To Italy now as we look at the heyday of the spaghetti western, helped along by director Sergio Leone & his composer of choice Ennio Morricone. We know already that he's been cited as an influence on everyone from John Carpenter to Quentin Tarantino, so its only fair we afford him his moment in the spotlight!
Taught by his father Mario, a professional musician, young Ennio started out as a trumpet player at the National Academy of St Cecilia - patron saint of music no less - in Rome, his place of birth. By the late '50s he was to work for the Italian broadcast service RAI but quit after just a day after learning of a company rule forbidding employees' own music from being broadcast, similar to the BBC's own edict which at least initially barred Trevor Duncan before he hit on the idea of using a pseudonym to get around it. Then came the Sixties, and the first fruits of his association with Leone. '64 saw the release of A Fistful Of Dollars, with a first spin at being the star for Clint Eastwood as the (leading) Man With No Name.
The catch- all term "spaghetti western" mostly refers to the fact that the majority of the films shoehorned into the genre were made in Italy & indeed directed by citizens of the country famous for looking like a boot on world maps. Lessons learnt while working on comedies & costume dramas would be put to use by Morricone, who'd learned to write simple yet catchy themes. Handy when you're working to a budget. Tight finances meant he wouldn't have access to a full orchestral ensemble - but his creative enterprise ensured the compromises would go down as hallmarks of scoring for future such films. Hence we hear gunshots, whip cracks & whistles alongside bursts of Fender, vocals & trumpet. All of which can be heard on Muse's Knights Of Cydonia (Note also the video's nods to Leone's work in front of the camera?). In tribute to Moricone, the band often uses The Man With The Harmonica by way of a live introduction to the song.
Not to be left out, Metallica have been using The Ecstasy Of Gold as live introductory music since being dragged up thrashing with Kill' Em All in 1983. They would later include their own version on a tribute album simply entitled We All Love Ennio Morricone (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a41bERTFBUI).
Whether Morricone's partial to a little Master Of Puppets has never been recorded!
A year prior to James Hetfield & friends' big début, though, Morricone was working with John Carpenter on The Thing. No slouch as a composer himself, John would later tell Esquire that contrary to popular myth it was his decision as opposed to Universal Pictures' to ask Ennio to provide its score.
"They didn't ask him. I did. I thought it was a great idea because he's a real composer. He's brilliant, I loved his score. It wasn't that I wasn't chosen to do the score necessarily. The associate producer [Larry Franco] was a friend of mine from college. And he suggested, "What about Ennio Morricone?" So I said, "Wow, could we get him?""Get him he did. And by 1986 he was hard at work on what has gone down as another of his best known soundtracks, for Roland Joffe's The Mission, a tale of eighteenth century Jesuit missionaries & their quest to spread their faith to South America.
An interview with the National Catholic Register reveals more of the composer's own religious leanings.
"I am a man of faith, but faith doesn’t inspire me. I do not think about my faith when I write a piece of music. I think of the music that I have to write – music is an abstract art. But of course, when I have to write a religious piece, certainly my faith contributes to it.The Council was an important ecumenical- that is to say matters of faith & doctrine - body of the Catholic Church between 1545- 63. Ironic then that earlier Morricone had worked with a man who would arguably lean more towards the Devil! Dario Argento would initially work on several crime thrillers before switching to horror - more specifically giallo, or "yellow" in his native tongue in a nod to the yellow covers which could be found on novels of similar genre.
I recently wrote a secular cantata on the Gospel, the Bible, and the Koran for baritone and orchestra. I don’t have to think of God and, in general, if the text isn’t religious, there’s no reason to apply religious music to it and so there’s no reason to think about religion.
In The Mission, they called me to do the music for a film where the protagonists were Jesuits, the Jesuits who went on a mission to South America to be among the Indians, to make the Indians become Christians. What they brought with them was the Renaissance experience of the progress of instrumental music.
This is the first thing you see in the opening scenes of the movie when Father Gabriel teaches the violin to the two boys. Then they brought with them a post-Council of Trent experience – the reform of the music at the Council of Trent in the 15th century. They brought this music not only because they were the central characters, but also because, if they were to serve as religious, they had to offer the music that came out of the Council of Trent."
Four Flies On Grey Velvet is just one of Ennio's contributions to the genre alongside the likes of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage & The Cat O'Nine Tails, music just as important as elements of crime, thriller & slasher to the action on screen.
We'll be taking a closer look at Dario's collaborations with progressive rockers Goblin next time.