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Section Header
The Godfather
Composed and Produced by:
Nino Rota

Conducted by:
Carlo Savina

MCA Records

Release Date:
March 26th, 1991

Also See:
The Godfather Part II
The Godfather Part III

Audio Clips:
7. Love Theme From The Godfather (0:31):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

8. The Godfather Waltz (0:28):
WMA (191K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

10. The New Godfather (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

12. The Godfather Finale (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

Regular U.S. release.

  Originally nominated for an Academy Award, but ruled ineligible due to re-use of previously written material. Winner of a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe, and a Grammy Award.

The Godfather
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Buy it... if you have fond memories of the classic Nino Rota themes that enamored and impressed audiences with their ability to merge Sicilian tradition with symphonic romanticism for this influential production.

Avoid it... if you expect to hear either a truly well-rounded score outside of its primary three themes or, for that matter, any decent album release of the score whatsoever.

The Godfather: (Nino Rota) It has been successfully argued many times that no film has had as much impact on cinema as Francis Ford Coppola's original The Godfather. The 1972 powerhouse not only defined the entire subsequent genre of mob-related films, but remains a brutally memorable exhibit of dramatic storytelling at its most compelling. The adaptation of Mario Puzo's best-selling and controversial novel, accomplished by Coppola and the author himself, was so encapsulating that it warranted every minute of its nearly three-hour running time, leaving enough room for the longer plot of the second film in this franchise to expand even further upon the same characters. Whereas most films utilize, intentionally or not, stereotypes in the definition of their characters, Puzo and Coppola invented an entire realm of new stereotypes in The Godfather. The story of the now famous trilogy of films follows the progression of the original New York mafia families in their efforts to survive and adapt in the times from the 1900's to the 1990's, the first two films tackling the initial threat posed by the introduction of the drug trade into the traditional operations of these bases of power. The trilogy ultimately defines itself as the story of Michael Corleone, desperate to retain the Sicilian traditions of his father while moving the family forward into these new, more global avenues of wealth. His ultimate failure, foreshadowed in his ascension in The Godfather and progressively more shocking in the endings of the two sequels, guides the music of these films to a similarly depressing end. Like the films, the work of Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola for the soundtracks of these productions is engrained in the memory of the mainstream, defining the sound of mafia music much like the characters influenced later incarnations of essentially the same idea. If you boil down the plot elements of The Godfather to their most basic ingredients, they would be tradition, love, and fear. Rota's score for the film perfectly embodies these three aspects of the story, licensing ten or so existing pieces for source usage. Carmine Coppola, the director's father, wrote a small amount of original source material for The Godfather, increasing his efforts in this regard as the trilogy progressed.

Rota's themes for the first film, however, are the lasting sounds of the franchise, played longingly on street corners around Europe for decades to follow. The composer had been best known as a child prodigy that balanced his efforts between the opera house, concert halls, and recording studios for film, maintaining one of the most fruitful director/composer collaborations (with Federico Fellini) all the way to his death in 1979. He had already tasted success in Hollywood in the years prior to The Godfather, with Romeo and Juliet and War and Peace serving as popular contrasts in conveying his talents to American audiences. The role of original score in The Godfather was held to a minimum by the director, limiting the amount of development that Rota could explore with his themes. The constructs of these ideas, ironically, weren't original in the first place. The composer leaned heavily on his themes from the films Fortunella, The Clowns, and Daniele Cortis, along with his oratorio "Mysterium," to produce the familiar identities of The Godfather, and it was because of this extensive adaptation of existing material that Rota lost an Academy Award nomination that year after AMPAS had already mistakenly awarded him with one (he would win the award with Carmine Coppola for The Godfather Part II and the latter composer would be nominated for his song in The Godfather Part III). The style of Rota's work was important in merging the sonic sensibilities of Sicily and America, incorporating the flair of solo instrumentation native to the former region with the larger, symphonic tone of the latter. The scenes directly connecting the plot to Sicily are served with a mandolin, accordion, and acoustic bass, sometimes aided by sentimental strings. Solo trumpet performances are the bridge between the folk elements of the past and that choral and orchestral development that dominates the score by its conclusion. There are fewer fully symphonic expressions of grandeur in The Godfather than The Godfather Part II, the latter addressing the romanticism of Vito Corleone's immigration and ascension with a more verbose orchestral heart. Rota uses the entirety of The Godfather to slowly add layers to his themes until the final cue, reflecting the fearful discovery by Michael Corleone's wife, Kay, of her husband's own ascension, reprises all three of the score's major themes with fully realized, almost religious gravity.

