Giusto Pio was born in Castelfranco Veneto, Italy, in 1926. He inherited a passion for music from his father, who played several instruments without ever having attended regular schools.
At 13 he began to study violin in Marghera and three years later he was accepted at the Liceo Musicale Cesare Pollini of Padua. In 1941 he moved to Venice, where he studied composition and violin under Luigi Enrico Ferro, the last great violinist of the "Venetian School", at the Benedetto Marcelli Conservatory.
Pio graduated in violin in 1947, a few years later he got married and moved to Milan. During the '50s he received important national and international awards and entered the RAI orchestra of Milan (Italian television orchestra) as Concertino violin, a role that enabled him to acquire, in about thirty years of activity in close contact with the best directors and performers of the world, a wide experience in the field of orchestral-symphonic and operatic music.
During the '60s and the '70s, he also carried out an intense didactic activity with the best Milanese and Italian chamber music ensembles, contemplating a vast repertoire of music that, starting from the Middle Ages and Renaissance (Letitiae Musicae, the pioneer group in Italy for Medieval and Renaissance music), went through the Italian Baroque (Complesso Strumentale Italiano, Symposium Musicum Milano, Giovane Quartetto di Milano, Complesso Barocco di Milano, etc.), and then reached the contemporary music of today with many premières of the greatest Italian living composers.
Over the years Giusto Pio has participated in several recordings for the major record companies of the time (Ricordi, Angelicum, Vox, Decca). These musical performances were always philologically attentive, thanks to the help of musicologists such as Francesco Degrada and Raffaello Monterosso of the Musical Paleography School of Cremona.
At the same time, his expertise was also in demand in the field of Popular Music, and Pio has worked as a session musician adding his instrument to the recordings of many famous Italian singers of the '50s and '60s, including Claudio Villa, Luciano Tajoli, Nilla Pizzi, Tony Dallara, Betty Curtis, Domenico Modugno, Adriano Celentano and Mina.
"Legione straniera", original innersleeve
In the late '70s Pio was hired by Franco Battiato as violin teacher and they soon became friends. Later on, almost for amusement and curiosity, Pio began to play improvised concerts with him and vocalist Juri Camisasca.
In 1978 he worked as musician on "Juke Box" by Battiato and during the same year he released his first album of experimental music entitled "Motore immobile" (...you can listen to the minimal title track here...) on Cramps Records.
The long collaboration with Battiato was one of the most prolific and interesting during the '80s and '90s in Italy; this partnership took Pio to new heights in the fields of commercial and avantgarde music, with a great success in terms of popularity and discography.
Most of the albums by Franco Battiato, from "L'era del cinghiale bianco" (1979) to "Unprotected" (1994), depending on the case, included Giusto Pio as co-author of the music or of the arrangements, as violinist or as conductor. All the tours performed by Battiato during those years always included Giusto Pio among the essential lineup of musicians.
"Legione straniera", original innersleeve
In those years, always with Battiato, he wrote the music and arrangements of many hit songs for Italian singers Alice, Giuni Russo and Sibilla ("Per Elisa" by Alice won the Sanremo Festival in 1981, you can watch the original performance here), produced two albums for Milva and various songs for other artists.
In 1984 Pio, Battiato and lyricist Rosario "Saro" Cosentino penned the Eurovision Song Contest entry "I treni di Tozeur", performed by Alice and Battiato, which finished 5th in the contest and became a considerable commercial success in Continental Europe and Scandinavia. A video of the original performance, which briefly shows Giusto Pio as orchestra conductor, is available here.
Front cover of the "Legione straniera / Giardino segreto" 7" single
Between 1982 and 1987 he released three album of Pop music ("Legione straniera", the subject of this post, "Restoration" and "Note"). In particular, "Legione straniera" and "Restoration", both written along with Battiato, sold very well and Pio became a well-known name among the younger audiences, as evidenced by the musical chronicles of those years on many magazines and newspapers.
In 1988 he published "Alla corte di Nefertiti", an album that marked the passage to a music style which was very different from his previous output and had far less commercial appeal. His association with Pop music definively waned after the end of his artistic fellowship with Battiato.
Back cover of the "Legione straniera / Giardino segreto" 7" single
Over the past decade, Pio increasingly approached acoustic and electronic research, and produced music for theater (for example the play "Medea", for the Florentine group Krypton, which won first prize for music at the Massa Carrara Festival, or his collaboration on Battiato's operas performed in the major Italian theaters), music for movies and interactive musical comments with other art forms such as painting, sculpture and poetry.
Among his most recent music releases we remember "Utopie" (1990), "Missa Populi" (dedicated to His Holiness John Paul II, 1995), and "Le vie dell'oro" (2000).
The book "Dedicato a Giusto Pio", which includes a companion CD entitled "Dolomiti Suite", was published in 2010 to celebrate Pio's 85th birthday.
Franco Battiato and Giusto Pio in the early '80s
"Legione straniera" contains the following tracks:
01. Legione straniera (3:14)
02. Ostinato (3:11)
03. Eritrea's (3:24)
04. Cristina's Day (2:37)
05. Celestial Tibet (3:12)
06. Giardino segreto (3:42)
07. Totem (4:53)
08. Aria di un tempo (3:30)
All tracks were remastered from the original vinyl in December 2013 and are available in FLAC lossless format or high-quality 320 Kbps MP3 files, both formats include restored and printable PDF artwork.
