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Ennio Morricone

English: Ennio Morricone at the Cannes film fe...
English: Ennio Morricone at the Cannes film festival Français : Ennio Morricone au festival de Cannes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Born in the Trastevere area of Rome in 1928, Ennio Morricone began his film music career as a composer in the early 1960,s when he scored a film directed by Luciano salce entitled IL FEDERALE. But he had been connected with film music as an arranger and conductor in 1959, when he directed and partly orchestrated and arranged Mario Nasciembene,s score for MORTE DI AMICO, and Nascimbene called upon Morricone again two years later when he was scoring the Biblical epic BARABBAS, on this occasion Morricone performed 99% of the orchestration on the score, as well as conducting it and composing some of the minor cues for the soundtrack. His next movie score was composed under the alias of Dan Savio, this was a western called, DUELLO NEL TEXAS or GUNFIGHT AT RED SANDS, an Italian/French/Spanish co-production directed by Ricardo Blasco. The score and title song that the composer provided for the movie was serviceable for the requirements of the film, but really was not that different from any number of scores that had been written for American B movies or German produced westerns that were around during that period. The Italian western had at that time not established itself, and the Italian western sound had not evolved. It was also at this time that the Maestro wrote the original and varied score for IL MALAMONDO,this score managed to get Morricone noticed throughout the world, but the composers original style and sound was not fully appreciated until, twelve months later, when Morricone scored a film that launched him into the public’s gaze,

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, was the first western to be directed by Sergio Leone, and it was this movie that placed the western all,a Italiano firmly on the international cinema map. It also elevated Sergio Leone to the position of an original and talented filmmaker. Initially Leone had said that he did not want Morricone to work on the film, the director had listened to his previous western soundtrack and had not liked it. He altered his opinion of the composer however, after hearing an arrangement of a western type song which the composer had done for then popular vocalist Peter Tevis. Morricone was raised to the sound of the trumpet, the composers, father often played the instrument in bars and night-clubs in the Italian Capital, and the young Morricone would at times stand in for his father, and perform in bands etc. when the elder signor Morricone was unable to do so. Morricones first professional engagement being in 1945, when he played trumpet for a band which was led by, Costantino Ferri. Ennio Morricone, studied trumpet under Umberto Semproni and Reginaldo Cafferelli, eventually moving on to perform trumpet in an orchestra that played on many film soundtracks. It was whilst performing with this orchestra that Morricone began to become aware of just how many so called composers were not actually able to write music, and lacked the ability to make music work within a movie. It was partly because of this that Morricone decided to begin to formally study music. He enrolled at the Conservatorio de Sante Cecilia and under the tutorship of composer Godffredo Petrassi, studied composition. Many at the Conservatory thought it unusual for a trumpet player to study music composition, but Morricone graduated with diplomas in Composition, Trumpet and Conducting. He also studied choral music, but decided to cut these studies short. The composer has stated on many occasions that when he first studied music he had not intended to devote his full time on the composition of film scores, but after the success of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, he became so much in demand that he had very little alternative, and his aspirations to become what many people refer to as a composer of serious music, or music for the concert hall, had to literally take a back seat. Although he has contributed a number of compositions to that particular field of music, as in his ballet, REQUIEM PER DESTINO. His composition SUONI PER DINO, was also well received, and was a finalist in the Festival of Contemporary Music when it was held in Venice. He has also composed countless quartets and concertos, along with numerous examples of Avante Garde material, which includes highly original and sometimes diverse symphonic pieces. Morricones working partnership with Sergio Leone has been likened to the same partnerships of composer and director that have been enjoyed by Hitchcock and Herrmann, Speilberg and Williams and Fellini and Rota. The composer wrote the music for six movies directed by Leone, and also worked on two films THEY CALL ME NOBODY and THE GENIUS,both westerns, where Leone acted as a producer of sorts, overseeing the productions. On two of Sergio Leone,s movies, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST(1969) and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA ( 1984), Morricone composed the majority of his score before the filming had commenced. The composers music being played on set, giving the actors and crew the motivation and inspiration that was required. Morricone, has also written music for director Bernardo Bertolucci, who said of the composer.

There is the well known ‘classic’ Morricone, where we see the composer who along with Sergio Leone invented the Italian western. Then there is for me the Morricone who created the music for 1900. Only he could have given the production this epic sound. Without knowing it, Ennio has written two or three possible national anthems for Italy“.

Morricone at United Nations HQ
Morricone at United Nations HQ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the appeal of the Italian or spaghetti western had waned slightly, Morricone began to work on more varied genres of film, and also was being assigned to non Italian productions. He composed the score for EXCORCIST II, THE HERETIC in 1977, John Boorman the director of the movie said. “ Ennio, is a tremendous enthusiast, he loves film, and what he is doing with the music is responding to the movie like an audience does”. Morricone also penned the scores for two of Brian De Palmas better known movies. THE UNTOUCHABLES and CASUALTIES OF WAR.

