Antonio Gradanti, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

For me this raises the question of Nature vs Nurture. My father is a musician and songwriter and so growing up, being around music and the creation of it was a very natural way of life. Watching my father practice or write a new song was as common as sitting down to eat dinner. As I got a little older, I would plunk away at the piano, pick out melodies, experiment with rhythms and harmonies, and I began trying my hand at writing my own songs. This became a constant through my teenage and adult life. I have played as many instruments as I could get my hands on and studied different styles of music from classical to blues. Eventually I began to teach music and I thought that would be my career. But after 15 years of teaching, and writing on the side, I wanted to compose full time and to explore what I know is my definite passion in life. I gave myself 3 years to get to a point where I either had enough success in film scoring to continue, or I would need to look at other avenues to support my family.

Who or what have been the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

I think I’m a romantic at heart so the romantic classical era was a big influence in my young life. Beethoven. Chopin. Debussy… Motifs and patterns in music are intrinsically appealing to me, and I love the way Bernard Herrmann could change the mood of a phrase using the harmony and rhythm that he laid underneath. But honestly, I also love the aggression and vibe of modern music. In some of the modern music I enjoy, there is a dissonance and hard driving rhythm that move the music. In film scoring I think it’s important to be able to create a good melody and harmony, to evoke emotion, but at times equally important to be able to do this solely with percussion and rhythm.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

Self-doubt. Always trying to meet my own expectations. But that is both a blessing and a curse because it’s the idea that I can do better that keeps me growing as an artist.

What are the special challenges and pleasures of working on film/tv scores?

I would say that getting into a director’s head and being true to their vision is probably the most challenging aspect of film scoring. At the same time, I have to remain true to the story and the characters. To me, it’s an honour to help bring someone’s story to life, to create a soundtrack that moves an audience on an emotional level, and to bring them into the new world they are experiencing while watching a film.

Of which works are you most proud?

There’s a certain pride that goes along with any score I write, but there is a particular solo piano piece I composed that still remains my favourite to this day. It is entitled “Drowning” and even when I listen to it now, I wouldn’t change a note. It is a piece that completely captured the mood I was going for at the time and the music brings me back to that place whenever I hear it.

‘Drowning’ for solo piano by Antonio Gradanti

How would you characterize your compositional language/musical style?

Developing my own voice was difficult. I struggled with this for many years. Over time I have come to appreciate that my voice may be the ability to understand and create the right music for a film. I’ve scored films that are compositionally diverse and I’m discovering THAT is what I love to do.

How do you work? What methods do you use and how do ideas come to you?

I’m a very visual person, so the look of a film, how it’s filmed, the angles, and the colour, all play a part in how it sounds. When I sit with a film for the first time, I try to pay a great deal of attention to what I first hear in my head and to what my body is telling me the sound wants to be. From that point, I will usually do a lot of research in terms of instrumentation and musical styles that will allow me to get the sound I’m initially hearing.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Too many to list. It seems like whatever I’m listening to at the time is my favourite. Depending on the genre, of course, a few notables would be Beethoven, Luigi Nono, Childish Gambino, Billie Eilish, and Bernard Herrmann. I’m attracted to different aspects of each artist’s work, but I think what I love most about hearing music that is new to me is when I hear something that is different. A new vibe, a musical idea or an arrangement that seems fresh and unlike anything anyone has done before.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Good question. Being satisfied. Writing music that makes people feel something. Doing it full time while financially supporting my family. To put it all together in one sentence I would have to say “Making a living doing what you love, having it make a little difference in the world, and knowing that there’s so much more to learn”.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Listen. Learn. Dissect. Invent. Lose all ego. (Haha, easier said than done!). Know that you can always do better and let that be your inspiration instead of your downfall.

What next? Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

I’m happy to say that, in 10 years, I hope I’m still doing what I love.

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