SO MANY SCORES, SO MANY GENRES, SO MUCH ORIGINALITY.
As discussed in part one of the Movie Music International tribute to Ennio Morricone, the western was a genre of film which played a large part in the beginning of the composers career, But, whilst scoring these Italian produced westerns the Maestro was also busy creating sounds and styles of music that would complement and support numerous other genres of film. In Part two of the tribute we look at the many other genres that the composer was actively prolific within at the same time as he was working on Italian western scores. Because the western genre and the music of Morricone for this collection of movies was so powerful and different, many people at the time believed the composer was only capable of writing music for westerns. Which of course was not the case, Morrricone’s most fruitful period of writing for film was I would say between 1963 through until the mid to late 1980, s.
So in this section I would like to attempt to highlight just a fraction of the work the composer did for cinema from his first full score onwards and but also include certain scores from the 1970.s that I consider to be an important part of the composers rise to popularity via his inventive skills. His scoring prowess was utilised by many on a plethora of movies all from varying genres. Morricone provided atmospheric, stirring and romantically laced works for so many Italian and then French and Spanish co-productions, many of these were not big productions, in fact a number not being released outside of Italy for some years after their original release, they were essentially independent affairs with small or very limited budgets. Critics and fans at times refer to some of these films as soft porn, but I prefer the description of art house or maybe tasteful when discussing these. Either way they were different and for the most part hugely entertaining. The Giallo movie featured prominently within the composer’s output which can also be said for so many Italian film music composers who were active at this time, if it was not a western they were scoring it was a Giallo or maybe a horror or crime caper.
But like westerns the Giallo films although conspicuous in the composers canon, took up a very small percentage of his filmography, and like the westerns the scores he penned for Giallo’s were so outstanding, that it seemed as if he scored a lot more than he actually did. Morricone had the edge on many of his fellow composers, because he possessed the ability to create simple themes that became popular and haunting as well as being an integral component of the film that they were written for, he also was not afraid to experiment with sounds and play around with orchestration and utilise sounds both musical and otherwise that normally would not have been associated with the genre, thus Morricone was an innovator and without knowing it created sounds and styles that would forever become associated with specific genres of film. So maybe we should begin with the Giallo and then move onto other types of movies.
Giallo which translates as Yellow in Italian, was adopted from the yellow coloured covers of books that were published containing stories of mystery and murder and it followed that the Giallo name was applied to movies that were similar or followed the storylines to these books.
So is a Giallo movie a murder, a mystery a horror or a cop-crime drama? Well, I suppose each movie is different but most Giallo,s have elements of all of these as well as having ingredients that could come under the category of soft porn or of an erotic nature. The first Giallo or so it is documented was directed by filmmaker Mario Bava back in 1963, entitled THE WOMAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. From there the interest in these types of films and their unusual mix of plots and scenarios began to grow and attracted the attention of non-Italian audiences swiftly. As the interest in the Giallo movies increased so did the involvement of directors, writers, producers and composers who were keen to make their mark upon this new at times grisly, disturbing and risqué genre.
A director that comes to mind straight away is Dario Argento, with his THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970) for example. I do realise that Argento’s movies of note did not come to fruition until the early 1970.s, but I thought maybe start with Argento and the collaboration he enjoyed with Ennio Morricone. A collaboration that lasted until the end of the 1990.s and although Morricone did not collaborate with Argento on all of the directors movies, the examples he did score are arguably some of the filmmakers best contributions to the genre, with Morricone’s music adding chilling and unnerving atmospheres and also giving the production an apprehensive but at the same time memorable, and theme led musical sound.
Ennio Morricone has been one of the most important composers of film music. My reference models were Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams but Morricone was also fundamental as a reference model for emotional melodic music and experimental avant-garde music. Ennio Morricone moved in different directions: First the classical studies at the Conservatory of St Cecilia, then the arrangements of pop music for singers such as Gianni Morandi, then the writing of music for films, alternating a “conventional” melodic style with an experimental style towards dodecaphonic and atonal music. In one his latest score, for Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”, which led him to win his second Oscar, was confirmed his “modern” streak and desire to look for new musical solutions.
I met Morricone many years ago together with the Sergio Bassetti, record producer.
Then we at his house together with his son Andrea. The works that I liked most are not those for which he is well known as “Once upon a time in America”, “The Mission” or “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso”, but other less well-known works, which captured me for the emotional strength and the ability to “catch you” without being “too sweet “. I refer to “Il Prato” by the Taviani brothers (a beautiful and expressive Renaissance style theme),
“Sacco e Vanzetti” by Giuliano Montalto (A heart-touching music and two beautiful songs performed by Joan Baez), “Orca” by Michael Anderson, (A very engaging music theme and effective dissonant music (for the underwater and dramatic scenes with the Orca), “Mose” by Gianfranco De Bosio (TV series with a very moving theme for choir and orchestra), “Addio fratello crudele” by Giuseppe Patroni Griffi (Classy emotional music, with a Renaissance flavor), “The Thing” by John Carpenter (interesting collaboration for an excellent horror movie by director Carpenter, who usually also writes the music for his films. Morricone’s music integrates electronic musical ideas, in tune with Carpenter ‘s previous film scores, but adding a “human” side conferred by atonal interventions of the strings section), “L’avventuriero” (the Rover) by Terence Young (romantic music and dissonant compositions for choir and orchestra), “Days of Heaven” by Terence Malick (a beautiful movie with beautiful music themes), “L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo” by Dario Argento (extremely effective atonal music). For the western genre my favorite is “The Return of Ringo” by Duccio Tessari (a nice theme, also in a vocal version, and symphonic music), as well as the first ones of the series “Per un pugno di dollari“ and “Per qualche dollaro in piu”).
