fundamental core that is always identical, be happy by loving”.
«In this period I am passionate about the theologian Vito Mancuso. I also established a telephone friendship with him. I feel in tune with what he writes and I consider him as a twin I didn’t know. I have hoarded his publications, which I am devouring.’
“I like swimming and cooking. I love making first courses, often inspired by Sicily and I know how to prepare a delicious Milanese risotto. I buy cooking manuals and as a good Sicilian I appreciate the table and the hospitality».
Yeah, friendship: how do you live it?
“I really like welcoming people. My house is open to everyone. For me it works like this: I give you the key and you do what you want. Before Covid, there was a year where I never had a house without at least one guest. Sometimes one left and, at the same time, another arrived».
The great friend, however, is the music, right? Even if some still think today that writing for the cinema is a half-baked, B-series art.
«There is no art of series A and art of series B, there is inspired art and art that is not. So it doesn’t depend on a commission. Is the Sistine Chapel worth less as a work of art because it was conceived following an ordination and dedicated to religion? I would say no. And this also applies to music. Which therefore does not have a capital M only when it is research, as they say pure».
“Exactly, but not only him. The perception has changed, the public has also realized that there is a real profession in this sense. The theme of purity in art reminds me of a diatribe I witnessed at university».
Who were the “Challengers”?
«Professors of Semiotics and Aesthetics. One of them was Umberto Eco. The work commission can give you energy and does not necessarily weaken the creation and the ability to communicate an inspired, valid idea. For one thing, Bach was at the service of the Church all his life and wrote great masterpieces».
About the great Ennio: did you know each other?
We were friends. Both he and I have often recorded at the Forum Music Village in Rome, the temple of the Italian soundtrack. A studio where most of the columns by him were born, but also by Luis Bacalov and Armando Trovajoli. At the time, Ennio nominated me several times, among the valuable young people to follow. He was very affectionate and down to earth.”
Towards the grand finale: politics.
“Of course I follow. I believe that politics, in general, is lacking some things right now: the first is interest in the Polis. There must be attention to the weak, to equality and acceptance. We are not happy alone, but together and this is true for individuals but also for companies. Among the politicians of the past I liked Giorgio La Pira. Dialogue, peace among peoples, ecumenism, charity and respect for dignity were the characteristics of his thought”.
«I also collaborated with Carmen Consoli. She, thinking that the arranger they had called was perhaps an elderly gentleman, seeing me for the first time, exclaimed playing with my surname: Ah! There is Buonvino in a young barrel».