Cinemusic: The Works Of ENNIO MORRICONE - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Cinemusic: The Works Of ENNIO MORRICONE

Chris Morley looks at the life and work of Italian composer Ennio Morricone.

The Oscar winning composer Ennio Moricone sadly passed away today. Responsible for over 400 scores for cinema and television, as well as over 100 classical compositions, he leaves an enviable body of work.

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.

Then came the Sixties, and the first fruits of his association with director Sergio 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, and the populisation of the spaghetti western.

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 and 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 discovered how 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 in Morricone's spaghetti western work we hear gunshots, whip cracks & whistles alongside bursts of Fender, vocals & trumpet.

Subsequent to the success of the Dollars trilogy, Morricone composed the scores for several of Leone's other films (as either director or producer) including A Fistful of Dynamite (1971), My Name Is Nobody (1973) and A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe (1975). Morricone's score for '68's Once Upon a Time in the West remains one of the best-selling original instrumental scores in the world today, with up to 10 million copies sold!

Morricone's influence has been felt far and wide, with filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino & John Carpenter & citing him as inspirational. Both working with him, the latter several decades before the former when Ennio provided the score for The Thing. No slouch as a composer himself, Carpenter would later tell Esquire that contrary to popular myth it was his decision as opposed to Universal Pictures' to ask Moricone 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 they did!

By 1986 Morricone 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.

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."
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.

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.

Like his multiple works with Leone, Morricone often collaborated several times with the same director on larger Hollywood productions. On three occasions he worked with Brian De Palma: The Untouchables (1987), the 1989 war drama Casualties of War and the science fiction film Mission to Mars (2000). Morricone's score for The Untouchables resulted in his third nomination for Academy Award for Best Original Score.

Another American director Morricone collaborated with more than once is Barry Levinson, commissioning the composer for the 1991 crime-drama Bugsy, and 1994s Disclosure. As Levinson told The New York Times:
"He doesn't have a piano in his studio, I always thought that with composers, you sit at the piano, and you try to find the melody. There's no such thing with Morricone. He hears a melody, and he writes it down. He hears the orchestration completely done".
Morricone's genius is not lost on many of the world's most popular recording artists. His trademark spaghetti western sound can be heard on Muse's Knights Of Cydonia (Note also the video's nods to Leone's work in front of the camera), and in tribute to Moricone the band often uses The Man With The Harmonica by way of a live introduction to the song.

Metallica, also, pay tribute to Ennio and 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 of The Ecstasy Of Gold on a 2007 tribute album simply entitled We All Love Ennio Morricone...

...the album also featuring Roger Waters, Quincy Jones, Celine Dion and Bruce Springsteen.

With a lifetime of composition, it's impossible to mention everything Ennio Morricone has worked on, but it is, perhaps, a fitting tribute that his last major work saw him win his first competitive Academy Award - Best Original Score being awarded for his contribution to Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. Fitting because it was his return to the western after a 34 year gap from the genre.

Ennio Morricone, 10 November 1928 – 6 July 2020.

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