When I learned of Morricone’s death I listened to the music of “Il Prato” and I was moved. We have lost a really important composer.
Marco Werba, Composer conductor, July 2020.
Dario Argento’s masterpiece in my opinion is, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, the score by Morricone is superb and has to it a smouldering, seductive and sensual air, the composer utilising female voice to great effect in both melodic and experimental ways. I remember buying the LP record which was on the Capitol label which was an American import. I think it was about the same time as THE SICILIAN CLAN became available on record on the Stateside EMI label. The score for THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE contained music that was so different from anything that had been heard before. Morricone’s soundtrack was like a stalking figure, an icy breath of death and contained a style and sound that we now immediately associate with something that is sinister or harrowing, which is again testament to the inventive mind of Il Maestro.
He fashioned a menacing work with a sound that is both stressful and tense which clung to every frame of the film, underlining enhancing and also becoming part of the action taking place on screen, Morricone’s music in my opinion took on the role of another character within the movie, it was like the music was telling the watching audience the story and relating to them the torment and the terror via its tantalising and unique audio.
But, again the composer utilised a central theme entitled VIOLENZA INATESSA that was just the opposite to the violence and anxiety that was generated within many of the scenes in the movie, again a masterful move by Il Maestro, because at the start the audience were lulled into this false sense of security, what could possibly happen with this beautiful and charmingly childlike theme playing. The same can be said for the secondary theme that Morricone penned for the film, NON RIMANE PIU NESSUNO possess an easy listening or lounge music sound and is the personification of light and comfortable if there is such a thing in musical terms, again the audience are totally unaware what is about to hit them. The cue has to it a chilled samba style, with Il cantori moderni and Edda del Orso on the vocals, its guitar led samba beat could be something that one plays as background music when just chilling on a Sunday afternoon. CORSA SUI TETTI is the cue where we hear the first inclination that this could be a little more ominous, Morricone utilising percussion to great effect, a breathless female voice, muted trumpet, and a succession of la la la la.s performed by an unnerving collection of voices, that weave in and out of the cue. These can maybe be perceived as non-menacing, but the underlying effect becomes unsettling as if an unspeakable act is looming.
The breathless and gasping female voice is heard throughout the score and is effective and affecting as it makes the listener apprehensive, and also uncertain because one is not too sure if this a voice of pleasure or of pain and anguish. Meandering piano is also interwoven into the fabric of the score creating a tense and at times chaotic musical atmosphere. There is no doubt in my mind that THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE would have been a less knife edge mood filled movie without Morricone’s nightmarish sounding music. In many ways this was a pre-cursor for the Maestro’s excellent and inventive soundtrack to THE EXORCIST 2-THE HERETIC, as we can hear in THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE sounds and phrases that would manifest themselves in this later work.
THE CAT OF NINE TAILS or IL GATTO A NOVE CODE (1971) is another Dario Argento movie that is certainly worth watching, although at the time of its release it was not that popular in Europe, in fact it achieved more success in the United States, this is probably because of the cast as in Karl Malden and James Franciscus. The movie which is the second part of the directors sometimes called Animal trilogy, the other two movies being THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, also starred the attractive actress Catherine Spaak, and was adapted by Argento into a screenplay from a story by Dardano Sacchetti, Bryan Edgar Wallace and Luigi Cozzi. The title CAT OF NINE TAILS is no direct link to an actual cat or even the multi tailed whip that is sometimes referred to as this. Instead the title is a link to the number of positive leads that the main characters must follow to solve a murder. Argento himself was not a fan of the movie and has often said it is probably his least favourite work. The score by Ennio Morricone is again innovative and in many ways arguably more inventive than THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, the composer employs sinister sounding choir and strings, with off kilter woodwinds underlining and punctuating the proceedings, his use of percussive elements is stunningly effective and he adds to this cracks, muted and straining trumpet, screams and shouts and various other vocal performances that are like musical stabs becoming harsh and discordant, but saying this they work well in creating a dramatic and unnerving atmosphere.
Like THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE the composer also introduces a melodic and haunting theme entitled NINNA NANNA IN BLU, this is performed by woodwind, choir and a wordless female vocal which is again Edda Dell Orso, the simple but beautiful melody is a pleasant and welcome respite amongst a soundtrack that is filled with tense and atonal passages. There is also present what can be described as spidery or shivering sounds that create a tormenting often vexing aura.
In the same year as CAT OF NINE TAILS, Argento also brought to the screen FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET. I thought this was a good gripping movie and the score that Morricone fashioned was perfect for the film’s storyline and scenarios.
The plot involves a drummer from a rock band named Robert Tobias, who is followed by a stranger, Tobias however turns the tables, or so he thinks and tracks the stranger to a deserted theatre, but on confronting him finds that he is armed with a knife, a fight ensues and Tobias kills the stranger in the heat of the struggle. Unbeknown to Tobias there is a third person at the theatre who has been taking photographs of the events, Tobias finds himself the victim of blackmail, but the blackmailer is not wanting money to keep quiet.
Morricone composed a tense soundtrack and incorporated a rock infused style and sound into it. The work was filled with wild drumming and Hammond organ, that was laced with fuzzy rock guitar and an upbeat soulful male voice. The work has an atonal style with searing strings, choral work and heavy breathing from female voice in a similar style to that of his THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE soundtrack. Dark sounding piano and percussion join forces to create an ominous aura and these are supported and underlined by woods, strings and subtle use of brass, bass guitar and more percussion that mimics a heart-beat.
