Listening with Nathan : Venetian Gothic

Okay, it’s time for the soundtrack to ‘Venetian Gothic’! Or, at least, for a playlist of the sort of music I was listening to whilst writing.

There are no real spoilers here. You could, if you so wish, match some of the music to scenes in the book – I certainly do – but it’s not essential, and we might not be thinking of the same scenes anyway.

We start, then, with Stelvio Cipriani, one of the great Italian soundtrack composers, and the theme music to the tough poliziottesco (*), La Polizia sta a guardare. It doesn’t, perhaps, have much (by which I mean ‘any’) relationship to either the book or Venice but it’s a cracker of a theme tune and it led me to investigate other work by Cipriani, an incredibly talented and versatile musician who worked in almost every genre you can imagine.

Next is Bruno Nicolai’s theme to the giallo (**) La dama rossa uccide sette volte. I put this one in because I like the clash of styles – the main theme, I think, is very pretty; and yet there’s something spooky about the child’s voice at the beginning of the piece which I thought worked well with the atmosphere of the opening chapters of the book.

The third track is from Gustav Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children). In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus – ‘In this weather, in this storm, I would never have sent the children out’ – seemed to fit the novel perfectly. Similarly, it seemed appropriate to have a version sung by a woman, and so I chose Janet Baker’s, conducted by John Barbirolli.

We now take a quick detour through the record collections of Nathan and Dario. High Hopes is the last track on Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell, and my favourite song from that period of Floyd history. Again, there’s a theme of looking back at a  childhood that perhaps never was – “the grass was greener, the light was brighter” – which fitted nicely, and David Gilmour’s slide guitar solo is a thing of absolute beauty.

Next up are Marghera’s finest, Le Orme, with a track from the appropriately-titled Verità Nascoste (Hidden Truths). I chose In Ottobre because I thought we needed something a bit more upbeat after all that’s come before. It showcases all of Le Orme’s strengths from this period- Aldo Tagliapietra’s voice, Michi dei Rossi’s drumming, and a rippling guitar solo from Germano Serafin. They really were a great band.

It wouldn’t be a Nathan Sutherland book, of course, without the obligatory Hawkwind track, and this time it’s the opener to Warrior on the Edge of Time – Assault and Battery which segues, quite brilliantly, into The Golden Void. It’s not there because it fits a theme or a mood in any way, shape or form. It’s just there because I like it.


We’re still in Nathan’s record collection at this point, but classical this time in the form of Rachmaninov’s magnificent symphonic poem, The Isle of the Dead. This, I knew from the start, needed to be in the book, together with a reference to Arnold Boecklin’s painting of the same name.

And then we move on to Goblin’s La Chiesa from Michele Soavi’s film of the same name. Dark, portentous Italian symphonic-goth-prog at its absolute finest. (Is that a genre? It is now.) Goblin, at this point in their history, had basically been reduced to bass player Fabio Pignatelli. I don’t know if any session musicians were involved, but he did a great job.

The mood remains similarly dark, as we move towards the climax of the book, with Keith Emerson’s Mater Tenebrarum from Dario Argento’s Inferno – the bass part fits my voice very nicely and I’d dearly love the opportunity to sing it! The playlist then closes in a more reflective mood, with Stelvio Cipriani again and the opening theme to Anonimo Veneziano.

Do bear in mind that some of the films I mention are a bit of a tough watch, and far darker than Venetian Gothic itself. I don’t want anyone to be upset or have sleepless nights!

And, with that in mind, buon ascolto!


(* poliziottesco – a genre of tough Italian crime thrillers, popular in the early 70s. Many of these would be considered incredibly reactionary today, but they are of their time and – as a genre – poliziotteschi are full of interest)

(** giallo – slightly different from its literary equivalent, a giallo film is typically characterised as a thriller but with strong noir elements. It might have occasional supernatural overtones and aspects of the slasher film as well. It’s a difficult genre to pin down. Suffice to say, it’s very Italian and you’ll know one when you see one…)

6 thoughts on “Listening with Nathan : Venetian Gothic

  1. 1. There are several paintings by Böcklin called “The Isle of the Dead.” Admittedly, they are very similar.

    2. My understanding is that to Italians “giallo” refers to any work of crime fiction, not just Italian films with black-gloved killers. Thus, for instance, the novels of Agatha Christie and James Patterson are considered “giallo” in Italy.


    1. You’re quite right, Boecklin did several variations on “The Isle of the Dead”. I didn’t go into detail in the book as I felt that might be too much information (interesting as it is!).

      ‘Giallo’ is a very broad church, agreed, but there is a slight difference between film and literature. Christie, as you say, would be considered as a giallo in the literary sense whereas, say, a film adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express” would not. Films of that genre would tend to be darker, psychological, possibly even with some supernatural or slasher element and – crucially – an emphasis on visual style as opposed to narrative coherence (and yes, the black-gloved killer has been a trope, going back – I think – to Mario Bava’s “Sei Donne per l’Assassino”).

      So there we go – two shades of yellow, meaning similar but not entirely identical things!


  2. Dear Philip,

    I’m a visual artist and art teacher based in the UK thinking about moving to Venice and I thought you might have some good tips to share about moving there, I understand when you moved things were very different but any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated,

    I was thinking of booking an airbandb as a base to scout out flats, most venitian airbanadbs look awful so also any tips would be greatly appreciated especially if it can help friends,

    anyway thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you,

    and also thank you for your books and blog! They are both inspiring in their own strange ways,





    1. Hello Nils, thanks for getting in touch. I wrote about this in “To Venice With Love” but this was 8 – 9 years ago now and things have changed – and, of course, I wouldn’t like to guess at the proposed impact of Brexit (although perhaps you have a European passport?)

      I don’t know any airb&bs to recommend personally, but the following sites may be of use in finding somewhere medium – long term. I don’t know what the market is like at the moment, but it might have improved bearing in mind that holiday lets are down!

      I also have a friend who is after a long-term tenant…take a look at these photos and let me know if you’d be interested in getting in touch…

      All good luck with this – I’m going to be away for a few weeks now, so I’ll only be checking this site intermittently, but let me know if you want me to put you in touch.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s