Madrid born composer Marco Werba is the man responsible for scoring Dario Argento’s latest blood-soaked opus, Giallo. Werba is no stranger to horror, however, having provided the music for other genre pictures, including several by leading German underground horror director, Timo Rose. Not just confining himself to horror, Werba has enhanced the visuals of many genres including historical epics and intimate dramas. His work veers from the broodingly theatrical to melodic fragility. Not only a distinguished composer of film scores, he has also had the honour of composing and conducting music for the Pope. Werba’s music always adds a touch of classic elegance and grandeur to proceedings.
LWLies: Can you tell me a little about your background and how you became involved with music?
Werba: When I was 14 or 15-years-old I wanted to become a film director. I made a few Super 8 short films, one of which, I Robot Assassini, was invited to a science-fiction festival in Italy. Then I saw the film Logan’s Run by Michael Anderson and started to realise and understand the power of music in film. Logan’s Run was scored by the great composer Jerry Goldsmith and was comprised of electronic compositions for the sequences inside the city of the future, and symphonic for the scenes outside the city. I thought that this was a very good choice. I began to realise that I wanted to become a film composer and so I studied music in Italy and at the Mannes College of Music in New York.
LWLies: How did you become involved with scoring films?
Werba: In 1987 I wrote a composition called 'Atomic: The Survivors'. I recorded it with a chamber orchestra and sent it to a few directors that had films in pre-production. Director Cristina Comencini called me to say that she liked my composition and wanted me to write the music for her first film, Zoo.
LWLies: What sort of procedure do you follow for composing scores for films?
Werba: I read the script and start to write one or two music themes that fit the mood of the story. Then, when there is a rough cut of the film, I try to understand if the music works with the images or not.
LWLies: Who have been your most significant influences and inspirations? Are there any particular film scores that you deeply admire?
Werba: My influences come from American composers such as Bernard Herrmann, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and French composers like Georges Delerue, Philippe Sarde, Francis Lai. Also Italian composers such as Mario Nascimbene, Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone, Pino Donaggio and Polish composers like Zbigniew Preisner – his music for The Double Life of Veronique is excellent.
It’s difficult to say which specific film scores I deeply admire. There are many good compositions for films. I would say that each composer has his own best film scores. John Williams wrote wonderful music for Brian De Palma’s thriller The Fury, but it’s not a well-known score. Philippe Sarde wrote beautiful scores for Tess and Stella; both were performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. I love the compositions by Philip Glass for Notes on a Scandal and The Illusionist and Michael Nyman’s efficacious scores for The Draughtsman’s Contract and The Piano. His minimalist style, mixed with classical influences such as Purcell and Mozart gives a special flavour to his film scores.
LWLies: You have worked quite a lot within the horror genre recently – is there something about scoring music to accompany dark and disturbing imagery that appeals to you?
Werba: Yes, I think that the music written for science-fiction films, thrillers and horror films is very important and can help the film involve the audience emotionally. The tension in a film comes from the silence, the sound-effects and the music. Since I was a little child, I have enjoyed watching science-fiction and horror films.
LWLies: How did you come to work with Dario Argento on his latest film Giallo?
Werba: Producer Richard Rionda Del Castro asked me to send him some of my compositions. I sent him a few pieces from Darkness Surrounds Roberta and Colour from the Dark, two low-budget horror films, and he liked them. I then wrote a specific theme for Giallo and a suspense sequence. I recorded the music with high quality orchestral samplings. He sent a copy of my music demos to Adrian Brody, who is also producing the film, and he enjoyed them so much he sent a message to Dario Argento saying that I was the number one candidate. After one week I received a message to say I had been chosen to score Giallo. Dario already knew me as we had met on the set of Zoo and he came to a party of mine years ago. He invited me to his home where we watched a complete cut of Giallo.
LWLies: How did you set about scoring the music for Giallo, and how aware of Argento’s previous films were you?
Werba: I’ve seen all the previous Dario Argento films. I think that his best film is Profondo Rosso. For me, the Argento films with most interesting scores are The Bird with the Crystal Plumage by Ennio Morricone, Profondo Rosso and Suspiria by Goblin, and Inferno by Keith Emerson.
LWLies: How closely did you work with the director and was there anything in particular you did to prepare for scoring this film?