From three classy Giallo’s which are now possibly cult movies, we move to more collaborations between Argento and Morricone, the first being In 1996 for the psychological horror movie, La Sindrome di Stendhal which starred the film makers daughter Asia Argento, The movie was the first Italian production that used Computer Generated Imagery or CGI. I found the film and it’s subject fascinating and researched the condition further after seeing the movie. The film also featured performances from Thaomas Kretschmann and Marco Leonardi, Stendhal Syndrome is considered by many to be a true condition, which was originally discovered in Florence Italy in 1982. This I think is why the movie is so affecting and impacting, because this is something that occurs in certain people. The psychological condition is one that causes the subject to enter a fugue state displaying memory loss or a blackout, which is thought to be induced by the presence of a piece of art.
The director has said that he himself experienced the syndrome whilst he was a child on holiday in Greece, he started to climb the steps of the Pathenon but was overcome by a trance that caused him to become disorientated and separated from his parents, which resulted in the young Argento becoming lost for hours before eventually being re-united with his Mother and Father.
He never forgot this experience and was reminded of it even more vividly after reading the book by Graziella Magherini on which he based the screenplay of the movie.Ennio Morricone by this stage of his career had already composed the scores too many Giallo movies and collaborated with many esteemed filmmakers, Argento being among these. The composer drew upon his considerable expertise and abundance of inventive talent to create a suitably edgy, yet melodic sounding score. I think this is why Morricone’s scores in these types of films work so well, he would often include a childlike theme or sound or at least hints of these, and combine this simple and affecting idea with both eerie and anxious musical personas, the end result was music and sounds that tricked the audience into thinking all was well when in fact it was far from that.
The composer was in fact informing the audience that things were probably not as they thought they were and to a point warning them that there was about to be a moment of violence or some other chaotic or startling incident. In the score for THE STENDHAL SYNDROME the composers use of female voice in the opening musical statement sets the scene wonderfully for much of what is to follow, Morricone adds to the vocal performance nuances performed by woodwind and also harpsichord or celeste, that punctuate, extenuate and underline the soprano performance, thus when all the components are combined they create a haunting musical phrasing, which is maybe not that unsettling at first but soon purveys an atmosphere that is richly dark and deeply affecting, creating a mood that is filled with malevolent undertones and sinister connotations. The remainder of the score is more or less an extension of the notions displayed within the opening theme, the composer expanding or at times narrowing these. The composer adds more instrumentation such as a strained trumpet, which sounds as if it is struggling for breath, this is further underlined by a scattering of brass with wisps of mysterious woodwind and strings that subtly rise and then take a sharp descent to create a sense of bewilderment and fear. Although the central theme is pleasantly repetitive, there remains a virulence and an underlying deep and sinister sound that clings on in the piece, which is why Morricone was and will remain the Master.
In 1998, Morricone scored Argento’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. This would prove to be a very different PHANTOM OF THE OPERA that we were used to seeing on screen but remember this is Dario Argento so things are very rarely normal. The character of the Phantom in this version is not disfigured in any way apart from maybe his personality. It is Paris 1877 and a number of rats save a baby that has been abandoned and left to float down river. These rodents raise the infant in the underground tunnels that are below the Opera de Paris, the child grows into an adult and becomes Argento’s Phantom of the Opera, he murders anyone that dares to wander into the tunnels that are his domain, he treats the humans who dare to enter his subterranean world as they treat rats when they venture above ground killing them brutally and showing no mercy. Julian Sands plays the Phantom who falls in love with a beautiful young opera singer portrayed by Asia Argento, he hears her mesmerizing singing on stage one night and goes to her to tell her that her voice fills him with light and hope. After he leaves the girl, he speaks to her via telepathy, and the couple begin a romantic relationship. So, very different from any other version of the story. Morricone’s score is full of romance and a lush vibrant sound, his heartrending themes ingratiate and support the movie, adding to it a greater sense of romanticism. Sadly, it is probably a score that is at times overlooked, but it is one of the Maestro’s most gracious and is filled with rich and vibrant thematic material having to it a charm and reverence.
From the ground-breaking directorial skills that we associate with Dario Argento, we move to an American movie which was much anticipated, because its predecessor THE EXORCIST had gone down in cinema history as being the most frightening movie ever made. However, THE EXORCIST ll-THE HERETIC was not scary in that sort of way, the acting was a little frightening as in it was terrible, and the direction too lacked any real fluidity with the storyline lacking in substance, filled with flaws and gaping holes. The cast included Richard Burton no less and also Linda Blair who reprised her role as the troubled Regan. The best thing about the movie was the score, Morricone was well aware of the trouble and the controversy that had surrounded the music for the first movie, but took all of the factors into account and produced a soundtrack that was a mix of styles and sounds both atonal, melodic and ethnic. The central theme REGANS THEME is classic Morricone, lilting strings, female voice and choir, its infant like sound not only being attractive but at the same time creating an atmosphere that was uncertain and chilling.
Morricone’s score is a triumph and considering the movie is probably one of the worst ever made, the composer’s soundtrack has survived away from the images of the movie. At times it is a complicated and difficult work to listen to away from the film, but it is still an accomplished work. Cues such as INTERRUPTED MELODY which boasts a romantic violin solo, that is aired three times within the score, the composer adding female voice to one of the arrangements, giving it an even more melancholy and fragile sound. Then there is the opposite sound of the raw and jagged PAZUZU, both different but also both being the highlights of this score. The track NIGHT FLIGHT is a somewhat mad and frenzied piece, screams and shrieks dominate the composition, with Morricone employing percussive elements and whips cracking and lashing throughout. THE HERETIC won no applause from the critics for cinematic prowess, but the affecting soundtrack remains an accomplished and noteworthy work from Il Maestro.