 De Palma said of the composer. “ Choosing the right composer for your film, is like selecting the right actor for a particular part. You let them go with their instincts, sensitivity and genius. Morricone is a very intense and committed individual, he worries about what he writes, and always comes up with something that surprises you”. In 1986, Morricone composed the highly emotive and haunting score for THE MISSION, and although applauded by critics and peers alike, he was nominated but failed to win the Oscar for his work on the movie. The films producer David Puttnam, was disappointed about this and has said so in many interviews. Puttnam said of Morricone, ” Ennio Morricone has an extraordinary ability to take the vitality of a film, the essence, and set it to music”. Morricone has also worked alongside many of the top musicians and performers that have been involved with Italian film music, Bruno Nicolai, a great composer in his own right conducted the majority of Morricones scores from the early 1960,s through to the 1980,s. He also collaborated with Morricone on a few scores, these included A PROFFESSIONAL GUN, OPERATION KID BROTHER and THE ANTICHRIST. Nicolai also trained with Godffredo Petrassi, and that is probably why the two composers had such a similar style of composition at times, in fact many people outside of Italy were at one time under the distinct impression that Morricone and Nicolai were one and the same person. The composers being so similar at times that a critic during the 1970,s remarked, “ It could be Morricone or it could be Nicolai, one this is certain, you can be damn sure its not Percy faith”. Morricone was also responsible for bringing the voice of Italian diva Edda Dell’Orso to the attention of soundtrack collectors, her soaring vocal being employed by the composer on countless occasions. Alessandro Alessandroni too, worked with the composer many times, his flawless whistling being one of the most prominent trademarks of Morricone, especially when utilised on western scores. Alessandroni also provided the choral work on many of Morricones soundtracks and his, IL CANTORI MODERNI choir, gave Morricone,s scores a distinct and unmistakably familiar sound. Alessandroni spoke of Morricone, “ Morricone, has written some of the most memorable music for films, and because of his very original style it was inevitable that he influenced me in the way that I composed, as he influenced a great many other composers that were working on films during the 60,s . His scores for the Italian western in particular had a great influence on composers in Italy during that period”.

Ennio Morricone
Ennio Morricone (Photo credit: Clod79)

Although only some 10% of the composers work was for westerns, it is probably true to say that it is the soundtracks to these Spaghetti westerns that he is most readily associated with, he also scored two westerns that were made outside of Italy, GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN (1968) which was for French director Henri Vernieul and TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA (1970) which starred Clint Eastwood and Shirley McClaine and was directed by Don Seigel.The latter being filmed in similar locations to many of the Italian made westerns. Morricone,s scores for westerns were raw, earthy and primitive., but at the same time could be poignant, romantic, stirring and near operatic in their overall construction and sound. They set the pace and style for the music in the majority of spaghetti westerns. As well as his Oscar nomination for THE MISSION, Morricone won the prestigious golden statue for his soundtrack to Terrence Malick,s, DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978), and has also had nominations for, THE UNTOUCHABLES ( 1987 ) and BUGSY( 1991). The composer won the Golden Globe in 1986 for THE MISSION and THE UNTOUCHABLES in 1987. A Grammy for THE UNTOUCHABLES and a David Di Donatello award in Italy for EVERYBODYS FINE (1990). In 1996, he was the recipient of the inaugural Premio Rota Award,(named after the composer Nino Rota). Moricone,s musical output verges on the prodigious, and after nearly forty years composing music for films, he has written the scores for some 300 plus movies, and also numerous television projects, the word Genius springs to mind when one discusses this maestro, his style of composition is undoubtedly original, and he has the ability to bring dimensions of a greater magnitude to each movie that he works on. Out of all of his scores. Morricone has said on many occasions that he considers his score for A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY , to be his best, which is a surprising statement, because this soundtrack was totally improvised. Morricone has composed film scores on occasions under the pseudonyms, of Dan Savio and Leo Nichols, this was during the 1960,s when he was scoring mostly westerns, and composers that were involved within that particular genre, often wrote under assumed names. Morricone is still one of the busiest composers that work in film today, and continues to astonish and surprise his fans and peers. To describe him as prolific, is most definitely an understatement.

The Hills Run Red.


Often a neglected or overlooked score even by hardened Morricone fans, THE HILLS RUN RED is in every sense of the word a classic and also a key work within the genre of the Italian or spaghetti western. Originally released on a bootleg LP record on the POO label at the same time as THE HORNETS NEST, the soundtrack was crying out for an official release, at last some thirty years after the release of the unofficial recording, came a compact disc issue on the film score monthly label, this was released as part of a box set of MGM scores that also included a wide range of scores from the 1960s through to the 1970s and coincidently THE HORNETS NEST. Why then release the score again on a single compact disc so soon after the FSM release. Well, there were a number of collectors who missed out on the box set because of its limited production run and being a Morricone score and also a western it would be remiss not to issue this as stand alone disc as well. The score is essentially constructed around two principal themes. The central core of the work being made up of various versions of a driving and energetic piece that includes infectious trumpet flourishes which are like mini fanfares heralding the onset of the remainder of the cue which includes racing snares, choir and urgent sounding strings that segue into the main body of the theme which is performed in the main by brass supported by choir. Gianna Spagnola features prominently within the score and her distinct vocalising brings a certain earthiness and raw ambiance to the work. There is no doubt that this is a classic work from the Maestro and anyone watching the movie for the first time would be aware that it was his unmistakable and individual style from the opening strains of the music in the pre credits sequence. The other theme that is present is lighter and more melancholy in its sound and style, and is performed in vocal and instrumental versions. The vocal version HOME TO MY LOVE opens the compact disc, and is for me anyway an entertaining and uncomplicated cue, which has many affiliations with Morricones vocal themes for A PISTOL FOR RINGO, RETURN OF RINGO and also other western ditty’s such as LONESOME BILLY etc. 

