Notes for the DRG release. The CD was released in 1999.
These were my first ever sleeve notes, I have edited them slightly to omit info that is now known by many.
Composer Ennio Morricone began his film music career back in the 1960’s. Scoring movies in those days as life itself was in my opinion much simpler and straightforward. Even now many years after he scored his first movie it is probably the music from the decade of the 1960’s that most people associate with the Maestro. It was after all a period of intense creative out for the composer, who was fashioning innovative and highly original pieces it seemed every day. The composer these days does not apparently like to talk of the early days of his career when he was writing scores to Spaghetti westerns. Morricone was responsible for penning the scores for approximately twenty westerns from 1961 through to 1969. The landmark scores being Sergio Leones DOLLAR trilogy A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY. The latter gaining international acclaim and popularity via the many cover versions that were recorded. As the decade of the 1970’s dawned the appeal and attraction of the Western all’a Italiana seemed to take something of a dip and made way for the likes of Sci Fi movies, Spy thrillers and such like. Directors who had been involved with the Italian made western were moving on and branching out into genres such as Horror, Giallo and Romance. Movies about organised crime, the Mafia, gangsters etc were now becoming much in demand and as always Italian film makers stepped up to deliver movies with outrageous but entertaining plots and somewhat quirky storylines. Morricone contributed to many of these productions, it it true to say that the composers output during the decades of the 60’s and 70’s verged upon the unbelievable, it seemed that his name was every where and a new movie was in the cinemas on a daily basis Films such as THE SICILIAN CLAN, CITTA VIOLENTA, METTI UNA CERA A SENA, LA CASSE, A MAN TO RESPECT the list is endless. It was also at this time that Morricone collaborated with film maker Dario Argento, the composers unique style and creativity being well suited to the fraught and at times perversely tense movies that came from the mind of the Master of the Macabre.
IL GATTO NOVA CODA and 4 MOSCHE DI VELLUTO GRIGO being just two examples. It is true to state that Argento changed the way in which horror movies were made, and Morricone also influenced a generation or two of composers who still today practice what Morricone began.
The music on this compact disc, is taken from a television series entitled GOTHIC DRAMAS, this was a series that was produced in 1977, and directed by Georgio Bandini, the series was aired by RAI UNO and achieved mild success at the time of its screening. Morricone had worked in TV before GOTHIC DRAMAS, but the Maestro was essentially involved in music for the big screen as opposed to writing for the television. However, during the 1970’s he was responsible for writing the end 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.
Morricone also worked on LA MANI SPORCHE (DIRTY HANDS) for TV, which was directed by Elio Petri, who Morricone had worked with before, most notably on INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION in 1970, and continued to write for the small screen with the score for BLOODLINE, which was an adaptation of the novel by Sidney Sheldon, it boasted an international all-star cast, which included James Mason and Audrey Hepburn, and THE PRINCE OF THE DESERT, which included cues that were originally destined for John Huston’s THE BIBLE which Morricone was asked to score, his music never being used. Although Morricone was just as busy during the 1970’s as he was in the previous decade, the movies he worked on were not as memorable apart from the obvious titles, such as DUCK YOU SUCKER, NOVECENTE and TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA. The composer scored mainly French and Italian movies during this period, but occasionally ventured into writing the soundtracks for American productions such as DAYS OF HEAVEN, THE EXCORCIST ll-THE HERETIC and ORCA KILLER WHALE.
These however were not huge box office attraction and have only in recent years been appreciated for their attributes, good or bad. Many of the films that Morricone worked on were not shown outside of Italy, but the soundtrack albums still sold well, with collectors purchasing them simply because the music was by Ennio Morricone and not because they had even heard the music and liked it. 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 can be heard in the concert music of the Maestro. Morricone produced an interesting and original 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. 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 there are a handful of less fraught pieces, which act as a calming interlude in a plethora of malevolent cues. These include Track number 2, LA STRADA DELLA FOLLIA, a track from KAISERSTRASSE, the part of the score opens with an enchanting and mesmerising choir, which has a childlike sound to it, the voices being complimented and augmented by the subtle use of harp that is plucked delicately sensually, creating an atmosphere that is warm and safe. The voices soften and eventually melt away, leaving the harp to perform solo the central theme that the choir began. Morricone is a master at his craft and is known for scoring moments in a movie that can be disturbing or violent with a light almost delicate touch, thus allowing the audience to have no warning of what is about to happen until the images show this, it then being too late and the audience having been drawn in and given a false sense of security by the music are shocked even more, giving the scene maximum impact and effect.
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, Morricone again is a master at this type of scoring. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST for example, the harmonica was up until the release of Leone’s masterpiece considered as being a happy and jaunty sounding instrument played around campfires where cowboys told stories and thought of a home on the range. But, again in the hands of Morricone, it is a pre cursor of a gunfight, an announcement of death a shady and frightening sound.
Track number 5, on KAISERSTRASSE is harrowing and icy sounding piece, PIOGGIA being 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 eerie sound that is not only un-nerving but one that evokes a mood of desperation and apprehension. The second score that is represented on the recording is from MA NON E! UN VAMPIRO?, this section opens with a theme that I am told opened each of the episodes, this instalment is the only one out of the four that has any background information available, so maybe this was the most popular of the quartet? 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 od a female soprano gently exhaling combined with a tinkling effect that makes the listener literally shudder.
The fourth score, DIARIO DI UN PAZZO (DIARY OF A MADMAN) is as the title suggests madness in music form, or at least in the sounds and music that is utilised. 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 is 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 is a composer that is not afraid to experiment and push the musical boundaries to the limit, and when he does he creates yet another style and musical genre.
John mansell 1999.