Staying with horror but going back to the 1960’s and also to Italy for the next example of Morricone’s ingenuity and musical excellence. NIGHTMARE CASTLE aka-THE FACELESS MONSTER starred Barbara Steele and Paul Muller. Directed by Mario Caiano and released in 1965, this was a horror in the style of Mario Bava, with Steele and Muller playing lovers who are discovered and killed by Steele’s husband, but they return from the dead to cause all sorts of problems in a bid to have their vengeance. Morricone provided a serviceable score for the production, with a surprisingly melodic soundtrack, the opening theme for the score, is piano led and is the original arrangement of the theme which Morricone re-orchestrated and re-used in the 1967 Anthony Quinn, Rita Hayworth movie THE ROVER or THE ADVENTURER which was directed by Terence Young. The haunting theme is given a concerto like performance, with the remainder of the score utilising sections or fleeting glimpses of the theme as well as gruesome sounding organ performances, the central theme re-occurs throughout the work, but is given fresh and vibrant arrangements each time it is utilised.
It is this theme that becomes the foundation of the score, Morricone building upon it and layering in more atonal moments as well as mysterious and dramatic content, at times the score has to it a sound and style that we do not ordinarily associate with Morricone during this period of his career, this is certainly a more full on and dramatic based work, again the use of voices conjure up a deep and disturbing sound, that is underlined by more conventional instrumentation in the form of solo piano and a small string ensemble.
I have been aware very early of the music of Ennio Morricone: his great themes and lyrical writing have been a strong influence for me and one of his scores is among my favourite’s his fantastic yet less known Mission to Mars score – among many others. There are too many highlights in his prolific career to be mentioned here, and they all have their strong and timeless personality. He was one of the great composers, a true unique voice in film music and will be sorely missed.
Composer, Maximilien Mathevon. July 2020.
Science Fiction too was a genre that Ennio Morricone excelled in, his score for MISSION TO MARS being both dramatic and melodically excellent. MISSION TO MARS was released in 2000 and was the third and final collaboration between Director Brian de Palma and composer Ennio Morricone. The film focuses upon a rescue mission that is sent to Mars to find out what has happened to a previous expedition to the red planet and hopefully bring back any survivors. The film was not that much of a success at the box office, but I cannot understand why this is, I found it to be an entertaining movie and the score that Morricone penned is one of his most harmonious and affecting emotionally. The composers use of fragile yet commanding themes is key to many of the movies scenes and at times the music tells the story rather than the images or dialogue, there was a saying I heard early on in Morricone’s career that he composes “Music For The Eyes”.
Well this is certainly true in the case of MISSION TO MARS. The score invites the audience into the world of the rescue team, it beckons the audience to investigate and explore the mysterious planet, and it also enhances and ingratiates the entire movie. A HEART BEATS IN SPACE is a beautifully crafted cue, and one which opens the soundtrack recording.
The style here is of the classic Morricone, which the composer fuses with the style that he employed in assignments such as De Palma’s THE UNTOUCHABLES and CASUALTIES OF WAR, it is romantic but also dramatically powerful having to it an almost operatic persona.
It’s one of those scores that mesmerizes and entrances the listener, with fragile and delicate nuances introducing and building to grand expressive thematic crescendos. It contains a number of tracks that are what can be referred to as slow burners, the composer adding instrumentation as he guides his composition to its climax, fashioning simple but truly inventive and touching pieces.
Staying with Sci Fi and a movie that probably did not get more than a handful of positive reviews L’UMANOID aka-THE HUMANOID is a totally barmy space adventure, and was an attempt at cashing in on STAR WARS and other STAR WARS clones that were doing the rounds at this time. Released in 1979, this is definitely a case of the music being far superior to the film it was composed for, it’s a surprise to me that during this stage of his career as to why Morricone became involved in such obvious box office flops, this I think is worse than STARCRASH, but the inferior quality of the movie did not stop Morricone fashioning a superbly atmospheric soundtrack. At least Morricone did not attempt to mimic the sound created by John Williams for STAR WARS as John Barry did for STARCRASH failing miserably. The film incidentally starred Richard Keil, who had become popular via his roles in the Roger Moore Bond movies playing the infamous Jaws.
L’UMANOID is in fact a very good score, and its also a soundtrack that I would recommend that you listen to away from the film, the composer combines both symphonic instrumentation with electronic and synthetic support which results in a dramatic and melodic work that is enhanced further and given greater depth and stature by the inclusion of electronics. The stirring opening theme, is splendidly powerful and forthright, the composer introducing the piece with electronics that build with gathering percussion into an introduction for commanding brass, that I always think resemble ODE TO JOY but maybe that’s just me. The highlight cue on the soundtrack has to be ESTASI STELLAR which includes a heart-breaking violin solo, that is equal to the composers work on the later CINEMA PARADISO, its another one of those Morricone themes that begins quietly and is an unassuming piece, and then suddenly fills with emotion and swells with poignancy, and totally overwhelms and absorbs the listener.
It is a soundtrack I could sit and listen to over and over and never tire of it, it has a certain quirky persona to it, but Morricone created some beguiling themes for this less than entertaining motion picture.
ORCA-THE KILLER WHALE is sadly another movie that was less than welcomed by critics and cinema goers a like, directed by Michael Anderson and starring Richard Harris and Charlotte Rampling it is one of the many movies that attempted to cash in on the success of JAWS and although the film did have some thrilling moments it was a case of the Killer whale out-acting the main players. The only saving grace being the atmospheric and beautiful score that was composed by Ennio Morricone. Atmospheric as in supportive of the action scenes and beautiful because of the haunting Orca central theme. A theme which is given a number of varying renditions, including the vocal version performed by Carol Connor. The film was edited or censored badly when first released which certainly never helps matters, especially if the movie is not exactly Oscar material in the first place, Morricone’s music helped a little to prop up the production, but can a good score save a bad movie, NO! I think the answer is in this case. The score contains numerous tense and dark sounding cues, which are done in the true Morricone tradition, the composer adding a greater depth to the scenes unfolding on screen, and also bringing some sense of credibility to the movies somewhat thin plot. Television presenter Chris Kelly in the UK was so impressed with the score for the film, that he featured a section of the movie which included Morricone’s music on his show called CINEMA back in the late 1970’s, mentioning Morricone by name, which in those days was very rare.
