Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) is wonderfully scored by Nino Rota, who uses just the right music at just the right times. Rota incorporates a diverse variety of music into his score, which, rather than create an unfocused score as one may expect, builds a dynamic and realistic world that reflects the amalgamation of Italian and American culture. Rota hearkens back to Italian culture through both diegetic and non-diegetic sequences. At the wedding of Connie (Talia Shire), the band plays traditional folk/polka music which is part of an upscale Italian style wedding.
The music, in partnership with the imagery, creates a perceptible setting which feels very Italian – the music and imagery evoke images of the “Italian towns and villages” described by Sciannameo (33) through their representation of Italian lifestyle and culture. Similarly, liturgical organ music is played during the infamous baptism scene, which may be considered diegetic or non-diegetic as the music continues to play during cross-cut scenes. While true that this inclusion is realistic to the scene, it also draws a connection between the characters and their Catholic Italian roots.
This is even more present in the crosscuts to the murders outside the cathedral.
This dichotomy is more relevant when we consider the vastly divergent music used elsewhere in the film. The Michael Theme is written in a symphonic style reminiscent of Copland’s American Nationalism. In both his scene telling Kay (Diane Keaton) that he is working for his father, and the finale when they exclude her from the office, intense symphonic music, quite contemporary to American films at the time, overtakes the sound scape.
There too is music that seems to blend these pools of traditional Italian music and contemporary American music. At Connie’s wedding, Johnny Fontane (Al Martino) sings “I Have But One Heart,” a jazz/soul song written in both English and Italian. The song was published in 1945 (Wikipedia) so is not quite contemporary but is still more modern than the Italian liturgical and traditional music. Likewise, the song may be written partially in Italian, but it as popularized by American icon Frank Sinatra, who many believe was the inspiration of Fontane’s character.
These three stages of music reflect Sciannameo’s description of Italian Americans: Italians who immigrated and assimilated into American culture. The blending of these three styles gives us the Italian roots as well as the American culture the characters integrate themselves into. The music shows us a disparity between the characters: Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) and the family unit associated with Italianness but Michael’s (Al Pacino new reign marked by modernity.