Luis Bacalov: Oscar-winning composer of Il Postino and spaghetti westerns who worked with Fellini and Tarantino

Luis Bacalov was the Argentine-born composer and pianist whose lilting score for the 1994 film Il Postino earned him an Oscar. His ominous guitar melodies for dozens of Italian crime movies and spaghetti westerns were used in films by Quentin Tarantino.

Bacalov, who has died aged 84, was principal conductor of the Orchestra della Magna Grecia in Taranto, Italy.

His scores for blood-splattered B-movies were complemented by works for the leading Italian directors Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini, orchestral compositions inspired by the Catholic Mass and Italian prog rock.

Bacalov was born near Buenos Aires but spent nearly all his working life in Italy, where he incorporated a twist of tango into works.

Il Postino featured a gentle melody on the accordion-like bandoneon. The film’s international success introduced Bacalov to a mass audience that had eluded him for much of his career.

“Bacalov was a solid craftsman who could work in any genre,” said film-soundtrack historian Jon Burlingame, pointing out two of the composer’s signature scores – We Still Kill the Old Way (1967), in which Bacalov counterpointed the film’s mobster violence with “a haunting theme for piano and strings”, and his “lighthearted, jazzy and fun” soundtrack for 1980 Fellini film City of Women.

Bacalov’s Oscar win, Burlingame said, “ushered in a new era of foreign-born composers winning Academy Awards”, including Gabriel Yared (Lebanon), Tan Dun (China), Gustavo Santaolalla (Argentina) and Dario Marianelli (Italy).

Though he was often overshadowed by his friend Ennio Morricone, whose electric guitars and whipcrack percussion came to define the spaghetti western sound, Bacalov composed some of the most memorable tracks of Italy’s 1960s and 1970s western filmmaking boom.

His title song for Django (1966), a Franco Nero movie that was so bloody it was banned in England for nearly three decades, featured what director Tarantino later described as a “quasi-Elvis style” vocal part from Rocky Roberts: “(Django!) Django, have you always been alone? (Django!) Django, have you never loved again?”

The song was one of three by Bacalov that Tarantino used for Django Unchained (2012), a revisionist western that starred Jamie Foxx as a revenge-seeking former slave loosely inspired by Nero’s character of the same name.

Tarantino, fond of eclectic soundtracks, had previously used a pair of Bacalov’s songs for his Kill…

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