Compared with scoring movies it was not that often that Ennio Morricone ventured into scoring TV series, but when he did the results were always effective, and I am not talking of his CHI MAI theme from MADDALENA being used for a BBC series, but original scores and themes for television. GOTHIC DRAMAS, was a series produced in 1977, and directed by Giorgio Bandini, the series was aired by RAI UNO and achieved mild success at the time of its broadcast. Morricone had worked in TV before GOTHIC DRAMAS, and during the 1970’s he was responsible for writing the titles music for the American TV western THE VIRGINIAN which had undergone something of a facelift and was re-titled THE MEN FROM SHILO. The composer also scored the mini-series MOSES THE LAWGIVER in 1975, which became essential viewing throughout Europe. The production was quite lavish for television, with companies from England and Italy collaborating to bring it fruition, Burt Lancaster starred in the title role.
GOTHIC DRAMAS was split into four episodes, these went under the titles of KAISERSTRASSE, which was based on stories by Hans H Ewers. MA NON E! UN VAMPIRO? (BUT IS SHE A VAMPIRE) Which was constructed around a Sicilian fable written by Luigi Capuana; LA CASSE DELLA STREGHE (THE HOUSE OF WITCHES) based upon three works by H.P LOVECRAFT and DIARIO DI UN PAZZO (DIARY OF A MADMAN) which was an adaptation from the works of Gogol. The scores that Morricone created for the series cannot really be described as being rich in thematic content or filled with lush musical passages, on the contrary the Maestro wrote a largely atonal score for each episode, it also took on the guise of a somewhat modernist and slightly Avant Garde sound and style, which is a style that is often purveyed in the concert music of the Maestro. Morricone produced an interesting set of soundtracks for the series, each one different, but at the same time containing a sound and distinct musical persona that we associate with the composer which linked all four scores together. The music was as complex and perplexing as the scenes and stories being acted out on screen, underlining, and punctuating each sinister and heart stopping moment. But as always with most Morricone soundtracks there are a handful of less fraught pieces, which act as a calming interlude in a plethora of malevolent and at times eerie cues. These include, LA STRADA DELLA FOLLIA, which is from KAISERSTRASSE, this part of the score opens with an enchanting and mesmerising choir, which has a fragile and beguiling sound to it, the voices being complimented and augmented by the subtle use of harp that is plucked delicately and sensually, creating an atmosphere that is warm and safe.
The voices soften and eventually melt away, leaving the harp to pick out the central theme that was introduced by the choir. Also, within the score for KAISERSTRASSE the composer utilises a music box effect, FUORI DALLA REALTA, this is a simple melody, that is embellished by the use of voices, together the two elements are angelic in their initial sound, but at the same time the simplicity and subtlety conjure up a sense of unease. KAISERSTRASSE also includes a barrel organ effect, or maybe a hurdy-gurdy sound, which if I am correct most would associate with a circus or fun fair, but in the hands of Morricone it takes on a more sinister and evil persona, suggesting to anyone listening to the recording that all is probably not well, or as it should be. The effect is recorded with an echo, so it becomes even more of a threatening and foreboding sound.
The cue entitled PIOGGIA on KAISERSTRASSE is a harrowing and icy sounding piece, performed by harpsichord which undulates in and out of the composition, creating a spidery and otherworldly effect, this is underlined and laced with short sharp stabs and fleeting notations performed by woodwind and strings that are fused with a chiming effect, together they create an uncanny sound that is not only unsettling but one that evokes a mood of desperation and overwhelming apprehension. The second score that is represented on the recording of the soundtracks for the series is from MA NON E! UN VAMPIRO?, this section opens with a theme that I am told opened each of the episodes, this instalment of the series is the only one out of the quartet of films that has any background information available, so maybe this was the most popular? A gentleman, Giorgio, marries a widow and everything as they say is as it should be, the couple have a child, but the boy becomes ill wasting away as if drained of life itself, then the widows dead husband returns from the grave, and it is clear he is the cause of the child’s illness. Giorgio sends for a friend Mongeri who is a scientist that dabbles in vampire hunting! Mongeri dispatches the dead husband by burning him and everything returns to normal, then Mongeri meets a widow and marries and the scenario begins again. The music for this episode is a mixture of styles that include chaotic string performances, choral work and atonal sounds and stabs, but there is also some fragile and beautifully crafted cues for solo violin, violin that is flawlessly performed by Dino Asciolla, who Morricone had turned to before and also continued to work with, Asciolla performed the stunning violin solos for the score to the RED TENT in 1969.
The performer is also featured in the third score HOUSE OF WITCHES, his performances being fused with chimes, plucked harp, driving tense strings and choir, that are in turn further embellished by harpsichord, solo voice and the sound of a female soprano gently exhaling combined with a shimmering or tinkling effect that makes the listener literally shudder. The fourth score, DIARIO DI UN PAZZO (DIARY OF A MADMAN) is a score that literally purveys the sound of madness, the harrowing use of voices within the piece is superbly done and is literally insane sounding music. Manic shrieks, tortured voices, laughs, half heard whispers, piercing screams and hysterical crying all come together in a chaotic and mind-bending piece which runs for some 12 minutes, I would not recommend listening to this in a darkened room or alone as it would probably spook you severely. GOTHIC DRAMAS is a look into the highly original and innovative musical style of Ennio Morricone, who we all know was a composer that was not afraid to experiment and push the musical boundaries to the limit, and when he did he successfully enhanced images on screen and at times also created new musical genres.