This theme is utilised within the film at moments of sadness and also when the central character is returning home or has returned to his home finding it derelict and that his wife is dead and his child is missing. The composer provides us with a particularly touching music box version of the theme where he embellishes and supports the central music box feature with light and poignant strings. The vocal version also makes more than one appearance throughout the running time of the compact disc, and is heard in Italian as well as English, with a full instrumental of the cue also being included. If you were fortunate enough to get the MGM box set from FSM then maybe you are thinking I wont bother with this release, as it is the same in content and also sound quality, ok that is fair comment. But, where this release comes into its own is in the presentation department, it contains a number of rare and colourful stills from the movie, striking front cover art work and a great back cover illustration plus alternative notes to the FSM release. This is an essential purchase for all devotees of Morricone and for all fans of the Italian western genre; this is a limited edition for collectors of 1,000 discs. Highly recommended

Once upon a time in the west.


There are certainly no arguments or doubts about this being a classic Ennio Morricone score. It’s popularity has extended far beyond the actual life of the movie that it was written for and it has become an iconic and key work within Morricone’s career. It also holds the same status within the genre of the spaghetti western film and score.

I remember seeing the movie for the first time when I was in my teens, The picture itself did not make much sense to me at the time – especially as the British distributors had decided to take a pair of scissors to it. I did however notice the excellent score by Maestro Morricone, who I had already come to know via his scores for the ‘Dollar trilogy’, The Big Gundown etc. It was also with this movie and its score that I began to realise just how important music was to the Spaghetti western genre, especially when the music was by Morricone and the man behind the camera was Sergio Leone. I started to appreciate and enjoy the way in which Spaghetti westerns were scored because of this partnership, soon realising that sometimes the music for these sage brush sagas came before any images were filmed. In other words, the director would shoot his footage to the score rather than the other way round, as had been the practise in Hollywood for years.
The soundtrack for Once Upon a Time in the West is basically a collection of themes that accompany the principal characters of the film. The central theme – and foundation of the score – is ‘Jill’s Theme’, which is an emotive, poignant, highly romantic and operatic work. Morricone certainly utilises the incredible vocal talents of Edda Dell Orso to the maximum in order to achieve the utmost impact. Variations of ‘Jill’s Theme’ are used throughout the score, but I am of the opinion that the most powerful instance is the scene at the railway station: Claudia Cardinale arrives in town hoping to meet her new husband and his family, but is left standing at the station. As the camera moves slowly up the outside of the building, Morricone’s beautiful, haunting tone poem builds till the camera reaches the top of the building and reveals the bustling town. As this happens, Edda’s wordless vocal is heard over the soundtrack; surely this is one of -if not the – most effective use of film music.
The other themes include a clip-clopping, somewhat awkward sounding and comical composition entitled ‘Cheyenne’ (or ‘Addio Cheyenne’). This contains banjo and a solo whistle for the Jason Robards character, and is also heard in various guises throughout the score. The harmonica theme – for the somewhat mysterious stranger portrayed by Charles Bronson – features a wailing harmonica, which also haunts other characters throughout the movie. ‘Frank’s theme’ is another powerful composition where Morricone effectively uses a fuzzy electric guitar, and it is the combination of both Frank and Harmonica’s themes that combine to create ‘The Man with the Harmonica’ composition, heard in its full glory during the final showdown between the two characters.
This version of the soundtrack is the definitive edition and contains 27 tracks – 7 more than any other edition of this score. The sound quality is stunning, and the presentation of the compact disc is extremely well done by GDM:a gatefold case with a 12 page booklet that’s crammed with colourful stills from the movie. Overall, this is certainly the best version of a highly recommended score.

Le pistole non discutono

Le pistole non discutono
Le pistole non discutono

One of the early Morricone westerns, LE PISTOLE NON DISCUTONO (aka. BULLETS DON’T ARGUE) was released in 1964 just a few months before Sergio Leone’s first DOLLAR movie, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. This Spanish, German and Italian co-production was a western made in Europe and was full of borrowed themes and clichés which had all been used before in Hollywood westerns. The producers even had Pat Garrett as the film’s central character with one of the other principal players taking on the role of a certain Billy Clanton. But in saying this, the movie was not actually a bad one. It was certainly nothing spectacular but at least it was watchable as a sagebrush yarn filled with plenty of riding here and there and lots of action – the star of the film, Rod Cameron, taking on the persona of a Randolph Scott type character. Continue reading Le pistole non discutono