It is certainly not an understated comment when we say that Ennio Morricone is probably the most prolific and respected film music composer of the 20th and thus far 21st century, his out put verges on the unbelievable and his talent and aptitude for scoring any genre of motion picture or television programme is boundless, then of course there are the other faces of Morricone, we have the concert hall compositions that he has produced which are highly original and at times innovative, interesting and thought provoking, plus the more pop orientated persona of the composer where he acts as not only a gifted composer but also takes on the role of a inventive arranger and musical director. Morricone of course has been the inspiration behind many of today’s film music composers and has also acted as motivation for numerous artists that work not only with in film music but all genres of music and at times theatre and cinema. As I have said his musical output for cinema alone is vast and it is at times difficult to take in that the music he has written could possible come from just one individual. In the past there have been a number of releases on first long playing record and then on compact disc that are labelled as THE BEST OF or the ULTIMATE MUSIC COLLECTION OF Ennio Morricone, but with a repertoire as varied and as immense as Morricone HOW? Do you define what is the best of this Maestro, four years ago GDM put together a collection of 15 compact discs in an attempt to display the artistry and versatility of this composer, in my opinion they did a pretty good job as they included not just film/television music but also put into the equation the composers forays into classical music, songs, orchestral arrangements and a scattering of the Maestros more successful songs which had entered the pop music hit parade at some time or another. The first 9 discs are dedicated to the composer’s movie music the next 2 being filled with TV themes and cues from scores for the small screen. CD 12 is dedicated to classical output and the remaining three discs contain the composer’s original songs and arrangements of both vocal and instrumental pieces. These also include songs that the maestro has written for movies. To review the collection on a track by track basis would probably take up so much room and time that many people would not have the time to read the finished review, so what I will do is do a kind of fleeting look at each disc if I can. One of the most interesting discs within the collection is I think CD 13, ORIGINAL SONGS. So it maybe unlucky for some, but this is where I will begin. This is disc with 18 tracks many of which are songs that will be familiar because they have either been utilised within Morricone film scores or are in fact vocal interpretations of the composer’s film themes from certain movies.
These include the fast paced and near breathless performance of Christy in RUN MAN RUN from The Big Gundown, ANGEL FACE performed by the great Maurizio Graf from A Pistol for Ringo, Jackie Lynton’s powerful rendition of THE BALLAD OF HANK Mc CAIN from Machine Gun Mc Cain, Joan Baez performing HERES TO YOU from Sacco and Vanzetti and the highly entertaining Uccellacci e Uccellini from the Pasolini movie of the same name which is vocalized with vigour and lots of character by Domenico Modungno, who actually sings the credits of the movie. All the titles mentioned will I know immediately evoke memories of the movies in question and ultimately will provoke the listener to return to the full scores after hearing them. There is also on the disc a handful of non movie songs, these include the haunting and pleasing SE TELFONANDO by Mina which on every airing sounds as fresh and vibrant as it did when it was first released and I still see the black and white TV images of the singer in my mind each time I hear it. Other featured vocalists include,Demis Roussos,Ami Stewart, Andrea Bocelli,Antonella Ruggero,Milva,Lisa Gastoni to name but a handful. So for me this is a disc that oozes a classy and feel-good vibe and one that certainly brings memories flooding back. So now lets return to the beginning of the compilation Disc number 1, Music for Cinema. 20 tracks of classic Morricone, but there again the entire compilation is classic Morricone, I love the way in which GDM have for the best part of the compilation attempted to keep the films included in order of which they were released, although this practise does fall to the wayside at times. The opening cue on disc one being IL FEDERALE, which is renowned for being Morricone’s first film score. This opening compact disc also boast music from A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, A PISTOL FOR RINGO, I MALAMONDO, EL GRECO, MENAGE ALL’ITALIANA, SLALOM, THE RETURN OF RINGO, and LE MONACHINE to name a few, at times the main theme is included from the movie but on other occasions as in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE we are treated to the powerful LA RESA DEI CONTI and LA PACE TORNA A MIMBRES from THE RETURN OF RINGO. Again memories flood back and if you have been collection Morricone from day one as it were this will be like seeing or more correctly hearing your life being played back to you. CD 2, opens with the most iconic Morricone western theme or should I say the most iconic and familiar western theme ever written THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, no introductions need really with this piece. BATTLE OF ALGIERS comes next with its pulsating and urgent martial drums underlined by fierce piano punctuation and menacing sounding brass in the track ALGERI 1 NOVEMBER 1954. This 18 track disc also includes treasures such as the composers highly original sounding THE BIG GUNDOWN (main theme), his even more inventive and innovative A PROFFESSIONAL GUN, (the arena).