It is probably only when one sits down and looks at the filmography of Ennio Morricone and also his music for concert hall performance or Absolute Music, that one realises just how great this composers output was, and also indeed just how much he has influenced so many people and not just composers either. Wading through the lists of soundtrack releases and also the directors that he worked with during his illustrious career is quite a lengthy and staggering process. So, from the Horror, the sci-fi and the Giallo we now move to other genres of film that the composer was active within and also genres that he excelled in (so all of them really).
It was during the period from the 1960’s through to the early 1980’s that it seemed Morricone composed at least two scores a week, that is how great his output was, or that’s how it looked to many collectors. Obviously he did not score two movies a week, but because of release dates and scheduling, the films and the soundtracks all seemed to be released at the same time, so it was at times difficult for collectors to keep pace with the releases. And let us not forget that many movies were released late outside of Italy and this was the same with the soundtracks. There was a rumour circulating in the late 1960’s that Morricone had what was referred to as a library of already prepared scores, which he had written, and would select a score that he thought would be suitable for a certain project. Again, not true, I think when a composer, director or even a writer becomes this prolific there are bound to be stories that pop up here and there most of which are fantasy. I can recall going to The Arts theatre club in London and buying soundtracks from Michael Jones, who had a great selection in the foyer of the club. SOUNDTRACK was probably one of the first retail soundtrack specialists who also did mail order, and I am of the opinion without people such as Michael at Soundtrack and later 58 Dean Street and John Yap who set up That’s entertainment records in London, we as collectors would have struggled to get our Morricone or indeed soundtrack fix. This is when Morricone soundtracks became popular, which was as we all will agree mainly due to his Italian western scores. But there were many other Morricone scores finding their way to the London shops during this period, METTI UNA CERA A CENA for example, or LOVE CIRCLE as it was entitled outside of Italy. THE SICILIAN CLAN, CITTA VIOLENTA, LA DUE STAGIONE DELLA VITA, DEVIL IN THE BRAIN, LA COSSA BUFFA, HE AND SHE, SEASON OF SENSES, QUEIMADA, TEOREMA, THE RED TENT, ESCALATION, MALAMONDO and so many more.
So, where to start? Probably at the beginning is a good idea, IL FEDERALE (1961) is looked upon as the composers first full score for a motion picture. In the same year the Maestro scored a TV project entitled ALL’A SCOPERTA DELL’AMERICA, and two shorts, VERRO and VICINO AL CIELO. IL FEDERALE or THE FACIST was a French and Italian co-production directed by Luciano Salce, produced by Dino De Laurentiis and starred ,Ugo Tognazzi . The movie did not receive a theatrical release in the UK and the United States until 1965, which is why many were unaware that Morricone had scored the film, many Morricone fans outside of Italy were under the impression that his first film was A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. IL FEDERALE is not a typical Morricone score, although there are certain references and little wisps of orchestration that would become familiar in later scoring assignments. The Maestro fusing a martial sound with hints of comedic interludes.
The music for the movie was in fact quite simple, and in places used sparingly. Morricone again collaborated with IL FEDERALE director Luciano Salce in 1962 on the movie LA VOGLIA MATTA or CRAZY DESIRE AKA- THE CRAZY URGE. The movie which was a comedy starred Ugo Tognazzi and is the film credited for launching the acting career of Catherine Spaak, the film was banned by Italian censors initially until they had made what they thought to be appropriate cuts. But even then the movie was thought to be too much for children under the age of fourteen. Morricone’s score is superbly luxurious and easy going, with beautiful lilting themes that are given a pop orientated sound with clever instrumentation and smooth and appealing thematic content.
We hear for the first time a distinct sound or style that would develop further during the next two or three years. The score also contained a soaring female soprano and a handful of what are source music cues, as well as a romantic sounding song LA TUA STAGIONE which was performed by Male and Female vocalists, the female vocal version in my opinion having the edge and coming across as a sensual and sexy number.
Again, in 1962 Morricone and Luciano Salce worked together on LA CUCCAGNA- AKA- A GIRL IN A MILLION. The soundtrack was basically a collection of Italian pop songs, with Morricone providing a few instrumental cues, but the songs were all arranged and orchestrated by the composer and he is also credited as having written them. As Italian pop songs from the 1960’s go these are pretty entertaining and have to them the sound and the style that we associate with this era, containing a distinct upbeat tone at times, with electric guitar, percussion and bass being utilised alongside romantic sounding strings, and other vocals having to them a definite crooner element. The instrumental score for me resembled more the style of Nino Rota or even Mario Nascimbene who of course Morricone had arranged film scores for. 1962, was also the year in which the composer collaborated with director Camillo Mastrocinque on two movies, I MOTORIZZATI and DISCOTTENI AL SOLE.
In 1963 Morricone again collaborated with Luciano Salce, on LE MONACHINE or THE LITTLE NUNS, it tells the story of two nuns who go on a mission to Rome to ask pilots to stop flying their aeroplanes over the convent where they live, because the noise and vibration from the planes are causing cracks in a sacred fresco. A thin plot but a passable comedy, which starred Catherine Spaak and Didi Perego. The soundtrack was released on the CAM label on an LP record and later a compact disc was released at first on CAM as part of the CAM SOUNDTRACK ENCYCLOPEDIA, and then an expanded version was made available.
It is a pleasant score, with several attractive melodies scattered throughout and as always was supportive and enhancing of the film and its storyline. Again, the composer utilised the music sparingly, but this I think was the charm and the attraction of the score.
