Our Tribute to Ennio Morricone

Italian composer and conductor Ennio Morricone passed away a few weeks ago and this is our tribute to the Maestro

Ennio Morricone at UN Headquarters,
Ennio Morricone at UN Headquarters, 2007. Photo by Jake Setlak, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

On July 6th, another Italian genius passed away. Ennio Morricone, eclectic and prolific composer and conductor, leaves us his timeless compositions, and Rome, his hometown, dedicates its music complex Auditorium Parco della Musica to him. Author of more than 500 TV and film scores with which he was able to revolutionize the music of the film industry over seven decades, he was doubtlessly among the most prolific composers of his era. We mainly remember him for the haunting melodies of the 1960s Dollars Trilogy; however, his passion for music and his versatility led him to work with several Italian and international pop and jazz artists, from Gianni Morandi to Paul Anka in the Sixties, up to k.d. lang and Sting in more recent times. And the combination between his sophisticated arrangement of Se telefonando and Mina’s unmistakable voice is simply unforgettable. He also co-founded the Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, an avant-garde musical collective that experimented with improvisation. Morricone’s career in the film industry spanned many different genres including comedy, western, horror, political drama, thriller, and earned him five Oscar nominations for Days of Heaven, The Mission, The Untouchables, Bugsy, Malena. Finally, after receiving an honorary Oscar in 2007, he was awarded for the score of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight nine years later.

The Dollars Trilogy

Ennio Morricone and Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars

The turning point in Morricone’s career took place in 1964, when, collaborating with film director and former schoolmate Sergio Leone, he contributed to establishing the spaghetti western genre. Per un pugno di dollari / A Fistful of Dollars was the first film in the so-called Dollars Trilogy featuring the then little-known Clint Eastwood as “The Man With No Name”. Due to low budget, Morricone could not rely on the full orchestras of the early Westerns; therefore, he had to resort to electric guitars and sound effects such as whipcracks, flute notes, a church tower bell and whistling to underline what was happening on the screen. It was a tremendous success and the beginning of a happy creative partnership.

For the recipe of Per qualche dollaro in più / For a Few Dollars More, Morricone beautifully blended vocals, guitars, timpani, whistling, a jaw harp, references to Bach, a guttural background chanting, adding to this mix the nostalgic notes of a music box and a player piano. As strange as it may seem, the director asked Morricone to compose the score before film production, which allows us to understand how important was the role played by music in Leone’s films.

Probably the best-known theme is that of Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo / The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which, with its howling coyotes (actually performed by two men), soon became a worldwide hit. It is a frequent motif throughout the film, played with a different instrument for each of the three main characters: flute for the good, ocarina for the bad, human voices for the ugly. Besides the main theme, we can also mention The Ecstasy of Gold, an iconic melody chosen by the Ramones to conclude their live shows and as intro by Metallica since 1983.

The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino
US film director Quentin Tarantino. Photo by Georges Biard, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

After using pieces of Morricone’s scores for years, Quentin Tarantino’s dream of having almost an entire soundtrack written by Ennio Morricone came true with The Hateful Eight. The film includes unused music composed by Morricone for The Thing, Regan’s Theme from The Exorcist II, and original tracks – but no whistling. For Morricone, it was the first western since 1981 and the score earned him numerous awards, including a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and an Oscar.

Farewell, Maestro

We want to conclude with the words of British film director and producer Edgar Wright: “He could make an average movie into a must see, a good movie into art, and a great movie into legend. He hasn’t been off my stereo my entire life. What a legacy of work he leaves behind. RIP.”


Featured image: The Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia performing at Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome in 2011. Photo by 00santacecilia00 licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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