As usual, please have a look at the comments for the download links.
Following the huge success of Franco Battiato's "La voce del padrone", co-arranged by Giusto Pio, the first Italian album with a certified sale of more than 1.000.000 copies, "Legione straniera" was released by EMI Italiana with catalogue number 3C 064-18589 in late 1982. It sold more than 70.000 copies, but despite this little success at the time of writing it has never been officially reissued on CD.
The whole album, produced by Angelo Carrara, was co-written hand-in-hand by Pio and Battiato. Music, arrangements and stylistic features clearly show the influence of the LPs released by Battiato in 1980-82; beside this, he is also present as singer in the few tracks that are not purely instrumental.
Pio's compositional style relies mostly on his violin, and embodies an ideal trait-d'union between Baroque music and Post-modern Minimalism. Elegance, repetition, and regularity are the key aspects of most of the tracks, where schematic violin themes fluctuate over straight beats.
As a matter of fact, the album also benefits of the same team of musicians who worked on "La voce del padrone", including Paolo Donnarumma on bass, famous guitarist Alberto Radius and keyboardist Filippo Destrieri.
Destrieri is credited as co-author on "Legione straniera" (Foreign Legion), the title track which opens Side A of the album; it is reported that he created the original four-bar theme of the piece, which was then elaborated and arranged by Battiato and Pio. This short epic number offers sonic landscapes that evoke a sort of "Beau Geste" or "Lawrence of Arabia" in technicolor; it was also released as a 7" single a few months before the album, probably sometimes during summer 1982.
"Ostinato", as its title implies, is based on a phrase that is persistently repeated, first on keyboards and violin, and then on electric guitar in the closing section; a polite and gentle musical motif that evocates an outworld placidity. This track was also made popular at a later date by its inclusion as the theme song of "Sereno variabile", an Italian TV program
The album collects many extra-European suggestions but never actually sounds like world music; the violin and guitars on "Eritrea's" are a fine example of this moderate practice.
Side A ends with the short "Cristina's Day", which sounds like a delightful fairy tale for children where Pio's violin is enriched by Paola Orlandi's choir and unexpected fast sequencer lines/arpeggios.
Side B starts with "Celestial Tibet", another very enjoyable track that preeminently features Battiato's voice during the refrain and might have been easily included in one of his own albums without sounding out of place. I can't help mentioning the bass line played by Paolo Donnarumma on this piece: it is one of the details that I like most in the entire album.
Pio and Battiato also allows some room for a pure divertissement like "Giardino segreto" (Secret Garden), a reworking of Johann Sebastian Bach's famous "Air On the G String" as transcripted by Fritz Kreisler complete with a fake Thai choir which, according to Pio, was nothing else than «...the recording of maids chattering nearby Battiato's hotel room, spinned backwards with a curious and alienating effect.» Strangely enough, this is the only track on the album which is signed by Battiato with one of his pseudonyms: Kui.
Almost reaching the five minutes marks, "Totem" is the longest track on the album and also the one with the darkest passages, and the gloomiest and most mysterious atmospheres. Definitely a favourite of mine!
The album closes with the rarefied and somehow sad melody of "Aria di un tempo" (...which I guess can be translated with "Atmosphere of a Past Time"...), a piece where, despite its electronic architecture, the prevailing air is a noble fin de siècle mood.
In the end, according to Giusto Pio's own words, "Legione straniera" is «a computerized album, but made judiciously, Oriental and esoteric, but with moderation.»
Here's the complete credits and personnel list of "Legione straniera":
Arrangements: Franco Battiato and Giusto Pio
Music and lyrics: Franco Battiato and Giusto Pio except "Legione straniera" by Giusto Pio, Franco Battiato and Filippo Destrieri, and "Giardino segreto" by Giusto Pio, Kui (Franco Battiato) and Johann Sebastian Bach
Production: Angelo Carrara
Art Director: Francesco Messina
Violins: Giusto Pio
Percussions: Alfredo Golino
Bass: Paolo Donnarumma
Keyboards: Filippo Destrieri
Microcomposer: Luigi Tonet
Guitars: Alberto Radius
Choir: Paola Orlandi
Choir on "Giardino segreto": Coro dei Tailandesi
Giusto Pio as he appears on the back cover of "Legione straniera"
The following clips offer a preview of the remastered album; for this purpose I chose my favourite tracks: "Legione straniera", "Totem" and "Giardino segreto", enjoy!
...and here's the original videoclip for "Legione straniera", along with a live version of the same track performed by Giusto Pio and Filippo Destrieri somewhere in Spain in 1987, what a find!
More information about "Legione straniera", Giusto Pio and Franco Battiato is available here:
If you have any other useful information about Giusto Pio and "Legione straniera" - especially corrections and improvements to this post - or if you spot any dead links, please get in touch with me at stereocandies [at] hotmail [dot] com or leave a comment in the box below, thank you!