1963, was the year in which Morricone scored his first western, DUELLO NEL TEXAS, and also worked on the comedy, IL SUCCESSO for filmmaker Dino Risi, as well as writing the soundtrack for the drama directed by Lina Wertmuller entitled I BASILISCHI.
Morricone on Morricone.
“All music comes from another and far deeper place that exists beyond the real world of man”.
Ennio Morricone. (from his book LIFE NOTES) © 2016.
(published by Musica e Oltre).
1964, was a landmark year for the composer, he scored ten movies in this year and a documentary I MALAMONDO (FUNNY WORLD). It was the year of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, and yielded some inventive work from Morricone that included, EL GRECO, I MANIACI, IN GINOCCHIO DA TE and PRIMA DELLA RIVOLUZIONE the latter being directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. In my opinion I MALAMONDO was probably the most inventive score from that year, not including A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. The composer creating mad cap sounds, frantic Bossa nova beats and luxurious sounding romantic themes. Even now when I listen to I MALAMONDO I find it entertaining, and although there is a kind of sixties pop vibe to the majority of the score, it is one that stands out within Morricone’s body of work for film, this was the beginning of the Morricone sound, the start of an age of film music that was to develop and progress and will endure for centuries. I MALAMONDO has so many highlight cues that it would be difficult to single out any as being superior to the other, we are treated to the attractive PENSO A TE with its inviting electric guitar solo, and the harmonious and haunting trumpet solo both of which are underlined with percussion and laced with strings to give it a romantic and endearing musical persona. The upbeat and richly percussive L’ULTIMA VOLTA, with choir and sprightly sounding organ, again laced with strings and punctuated by electric bass and vibrant piano with the core theme being manipulated and performed by electric guitar, which itself is supported by flyaway and wistful strings. This is the sixties sound of Ennio Morricone. Plus, the romantically led QUESTI VENT’ANNI MIEI and devastatingly affecting SOSPESI NEL CIELO. Which are both arrangements of the IL MALAMONDO central theme.
1965, showed no let up in the creative and fertile musical flow of Il Maestro, he worked on eighteen movies in this year, and aswell as two Ringo westerns, directed by Duccio Tessari and a second dollar film FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE the composer also collaborated on BATTLE OF ALGIERS with Gillo Pontecorvo, and worked once again with Luciano Salce this time on SLALOM. The composer also scored HAWKS AND SPARROWS-UCCELLACCI E UCCELLINI for Pasolini. Which contained rather unusual main title and end title themes, where the credits were sung by Domenico Modugno. Inventive as always, the remainder of the score was certainly original, with certain phrases and nuances glimpsing through that we would hear many times in future scores.
I PUGNI IN TASCA or FISTS IN POCKETS is a powerful movie and Morricone’s atmospheric soundtrack assisted in creating many of the moods and atmospheres that were crucial to setting the scenes for this interesting drama. Directed by Marco Bellocchio, and starring Lou Castel, Paola Pitagora and Marino Mase. It was the first movie both written and directed by Bellocchio, and although I do refer to it as a drama, the film also has to it eerie and horrific attributes. Morricone’s score superbly underlines each and every one of the scenarios within the film and elevates them to a greater height giving them more impact, the haunting female voice that is underlined by sharp or jagged piano and harp which are in turn augmented by female choir, purveys a chilling and uneasy air.
Although only mid-way through the 1960’s Morricone had already established himself as a composer of great talent and also a composer that was able to adapt and fine tune his musical prowess to score any genre of movie. 1966 was a year that displayed this with the composer hitting new creative apex’s with his scores for THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY and SVEGLIATI E UCCIDI-WAKE UP AND DIE. The latter being a crime drama directed by Carlo Lizzani. It contained a strong score from the Maestro, and an infectious title song performed by Lisa Gastoni, which was given a handful of instrumental outings, each of which being fresh and innovative, with Morricone arranging and orchestrating them differently for maximum effect. The music is filled with driving and brooding thematic quality, the composer utilises breathy woods, electric guitar and bass, with solo trumpet featuring alongside pounding percussive elements and wordless female voice which is powerful and sensual. One of the highlight cues for me is UNA TROMBA A DALLAS, this incorporates pop driven guitar, percussion and choir which are a background to a stunning trumpet solo. This style of performance and composition was to become the mainstay of Morricone in later scores such as TEOREMA (1968) and VERGOGNA SCHIFOSI in the same year.
1967 had its moments, with Morricone working on GRAND SLAM, ESCALATION, GARDEN OF DELIGHTS, GRAZIE ZIA and many more, it was also in 1967 that Mario Bava brought to the screen, DANGER DIABOLIK, which starred John Philip Law, and contained the song DEEP DOWN. The film was pretty bad, I think even the Maestro would admit this too, but the music is better. With the composer serving up a fusion of dramatic and up-beat sounds, that at times were easy listening tinged with a rock or pop beat. Either way the music is far superior to the story being acted out on screen.
In 1968, Morricone penned twenty six film scores, it was the year of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN, ECCO HOMO, EAT IT, HEART OF THE MOTHER, THE RED TENT,H25 and METTI UNA CERA A CENA- AKA- LOVE CIRCLE. This more than any other Morricone score epitomises the sixties, it is a soundtrack that is literally overflowing with rich and vibrant themes, there are just so many, that it is hard to take in on one sitting.