The haunting and beautiful opening theme from THE RED TENT that has at its core Edda Dell Orso’s exquisite vocalising being supported and caressed by fragile and tender sounding strings. A theme that we are told was originally intended for the movie, THE BIBLE, but was not used. The playful and light sounding theme from ESCALATION, complete with its whimsical sounding “WAH” “WAH” vocal and the cheeky sounding harpsichord flourishes A SKYFUL OF STARS FOR A ROOF, ECCO HOMO, L’HAREM and the mesmerising and rich sounding title track from L’AVVENTURIERO. Again this is bursting with nostalgia and a collection of music that is varied and entertaining. Disc three again is a varied and vibrant collection of the Maestros music, opening with his haunting music for Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPONA TIME IN THE WEST, Edda Del Orso’s soaring aural performance sending emotions off the Richter scale as it completely envelopes the listener. The rhythmic and equally as haunting SICILIAN CLAN comes next, its simple but effective 4 note motif performed on piano at first that lays down a background which is punctuated by inventive use of jaws harp and supported by a slightly upbeat bass and percussion, the piano solo is further supported by guitar which plays the 4 note motif in unison with piano creating an echoed effect, guitar eventually not overpowering the piano but becoming the more prominent instrument within the performance. The Maestro then introduces strings and building a romantically laced and lush sounding theme upon this foundation purveying a mood that is rich and fitting for the films subject matter. I think SICILIAN CLAN is one of my favourite Morricone non-western scores from this period of the composer’s career (late 1960’s) and is an LP record I still posses and cherish as well as the subsequent CAM compact disc release. Compact disc two also contains musical gems such as the infectious DOVE SEI, DOVE SIETE VOI from I CANNIBALI, the soothing LONTANO from GOTT MIT UNS, the famous title track from METTI UNASERA A CENA, which at one point had lyrics added to it by Jack Fishman and was entitled HURRY TO ME when released outside of Italy. The unassuming but graceful theme from L’ASSOLUTO NATURALE (HE AND SHE), ABOLICAO from the excellent QUEIMADA and with the themes from LA CALIFFA, CITTA VIOLENTA, L’ALIBI, METELLO, VAMOS A MATAR COMPANEROS, L’UCCELLO DALLE PIUME DI CRISTALLO, and INDAGINE SU UN CITTADINO AL DI SOPRA DI OGNI SOSPETTO making an appearance again this is certainly classic Ennio Morricone and superb listening.
CD 4, begins with another instantly recognizable theme, this time from the Leone western, GIU’ LA TESTA, which starred Rod Steiger , James Coburn and Romolo Valli, a story of revolution, friendship and one with political undertones, a film and score that is described with just one word MASTERPIECE. Morricone’s music is almost too melodic and haunting to be supporting the at times violent images that are being acted out on screen, but it is I suppose its highly emotive and melodious persona that makes these images hit home harder. It is the wonderfully gracious and elegant sounding title theme that is included here, with light and airy strings acting as an undulating support to a soaring and emotional wordless solo female voice that seems to be carried along on a wave of exquisite and romantically atmospheric strings that are lush, lavish and affecting in every way. This fourth disc boast many other great pieces, THE BURGLARS, SACCO AND VANZETTI, MADDALENA, DEVIL IN THE BRAIN, VERUSCHKA, OCEANO, QUESTA SPECIE D’AMORE, FOUR FLYS OF GREY VELVET and the underrated and at times forgotten, LEI SE NE MORE from ANCHE SE VOLESSI LAVORE CHE FACCIO? Plus numerous others. Onto disc number 5, which continues with music from the 1970’s, THEY CALL ME NOBODY opens the proceedings, its quirky and comedic sounding tones being infectious as well as entertaining, although though of as a Leone movie in fact he did not direct on this occasion Tonio Valeri taking the helm and Leone being a producer. The score for THEY CALL ME NOBODY was basically Morricone doing Morricone, by this I mean the composer parodied his own music within the score and re-invented in many ways his own original ideas from films such as THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY,FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE BIG GUNDOWN etc, etc. At one point even giving Wagner’s RIDE OF THE VALKARIES a Spaghetti western sound. Track number two, is from GIORDANO BRUNO, the LP was issued on RCA original cast back in 1973, and subsequently received a CD re-issue in later years, the central or opening theme which represents the work on this compilation, is a brooding one which has a quite foreboding sound to it, Morricone employing church organ acting as the main instrumentation, with underlying strings that play in unison with the organ but are slightly more subdued. The strings then become more prominent towards the conclusion of the track embellishing and further supporting the organ. There are again many great cues present on this disc, TRIO INFERNALE, ALLONSAFAN, IL SEGRETO, SPASMO, PER LE ANTICHE SCALE, REVOLVER and AROUND THE WORLD WITH THE LOVERS OF PEYNET, which was an animated movie that contained a score by Alessandro Alessandroni, Morricone providing the sweet sounding theme. Apparently Morricone had been signed to do the entire score, but due to commitments and schedules, he was unable to do so, the Maestro then passed the assignment to Alessandroni.