Werba: We met several times to discuss the music for Giallo. I offered to write a symphonic score in a similar vein to Bernard Herrmann because Giallo is a great film that reminds me of the masterpieces of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma. Herrmann not only composed for Hitchcock, he also wrote the music for two of the best De Palma films, Sisters and Obsession.
LWLies: How do you think your score for this film differs from previous Argento film scores?
Werba: The music of Giallo is completely different from the previous scores of Argento films. I used just a few electronic sounds, a bass vibration close to John Carpenter’s electronic compositions, and a few samplings. I recorded the sound of a knife but Dario didn’t want to use it. The rest of the music is much more orchestral and close to the John Williams and Danny Elfman kind of film scores. I thought that Giallo was a good classic thriller and needed symphonic music. As much as I like the previous compositions by Goblin for the likes of Profondo Rosso and Suspiria, I thought that sort of style would not fit the mood of Giallo.
LWLies: You have collaborated with the Vatican choir and participated in events attended by such dignitaries as President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the Nobel Award winner Mikhail Gorbachev and Pope John Paul II. How would you describe these experiences?
Werba: I sung in the Vatican choir, Cappella Giulia, conducted by Pablo Colino for about 15 years. It has been an interesting experience that gave me the chance to absorb the Gregorian chants and the sacred music. A totally different experience from my film scores. I wrote a short composition called Canto al Vangelo which was performed during a celebration with Pope John Paul II.
LWLies: How do you balance out your involvement with events such these and scoring music for films? Is there a difference in how you approach your compositions for each?
Werba: I try to use the same music style when I write concert music and when I write music for films. Nino Rota had the same style when he was writing symphonies or chamber works as well as film scores. Ennio Morricone however has a different approach. He writes much more dissonant pieces for the concert hall than for films. When I write a composition that has to be performed in a concert I usually write a piece that will last at least six minutes. Sometimes I re-use fragments of my film scores in my concert-hall compositions. The two different music elements, mixed with new material and expanded, become something new.
LWLies: How would you describe your music for films? Do you have a particular style? How has your music developed over the years?
Werba: It’s a good question. I think that I do have a style. Roberto Zamori, who has published most of my film scores on his film music label Hexacord, says that he recognises my style at once. Compared to my very first film score for Zoo, I can see an evolution regarding my style; I went from intimate and delicate chamber compositions to more symphonic ones. The music for Giallo reflects a style that I have developed through the years, going from dramatic and historical pictures like Zoo, Amore e libertà, Masaniello and Anita, to thriller and horror films such as Darkness Surrounds Roberta and Fearmakers.
LWLies: What ideas and themes capture your imagination most as an artist?
Werba: I love films with underwater sequences, like Jaws and Piranha. I would love to write the music for the upcoming adaptation of Steve Alten’s Meg, and the remake of Piranha. Science-fiction stories also open my imagination. It’s interesting to understand what could happen to humanity in the future and to imagine how our lives could change in a few years. Science-fiction gives the possibility of writing an epic and very modern symphonic/electronic film score.
LWLies: How do you know when a composition is finished?
Werba: This is another good question. I’m a perfectionist. I work a lot on a composition until I am fully satisfied.
LWLies: What are the challenges that you face when composing music for films? And in your opinion, what are the rewards?
Werba: To me is important that the music I write fits the mood of the film and the emotional feelings of the characters. I like to synchronise music with images. The challenge is to find the right music of each film that I have to score and to know that the director is satisfied. It’s great to see a film with your music synchronised with the picture, enhancing emotions for the audience.
LWLies: Do you have any personal highlights from the last couple of years? What does the future hold for you?
Werba: The last Italian film score that I composed before Giallo, was for Anita, a historical picture set during the civil war in Brazil, in 1839. The film is directed by Aurelio Grimaldi. The CD will be published by Godwin Borg, who I met in Spain a few years ago, on his new label Kronos Records. Recently I also wrote the first part of a requiem that will be used in another historical picture The Gentile Affair, directed by Ugo Frosi. The film is about the philosopher Giovanni Gentile who was killed in Italy by one of his ex-students during World War II. This year I am also writing music for a new horror film called Braincell, filmed in Liverpool.
Giallo will be releases later this year.