The album was originally issued on Cinevox records, and subsequent other editions appeared in the UK, there was the version on CBS, which we are told contained vocals and choral work by The Mike Sammes Singers, after Jack Fishman wrote lyrics to the two central themes of Morricone’s now classic score, HURRY TO ME and FOOTSTEPS were released onto a single in 1969 in the UK, it is possibly one of the most listened to non-western Morricone albums, the opening theme being one that is now regarded as iconic and one which the Maestro always included in his concert performances of his film music. The original release and the score features, stunning performances from Edda Dell Orso and Il Cantori Moderni, with Alessandro Alessandroni providing a flawless Sytar performance. The film is an erotic drama, or art house sex romp that is stylish and polished. Directed by Guiseppe Patroni Griffi it focuses upon glamourous individuals, the perfect people, who are dressed in high fashion and take part in perverse sexual encounters to satisfy their needs. With the storyline circulating around a writer who has become famous played by Jean Louis Trintignant, who fantasises about his wife (Florinda Bolkan) having an affair with his bi-sexual friend (Tony Mustante). What Trintignant does not know is that his wife and friend have been having an affair for years and have enlisted a third party for their illicit sexual adventures, an actor and a poet played by Lino Capolicchio who at times makes love to Florinda Bolkan in a dark but luxurious basement draped under a Nazi Swastika. Morricone’s score is sublime, it is flawlessly beautiful and perfectly uplifting.
Another score from Il Maestro in the same year was VERGOGNA SCHIFOSI or DIRTY ANGELS, which was an unusual but compelling movie, and contained a uniquely inventive soundtrack. With wordless vocals provided by the wonderous soprano Edda and catchy and upbeat choral work by Il Cantori Moderni, this is a score that is bursting with melodious excellence, it is superbly luxurious and richly thematic and probably amongst the Maestros, top ten film scores, but classic FM, Will never admit this. 1969, was one of the composers most fruitful years as far as innovative and inventive goes, those two words we use a lot when discussing Morricone, but how else does one describe his prolific output and his abundance in talent. Just a glance at the composer’s credits for 1969, and one instinctively knows that there are more iconic scores in this twelve-month period than probably any other within his career. Titles such as, INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION, GOTT MITT UNS, QUEIMADA, THE SICILIAN CLAN, METELLO, A BRIEF SEASON, LADONNE INVISIBILE, I CANNIBALI among them.
I remember seeing INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION on TV in the UK on BBC2, and straight away was drawn in by not just the images that were appearing under the opening credits but the music, Morricone’s uneven but at the same time haunting theme adding atmosphere and setting the mood before an actor had come onto the screen or one word of dialogue had been spoken. The scene where Gian Maria Volonte who is Rome’s chief murder investigator plants clues at a murder scene, is scored with the central theme or at least an arrangement of it, which in a musical way explains the sequence, it also underlines, punctuates and supports, adding to it a sense of apprehension, and also seems to allow us a little glimpse into the mind of Volonte’s character. The inspector portrayed by Volonte is due to be promoted, and on the eve of this promotion he pays a visit to his mistress played by Florinda Bolkan, and whilst there, murders her by cutting her throat, he then goes about purposely planting clues that are linked to him, his theory being that he is far too important to be even considered as the murderer even though all the clues point to him. His idea that he is too powerful to even be challenged and above all suspicion. And even though he plants so many clues they are ignored, and another man is wrongly accused for the murder. Directed by Elio Petri, this is a film that once started cannot be stopped or interrupted, the acting, photography, Direction and music work together and bring to the screen something that is not just entertaining but thought provoking. 1969 also gave us the soundtrack for the French crime film THE SICILIAN CLAN, Morricone’s score is yet another example of a soundtrack that can be enjoyed in the movie and also just as much away from the images, the simple but effective four and five note motif that the composer utilises is a stroke of genius, so simple yet so haunting.
The inclusion of the jaws or Jews harp puts a distinct sounding slant on the proceedings, the score is basically made up of themes for the central characters within the movie and works incredibly well. The movie directed by Henri Verneuil, is probably not one of the film makers greatest but the plot moves along at a brisk pace and keeps the audience focused. Morricone bases his score upon what is called the ITALIAN THEME, and this can be heard at various stages of the movie and appears in a number of varying arrangements, the most prominent being as the films Main theme, performed on piano that is joined by electric guitar and given a brisk but not too fast percussive backing, the four then five note motif establishing itself before being enhanced further by the string section, which play a counter melody creating a stunning and somewhat romantic sounding theme.
The remainder of the score is a triumph of thematic writing, every track every composition, is outstanding. The work features atmospheric whistling from Allessandro Alessandroni, and has to it an upbeat but dramatic feel, again one of his best.
QUEIMADA is a movie from director Gillo Pontecorvo, it was thought by many to be based upon true historical events, but in fact it is a totally fictitious story. The film starred Marlon Brando, and Morricone’s score is an epic and at times unconventional work.
Again, the score supported as well as evoking a higher level of atmosphere within the movie, at times the music creating the various moods within the film and relaying the sense of elitist imperialism and the desperation of the inhabitants of the island. When the movie was released in the UK it received very mixed reactions, most of which were negative, this was partly due to the way in which the film had been edited, the story appearing as disjointed, and having no fluidity because of numerous unsympathetic cuts.
So, we have explored a handful of the Maestro’s soundtracks and the movies he penned them for. In part three we will explore further the music he composed for movies in the 1970, s and also look at his music for the 1980.s. Taking into account his then ongoing partnership, friendship and collaboration with Sergio Leone on ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA and also looking at his work with Brian De Palma and Roland Joffe on films such as THE UNTOUCHABLES, CASUALTIES OF WAR,THE MISSION, VATEL, AND CITY OF JOY. Also, his blissful and evergreen collaborations with Guiseppe Tornatore will be explored, with scores for films such as CINEMA PARADISO, L’UOMO DELLE STELLE, THE LEGEND OF THE PIANIST, MALENA, and THE CORRESPONDENT. Plus, THE THING with John Carpenter.
(C) John Mansell 2020.