For disc number 6, we stay firmly in the 1970, s. it opens with DESERT OF THE TARTARS, from 1976 and takes us through to IL PRATO from 1979, and in between these we are treated to the musical excellence that is 1900, PER AMORE, UNAVITA VENDUTA, IL GATTO, L’IMMORALITA, BIRDS OF A FEATHER, L’UMANOIDE etc. The latter being the UN UOMO NELLO SAZIO from the score, Morricone utilizing electronics to build gradually to a march theme which I think is surely based on ODE TO JOY by Beethoven. L’UMANOIDE was a movie that was produced on a shoestring, and was I suppose Italy’s answer to star wars, or even a poor mans version of STAR CRASH, either way the movie was dire, Morricone’s score being far superior to the images it enhanced. The recording of ROMANZO from Bertolucci’s 1900 on this disc seems to be quite a clear one and free from the distortion that plagued the original recordings on LP and then later on the Japanese CD release, at least the distortion is not as noticeable, or maybe I am used to it after all this time. Disc number 7, takes us into the 1980’s Morricone at this time still working predominately on Italian or European productions, In fact I think I am right in saying that the composer had not scored a non Euro production apart from TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA at this point in his career. But it would not be long before Producers and directors from Hollywood would begin to take notice of his musical genius, Disc 7, opens with LA BANCHIERA from 1980, and although the composers output during the 1980’s remained fairly consistent he seemed to adopt a slightly different style of music, it was certainly still Morricone but it appeared to be lighter in places and more classical in its make up, at times the composer would for want of a better phrasing, recycle certain themes and use them in other scores. Nevertheless he still stayed busy and very much in demand. Disc 7, includes, IL LADRONE, PROFESSIONE FIGLIO, STARK SYSTEM, UN SACCO BELLO, COPKILLER, LE MARGINAL, ALZATI SPA and LE RUFFIAN amongst others. LE RUFFIAN was an adventure romp set in Canada and starred Lino Venturi, it had a score that encompassed many past Morricone styles and even had a western sounding theme that can be compared with the composers DEATH RIDES A HORSE. Which incidentally is not represented within this collection? Neither is NAVAJO JOE or BANDA J AND S, the McGregor westerns or indeed DAYS OF HEAVEN. Maybe this is due to rights, licensing etc? Disc 8, opens with ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, which is for me is the ultimate triumph in Morricone’s career, Leone,s images and Morricone’s excellent music are a marriage made in film music heaven. The track representing the score here is DEBORAH’S THEME, which is a re-recording especially, undertaken for this compilation; Edda once again rises to the challenge and melts the listener’s heart with her extraordinary aural talents.
