Il Maestro Ennio Morricone has played such a profound part in nearly every one’s life. His music for the cinema is iconic and haunting, from the savagery and the raw energy of his scores for the Italian made western to the romantic and emotive strains of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, THE MISSION and the simple but affecting themes from CINEMA PARADISO. This composer deserves the title THE GENIUS as it is plain and simple that he certainly is.
I began listening to Ennio Morricone back in the mid-1960s I think I was around 11 years of age when I first discovered his music, and ever since have not tired of hearing it in the form of new compositions and of course the classics such as THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, LOVE CIRCLE, COME MADDELENA, LA CALIFFA, IF THERE WAS WORK WHAT WOULD I DO?, DESERT OF THE TARTARS, WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS etc.
But it was the 1960’s that were the most fruitful and also the most engaging, with so many themes and scores making an appearance it was like it was something new had been written every day. INCONTRO, LA COSSA BUFFA, DEVIL IN THE BRAIN and so many more, filled to overflowing with a rich and vibrant sound that was inventive and innovative. As a composer he introduced many to the sound of the cinema and also inspired a whole new generation of film music collectors, composers and performers. Morricone’ distinct style at times I suppose verged upon the experimental and also the avant garde, writing as many atonal and dramatic pieces as he did melodic and thematic interludes. It was most certainly the music for the Italian western that brought him to the attention of cinema audiences, and also it was this genre and its music that many still remember him for, although the composer himself would probably disagree with peoples opinion as in recent years he has dismissed this part of his career apart from the Leone examples. When Morricone began to his cut their proverbial musical teeth as it were, there were so many other wonderfully original composers emerging onto the film music scene, and it was in the Silver age of the film score that the likes of Legrand, Lai, Barry, Williams and Goldsmith began to attract the attention of cinema audiences, critics and film music collectors alike. So, it is a testament to Morricone that his music stood out on occasion above the compositions of these his extraordinarily gifted peers. I was looking through my collection of Morricone, and I think the score that attracted me mostly then as it still does now was and is THE SICILIAN CLAN.
It’s a score that I had on LP on Stateside records in the UK in 1970, (SSL 10307) and as soon as it was made available on compact disc by CAM in Italy I purchased it. Its also a score that has never been released as an expanded or definitive edition, probably because there was no more music available, it’s a short work, but one that makes an impact both on and off screen, its one of those scores that you can listen to and appreciate just as much, in fact if not more as stand alone music.
There have been a number of Compact Disc releases of the soundtrack, and some have improved marginally on the sound quality, not that it was inferior in any way, The central theme is an attractive and haunting one, the composer repeating a simple 4 note motif over and over, and adding to this strings that build into the beautiful ITALIAN THEME. The score is made up of themes for the central characters, each and everyone of them being vibrant and having to it a zestful and energetic musical persona. TEMA PER LE GOFF and TEMA PER NAZZARI E DELON etc, the composer was in my opinion at the height of his musical prowess during the mid to late sixties and into the 1970’s. Audiences had loved his western scores and were now beginning to appreciate that Morricone was not a composer that could be easily typecast, the Maestro creating soundtracks that would become classic and iconic examples of film music.
METTI UNA SERA A CENA is another such example of Morricone at his most prolific, again a score filled to overflowing with rich and affecting thematic material. It’s a weird thing that when one listens to soundtracks by Morricone from this period, we hear so many themes within one example, METTI UNA SERA A CENA is a prime example of this, there must be at least nine principal themes. Which would be hard to even contemplate nowadays, as we all are aware that contemporary film music rarely contains a theme does it. The soundtrack was issued by CINEVOX on LP in 1969 and then later the soundtrack got a UK release on CBS in 1970 with the title being changed to LOVE CIRCLE. For this recording the tracks were slightly different and lyrics were added by Jack Fishman, whether Morricone was aware of this I do not know, but for these tracks the vocals were performed by THE MIKE SAMMES SINGERS, who at the time were associated more with the world of easy listening, I think the idea was that the songs HURRY TO ME which was a vocal of the central theme from the movie and FOOTSTEPS a vocal version of the cue UNO CHE GRIDA AMORE were both released on a single 45rpm would be big hits in the charts of the mid-sixties. The single was released on CBS as a promo for radio stations, on a white label with an orange A on it. HURRY TO ME being the A side, with FOOTSTEPS on the flip, the artist credited on the single was not Morricone nor was it Mike Samme but the name of BRUNO NICOLAI was used, of course Nicolai conducted the original score in Italy. The songs were credited to Jack Fishman and E Morricone, which was typical of Fishman as Roy Budd found out to his cost. I cannot be sure if this was ever commercially available as I only had the promo. In later years CINEVOX re-released the soundtrack onto CD with a version of HURRY TO ME performed by THE SANDPIPERS. The expanded version on CINEVOX is certainly the best release of the score, containing nineteen cues, and today remains one of Morricone’s most loved scores.
