The Maestro

IMDB says that he has 519 credits as a film composer (this includes features, documentaries, shorts, and television) over an almost 60 year career. His first credited film composition was in 1961- Il federale (The Fascist.) He won his sole Academy Award in 2016 for Quentin Tarrintino’s The Hateful Eight. Before his film work, he composed for radio, television, and pop artists. He was Ennio Morricone. He died Monday 06 July 2020 at age 91, in Rome, Italy after complications from a fall.

I am not going to try carer summation and appraisal. There are plenty of them to be found. This is just a brief appreciation.

Ennio Morricone composed music for comedies, dramas, thrillers, Giallo, action, period pieces, science fiction, and westerns – most notably, Italian westerns. It was his collaboration with Sergio Leone on 1964’s un pugno di dollari – A Fistful of Dollars that exploded the careers of both men.

Interestingly, Morricone was not Leone’s initial choice as composer. In a blog I published just one day before Morricone’s death was announced, Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, the composer for Leone’s directorial debut The Colossus of Rhodes (1961), was the first choice. But he was not available. Leone then sought out Morricone because of his arrangement of vocals on some pop tune recordings. Wordless vocals are a major hallmark of the Morricone touch.

It was not the first western Morricone had written the music for – he composed the score for Gunfight in the Red Sands in 1963. And he would compose music for other non-Leone westerns, but he would be the composer all of the rest of Leone’s films. They are so linked, that it is near to impossible to think of a Leone film with thinking of Ennio Morricone’s music that goes with the film – from Fistful in 1964 to Leone’s final film, Once Upon a Time in America in 1984. For a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966), Once Upon a Time in The West (1968), Duck You Sucker (1971), and the Leone produced My Name is Nobody (1973) have the Morricone stamp on them.

There are so many films that Ennio Morricone composed music for, just scanning the list on IMDB is rather staggering: The Battle of Algiers (1965), Danger: Diabolik (1968), Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicon, The Bird with The Crystal Plumage (both 1970), Days of Heaven (1978), The Professional (1981), The Thing (1982), The Mission (1986), The Untouchables (1987), Cinema Paradiso (1988), and many more – some I recognize, others I don’t. These are just some of the films where the Morricone music made a positive impression on me.

Ennio Morricone was born 10 November 1928 in Rome, Italy. He began studying and composing music at an early age and never stopped. He died on 06 July 2020 in Rome, Italy.

Music in film, how and when it used, or not used can often be a major contributor to its success. The Maestro Morricone ranks with the greatest of the great film composers: Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rozsa, Alfred Newman, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Nino Rota, Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith, Max Steiner, Maurice Jarre, Franz Waxman, Dmitri Tiomkin – are the ones that come to my mind. I probably left some out, but that’s the way it goes.

I am not going to try and pick which of Ennio Morricone’s scores is the “best” or “greatest.” I will leave that to others. But I will say that his most famous score is the one for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly – Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (1966.) I will leave with one of my favorite pieces of Morricone from that soundtrack. “The Ecstasy of Gold.”