Maybe it was this music that prompted Roland Joffe to ask Morricone to score THE MISSION which is one of the cues included on this disc. GABRIELS OBOE being the haunting and highly emotive track representing Morricone’s score. This particular disc also includes the composer’s music for THE UNTOUCHABLES, BUGSY and CINEMA PARADISO and the gorgeous JONAH WHO LIVED IN A WHALE. Disc 9 has 17 tracks and commences with the theme from the 1995 movie LA NOTTE E IL MOMENTO, it also boasts the brooding and somewhat sombre sounding theme from LA LUPA, the stunning LEGEND OF THE PIANIST, the intimate and touching MALENA, and the epic sounding MUSASHI and takes us up to 2008 with RISOLUZIONE 819. This concludes Morricone’s music from the cinema collection, and disc numbers 10 and 11 are tracks from the Maestro’s television scores. TRE DONNE from 1971, opens the first disc, with its almost proud and patriotic sounding SULLA VIADEL CAMPIDOGLIO, Director Bernardo Bertolucci said once that Morricone without realizing it had probably written many pieces that could be used as Italy’s national anthem, well this is certainly one of those themes, filled with a proud ness and also overflowing with gusto and emotion. This first television disc also contains the haunting LE TRAIN from ORIENT EXPRESS, which aired in 1978, Edda Dell Orso again features large within the composition, bringing a real sense of emotion to the proceedings, supported by IL CANTORI MODERNI and subdued strings with piano solo, this is a sheer delight and a really beautiful composition, that in my opinion is far too short. Another magnificent theme is from the 1982 production MARCO POLO, the main theme is a heartbreaker of a cue, with plaintive solo violin, building slowly to create a atmosphere of poignancy and high emotion, with the composer bringing into play the string section that add much to the already haunting composition with swirling stabs that entice and seem to surround and overwhelm the listener. This first television disc also contains, LA PIOVARA 2, VIA MALA, THE SECRET OF THE SAHARA, LA PIOVARA 3, ENDLESS GAME, and IL PRINCIPE DEL DESERTO. So you now understand why this collection or at least this particular disc is like riding an emotional rollercoaster. Disc 11 is another that is filled to brimming with glorious music from television, and includes IL BARONE, MISSUS, NOSTROMO, ULTIMO,(co-written with Andrea Morricone), GAURDIAN OF THE SKIES, CEFALONIA,LUCIA, LA PROVICIALE and KAROL. Plus LA PIOVARA 6 and 7 and others, I think NOSTROMO is the composition that stands out for me as it is more akin to the Morricone of the 1960’s and 1970’s that I love so much, this arrangement of THE TROPICAL VARIATION is slightly different from the one featured within the TV score and has a slightly faster tempo.
On now too disc number 12, CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL MUSIC, this disc contains just 6 tracks, but they are all fairly lengthy, and being honest this is the only disc that I did not enjoy, I found it very difficult to listen to at times, and even moved it on it is more experimental than classical in my opinion and it is this disc that will more than likely remain in its cover, its one saving grace is track number 6,ESERCIZI,which is I suppose faintly melodic, but becomes busy and noisy after approx three minutes, falling into a somewhat chaotic state with no real thematic properties just noises that are at times vaguely musical.
So moving swiftly on, to disc number 14,ORCHESTRAL ARRANGEMENTS, this is I suppose more of an easy listening/lounge collection, where the composer puts his own unmistakable musical stamp upon standards such as QUANDO,QUANDO,QUANDO, GREENSLEEVES, THE PINK PANTHER,EXODUS, SUMMER AND SMOKE, FASCINATION and others, the beautiful voice of Edda embellishing a number of these, with EXODUS given a re-working that sounds more like a western theme for a gunfight, unusual but effective and Elmer Bernstein’s SUMMER AND SMOKE delivered with power and lushness that is breathtaking. Most of the tracks on this particular CD were originally released on the LP ARRANGEMENTS which was on RCA. Disc 15, HIT SONG ARRANGEMENTS is another interesting collection, and takes us back to 1962 for its opening track IL CIELO IN STANZA performed by Gino Paoli which is a dreamy and floating song, Morricone providing shimmering easy listening strings and a chilled out percussive background complete with an echoing harmonica solo and little touches from harpsichord. The remainder of the collection is performed in a similar fashion, in fact typical pop sounding songs from the early 1960,s up to 1966, stand out tracks are IL MONDO by Jimmy Fontana, (which has always been a favourite for me), OGNI VOLTA by Paul Anka, ALLORA SI again by Jimmy Fontana and CHE COSA C’E by Gino Paoli. The tracks on this particular CD display where Morricone began to develop his sound and his style, his use of strings, piano, percussion etc being already highly polished at this stage in his career and these styles were to manifest themselves to a greater and more developed degree in later years and would make the public at large worldwide sit up and listen. A great collection that every self respecting Morricone fan should posses and treasure.