The word mandola may at first sound meaningless or vague to you, as was the case with me not so long ago. And yet we morriconians have grown hugely familiar with this outstanding trademark! Just think of the low stringed solo instrument heard in the main themes from Il Maestro e Margherita or Le serpent: not a banjo, of course not a mandolin but a mandola. Strangely, it has never ever been credited on any Morricone record sleeve! We are facing a gross injustice and I express the wish that this modest contribution will help rehabilitating this wonderful instrument. Needless to specify I highly reccommend to take the pain to listen intently to the mentioned tracks - provided you have a sizable collection at your disposal - to locate the sound and make this article more "speaking". As this topic has never been tackled so far and as there exists no reliable source to my knowledge, I keenly welcome any relevant remarks, additions of overlooked items and corrections (confusions with the low register of the mandolin or even with other instruments can occur).
The mandola belongs to the family of the lute, an antediluvian instrument featured in profusion in the austere medieval score "Tre nel 1000". Known under various names (pandora, French mandore, etc, depending on the places and times), the mandola consists of a large mandolin, tuned an octave lower. In the mandolin orchestras, its role equals to the one from which the mandolin later derived - is tuned in fifths to C, G, D, A and strung with four or five courses, in fact eight or ten strings, as they were doubled since the XIVth century. It's usually played with one single right-hand finger, with a plectrum tied to it, exactly like the mandolin. This pearshaped instrument was used mostly during the XVI and XVIIth centuries - the term mandola actually appearing at the end of the XVIth century - but its origins go as far as the Xth century, a legacy of western Islamic culture introduced in Spain and southern Italy: the Arab ud (or oud) indeed developed in Europe as the lute. Besides, the so-called octave mandola is a relatively recent version ideally suited for Irish traditional playing. Though a few solo pieces for mandola exist, for instance concertos by unknown composers like Guenther Braun and Fred Witt or trio pieces by Hermann Ambrosius, its repertory remains solely the territory of specialists. Believe it or not: by far more than twenty Morricone soundtracks feature mandola, be it in one single track or more prominently! As a matter or fact, most of them hark back to the period spanning from the late sixties to the late seventies, that is whn the endearingly gifted Alessandro Alessandroni was a regular performer for the Maestro. Sandro WAS indeed the mandola player. We often tend to reduce his collaboration to the guitar, the whistling and the choral conducting - which itself is already quite impressive! - but he can play a host of other instruments. On a booklet edited by Alessandroni to make his own promotion, he describes himself as on less than "composer, conductor, arranger, mandolinist, guitarist, accordionist, saxophonist, sitarist, whistler and pianist" (sic!). And he has for sure omitted the flute, under various forms such as the arghilofono. A true homme-orchestre, an unflagging "chamaleon"! The booklet teaches us more: "As a young musician Alessandroni immersed himself in the musical folk tradition of his native Lazio region. With the help of a friend who played the guitar, Alessandroni learned the basic chords. At 13, he bought his first mandolin..." About his childhood, he unveils: "We had instruments: guitar, mandolin and a mandola. We didn't do much business. But we made a lot of music!". This man blessed with manifold talents has remained rather modest: "Of all the instruments that I have played, there is always one I call my own, the guitar".
Laurent Perret in "The Morricone society" (march 2003)