Those three major themes, as previously mentioned, directly address the plot's three main emotional appeals. The first is tradition, and it is this representation of Vito Corleone that hovers over the entire franchise as its most enduring memory for viewers. Introduced by a solitary trumpet, the waltz represents the bulk of the work for the accordion and mandolin. The Sicilian sensibilities in both the primary waltz phrase and the secondary trumpet phrase (translated to melodramatic violin in the final scenes) are undeniable, saturating the soundscape of the film with convincing authenticity in each of its performances. Both parts of this theme receive extended treatment in the two "The Godfather Waltz" tracks on album, as well as "The Godfather Finale." The secondary trumpet phrase also echoes in "The Halls of Fear." Equally beloved and arguably more appealing is the theme of romance for The Godfather that dies rather quickly (and for obvious reasons) in the franchise, only heard in short snippets in the sequels but a chart-topper upon its debut in the original film. Equally representing Michael Corleone's romances and his family as a whole (in a tragic sense), this theme is heard on the traditional instrumentation in "Sicilian Pastorale" (including acoustic guitar) and "Apollonia" before a dramatic ensemble expression in "The Godfather Finale." The mostly symphonic concert arrangement of this theme (heard in "Love Theme from The Godfather") solicits a bittersweet, melancholy reaction that has been longingly played by and for swooning, real-life lovers in countless venues since. Even in this theme, Rota doesn't entirely abandon the Sicilian style, reinforcing the primary theme of tradition with its necessary romantic half. Arguably the most intriguing of the three themes in The Godfather is the one that has the greatest impact on the entire trilogy. Developing out of the secondary trumpet phrase of the primary theme and representing the concept of trepidation, this idea is hinted at in "The Halls of Fear" before being affirmed as a theme for Michael Corleone in "The New Godfather" and "The Godfather Finale." Ultimately, "Michael's Theme" (as it has been later termed), becomes the underlying identity of the franchise, a fitting development given the despair written directly into its weighty progressions. Rota brilliantly summarizes all three ideas in "The Godfather Finale," handing them off to sections of the ensemble not native to their previous versions and applying the chorus for obvious impact value.

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The most important thing to remember about Rota's work for The Godfather is that the short running time of the score causes it to be highly redundant and lacking in development outside of the three themes. A very unsatisfactory album history for all of the scores in this franchises causes these problems to be compounded outside of context. The original LP arrangement of cues from the score for The Godfather translated directly onto a 1991 MCA Records CD and no expansion or remastering of the music has ever been released. This causes Rota's work on album to be, with the exception of only two cues, completely devoted to variations on the three themes, omitting several important transitional cues. The two unique entries are "The Pickup," the score's most awkward merging of tense orchestral progressions and light era-specific jazz on saxophone and other band elements (foreshadowing the fear motif in Kay's later theme), and "The Baptism," a solemn organ piece employed as source music. The Carmine Coppola music for "Connie's Wedding" and the song "I Have But One Heart" round out the product. Sound quality on this CD is somewhat muted, though it may not be possible to clean up the archival sound of this recording with any significance. The tone of that recording is always intimate, yielding a proper emotional response to the engaging plotline. The success of Rota's music for The Godfather exists in his three extremely compelling themes that were smartly employed in the picture, as well as the ability of the music to age well and avoid drowning the traditional elements with either the sounds of the 1940's or 1970's. On the other hand, the lack of strong secondary material is a detriment that causes this score to be extremely two-dimensional. Thus, if you have never had an affinity for Rota's much performed themes, then be aware that there isn't much else to appreciate from this overall package. The sequel score largely solves this problem, adding themes for Vito and Kay that, when considered on top of the existing material, produce a far more memorable listening experience. Devotees of the concept are correct in expressing their displeasure with the treatment of Rota's score on album; a very fine, 75-minute release with the full score, Coppola's original source material, and a handful of the licensed traditional pieces would yield a fantastic product. Until then, any number of compilations featuring extensive selections from The Godfather, including one compiled later in the 1970's for an LP release, are worthy (and typically strong) surveys of the score. Expect to enjoy the familiar themes, but always remember this score's limitations. **** Price Hunt: CD or Download

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.81 Stars
Smart Average: 3.6 Stars*
***** 121 
**** 54 
*** 41 
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   The Godfather Formula
  Bruno Costa -- 12/5/10 (4:39 a.m.)
   Was "The Pickup" used in the film...
  Richard Kleiner -- 10/26/09 (6:56 p.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 31:30

• 1. The Godfather Waltz or Main Title (3:04)
• 2. I Have But One Heart - written by Johnny Farrow and Marty Symes, performed by Al Martino (2:57)
• 3. The Pickup (2:56)
• 4. Connie's Wedding - written by Carmine Coppola (1:33)
• 5. The Halls of Fear (2:12)
• 6. Sicilian Pastorale (3:01)
• 7. Love Theme from The Godfather (2:41)
• 8. The Godfather Waltz (3:38)
• 9. Apollonia (1:21)
• 10. The New Godfather (1:58)
• 11. The Baptism (1:49)
• 12. The Godfather Finale (3:50)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes no extra information about the score or film. It doesn't even include the same amount of credits information as the much older LP record album.

  All artwork and sound clips from The Godfather are Copyright © 1991, MCA Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 10/3/09 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2009-2013, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.