Display of musical scores

The Luigi Chiarini Library contains a large number of illustrated scores of songs from films. This material is often considered of minor importance, but is actually evidence of the variety of ways that cinema culture was promoted during the 20th century: in this case by means of songs, a typical popular national product.


The gallery of images aims to illustrate the variety of cinematographic genres with which these song scores were associated, as well as the particular graphic designs used to make them more attractive for the purchaser. The publishers of the time used illustrations mainly for publicity reasons, to attract the general public. The scores were given brightly-coloured covers, sometimes embellished with ornamental motifs, but they were mainly of fascination to the public because they showed portraits of the latest stars and matinee idols. The score therefore became a sort of advertising space, designed as a concise way of hinting at another product (the film) and acting a miniature poster in the shop window.
The items we selected came from two bibliographical endowments: the Luciano Michetti Ricci Fund (see >  First part and >  Second part ) and the Adriana Berselli Fund. Some of the older examples, although not directly linked to any film, are also of great interest as they are the product of a transition phase between the world of theatre and the world of cinema. Such is the case with Cinq minutes au ciné-journal: chanson montmartroise: Mayol & Dranem, which signals the change in fashion from “cafè-chantant” to the new attraction of the Pathe newsreels.  Or there is Charlot!..: one step, a song sheet which shows the recent transformation of the Chaplin persona into a proper stock character, achieved in a manner still typical of the theatre.
Other scores, dating from the 1930s to the 1950s, were chosen partly because of the success of the songs, which have now become symbolic of a particular era: Parlami d’amore Mariù, Besame mucho, Mamma, Ma l’amore no, and Ti voglio tanto bene. Another factor, however, was the fame of the singers involved: Beniamino Gigli, Gino Bechi, Al Jonson, and Alberto Rabagliati, or indeed of the composers: Cesare Andrea Bixio, Nino Rota, and Carlos Gardel. In other cases, the choice fell on those song sheets which carried pictures of stars on their covers, either already famous or about to become so. Such is the case with Maruska and the dazzling Dolores del Rio, Principessa Tam Tam featuring the exotic diva Josephine Baker, or Le Sheik from the film starring that Latin lover, Rudolph Valentino. Then there is Mambo Bacan, taken from the film that launched Sofia Loren, Long ago dominated by the wonderful Rita Hayworth, or Canzone sospirata, from the film featuring Caterina Boratto and Vittorio De Sica.Although these “cultural objects” might be considered slightly eccentric they also provide us with a wealth of information. We believe they can be used to not just highlight a form of musical taste but also to inform us about the aesthetic sensibilities of a particular era.