L’ASSOLUTO NATURALE is another wonderful example of the work of morricone from the sixties, again released in 1969 on the CINEVOX label, it is another theme laden work, that is literally crammed with sensual, sublime and tantalising music, with each cue being of a quality that they could each easily be a central theme for a movie in their own right. Morricones easy going yet highly absorbing and effectual opening theme sets the scene perfectly for what follows, again it is an entertaining and classic work that became one of the key works of the Maestro in which he combines a rich and melodic air with slightly atonal pieces, the opening theme or at least elements of it running throughout the work acting like a glue binding the remainder of the soundtrack together.
Another such score from the same year by Morricone was LA MOGLIE PIU BELLA or THE NICEST WIFE now correct me if I am mistaken, but I had this just as a single, with the main title on the A side and TEMA DI FRANCESCA on the B side, there was as far as I know not an LP of the soundtrack, but a compact disc was issued in the 1990’s on Cinevox which included fourteen cues from the score, although the movie was a violent one and the majority of Morricones score was action led and at times quite unlistenable away from the film, there were also some striking Morricone moments of melody present.
THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE for me is yet another masterful score from Morricone, its childlike yet icy and disturbing musical aura purveys a sense of dread and confusion at times, the lilting melodies and serene sounding female vocal being comforting and safe, but all the time disguising the fact that there is violence and evil present. Released in 1970, this Italian Giallo directed by Dario Argento is a highly regarded piece of cinema, the soundtrack was issued on Capitol records in the U.S.A. and also on CINEVOX in Italy both albums containing eleven cues. Later editions of the soundtrack also released on vinyl contained the same cues with a few only having nine cues. This was Morricone at his atmospheric best, utilising eerie sounds and tortured and sensual female voice to create an atmosphere that was thick with menace.
A score that in my opinion is always overlooked is DEATH OF AN IMPORTANT STUDENT, released in 1972, IMPUTZIONE DI OMICIDIO PER UN STUDENTE to give it its original Italian style, is a fest of Morricone magic, an upbeat and strong opening theme performed by Massimo Ranieri and a collection of great themes that make up an entertaining work, the original LP record which I still have was released on the CGD label in Italy, the soundtrack was not re-released until 1998 0n the Screen Trax label containing the same tracks as the original album, then in 2013 GDM also reissued the score. It’s a soundtrack that I have to say I do not listen to often enough, a gem from the 1970’s with some excellent choral work courtesy of IL CANTORI MODERNI and Alessandroni and I am of the opinion it is a key score within the Maestro’s extensive body of work.
The final soundtrack I wanted to highlight is from the 1972 movie INCONTRO, this is a very different sound to that of the previous title, although strong it is more romantic and also has to it a greater abundance of fragility and emotion. The film tells of an affair between a young man and a married woman, Morricone’s romantic and lilting score brought much to the production, the central theme being a blue print for many other works that the composer would pen in later years, CINEMA PARADISO being one of these. Again, filled with a vibrant and overwhelming sense of emotion the music fills the movie and the composer paints us a picture of love Italian style. This is also another short score from the composer, its simple but affecting themes oozing quality rather than quantity. This is a must have soundtrack, but one that again can be overlooked.