Franco Battiato, iconic Italian songwriter, dies aged 76

His unique sound, song-crafting and especially his lyrics earned him a unique spot on Italy’s music scene, and the nickname ‘Il Maestro’

Franco Battiato
Franco Battiato

One of Italy’s most eclectic and experimental pop singers, Franco Battiato, died 18 May aged 76. He had been ill for some time.

Born in Acireale, Sicily, the Italian singer-songwriter, composer, filmmaker and, under the pseudonym Süphan Barzani, also a painter, produced an oeuvre spanning over four decades, his songs containing esoteric, philosophical and religious themes, and genres such as experimental pop, electronic music, progressive rock, and new wave.

His unique sound, song-crafting and especially his lyrics, often containing philosophical, religious, and culturally exotic references, as well as tackling or painting universal themes about the human condition earned him a unique spot on Italy’s music scene, and the nickname ‘Il Maestro’ (the master).

Together with singer Alice, Battiato represented Italy at the 1984 Eurovision Song Contest with the song ‘I treni di Tozeur’.

Battiato moved to Milan at age 22, where he won his first musical contract. After further covers of pop songs, he met the experimental musician Juri Camisasca in 1970 and collaborated with Osage Tribe, an Italian psychedelic-progressive rock band. As a solo artist, he released the science-fiction single La convenzione (The convention), one of the finest Italian progressive rock songs of the 1970s.

Starting from 1971, Battiato devoted much of his efforts to experimental electronic music, and his music became increasingly experimental, gradually moving into the realms of musique concrète and minimalism: Foetus (1971, its cover was censored), Pollution (1972), Sulle Corde di Aries (1973), Clic (1974) and M.elle le “Gladiator” (1975). In 1975, he moved to the Dischi Ricordi label, producing Battiato (1975), Juke Box (1976) and the experimental L'Egitto prima delle sabbie (Egypt Before the Sands, 1977), which won the Stockhausen award for contemporary music

After signing to EMI, he moved to a more pop-oriented style which afforded him ever increasing popularity with Italian audiences. “La Voce del Padrone” contains many songs which became classics of Italian music. It stayed in number one for six months, becoming the first Italian LP with more than one million copies sold.

He continued with his music, balanced between pop and electronic, until 2010. He had been touring with Alice for the whole of 2016, but in 2017 he held his last concert in Catania. At the end of 2019, his manager announced his definitive retirement from the scene.