It’s a funny thing that when one thinks of Ennio Morricone it is his western scores that come to mind instantly, which is a little worrying as his western soundtracks made up a very small percentage of his musical output, yes they were brilliant and innovative, inventive and have endured over the decades. There are a few however that still seem to escape the spotlight that so many put on the Maestro’s scores for movies such as THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and THE BIG GUNDOWN to name but three. GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN was released in 1968, and although is nearly always classed as a Morricone western score and film it was more adventure or even a historical period piece set in Mexico during the mid-sixteenth century. Based upon the novel A WALL FOR SAN SEBASTEIN by William Barby Farherty, the movie was considered by many film makers including British born Ken Annakin with French actor Alain Delon rumoured as the lead before Henri Verneuil finally took the directorial helm. The cast was an impressive one which included Anthony Quinn, Charles Bronson, Anjanette Comer, Sam Jaffe and Jaime Fernandez.
The musical score is in my opinion one of Morricones most accomplished and romantic sounding from this period of his career, and dare I say it, was amore developed and inspired work than his early efforts as in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. The exquisite LOVE THEME from the movie is the foundation of Morricones soundtrack, a central thematic piece that the composer builds the remainder of his score upon.
The eloquent and gloriously melodic theme becoming a soaring and unique listening experience, with the distinct vocals of Edda Dell Orso making a powerful but at the same time emotional impact. Morricone’s score for GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN in my humble opinion rivals his most famous work for THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, it has the rawness and the savagery of the Spaghetti western sound but also has to it a poignancy and heartfelt persona that oozes an emotive and affecting quality which at first stuns and then eventually mesmerizes. The action cues from the score are more akin to the composers sound and style on the Sergio Corbucci western NAVAJO JOE with dark and dramatic piano forming the foundation of these cues on which the composer constructs a jagged and commanding composition that is a collaboration of brass and strings, with urgent woodwinds adding much to the atmosphere. There are also similarities to the NAVAJO JOE score, in the tracks that underscore the YAQUIS in the movie.
The soundtrack was released on an MGM records Lp SE-4565 ST back in 1968, and then re-issued by MCA records for vinyl release in 1986, this edition however had inferior sound quality and it was not until 2000 that the score would appear on compact disc, firstly as a thirteen track representation of the soundtrack that was paired with THE DARK OF THE SUN by Jaques Loussier and issued on the Chapter lll label CHA 0134. Again, the sound quality on GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN failed to impress as it did on an MGM compact disc when the score was paired with Dominic Frontiere’s HANG EM HIGH.
We had to wait another six years for a definitive edition of te score with excellent sound quality to be released, this expanded twenty four track release was on the Film Score Monthly label, and was the labels 142nd release. Attractively packaged with wonderful artwork both on the cover and inside the booklet which contained informative notes by label owner Lukas Kendall, who also provided a track by track analysis. The score also included a number of vocal performances by Gianna Spagnola who’s gritty and earthy voice provided Morricone with a frenzied and harsh sound that, her gravely but at the same time attractive performances added much to the was particularly effective in some of the action cues. Spagnola had also made major contributions to the NAVAJO JOE score.
Her gravely sounding performances being ferocious and at times terrifying and the opposite to the vocals of Edda which are soaring and majestic. This is a score to cherish, one to savour and also one to hold dear and appreciate. A gem from the Maestro’s illustrious career that at times I feel is somewhat overlooked. The composer creating a gloriously thematic work, in which both symphonic and choral combine to bring to fruition one of those very moments in film that I would call perfection.
THE WHITE STALLION is a prime example of such writing, with choir (IL CANTORI MODERNI) and Solo Female voice working together underlined via brass percussion and strings. If there is a chance that you may not have heard this score or seen the movie, then you should rectify this NOW.