Ennio Morricone: The Whistling Melody of the Wild West Has Stopped Playing
On July 6, 2020, the 91-year old Italian composer passed away in Rome as a result of severe damages sustained after a fall. Only three years prior, he received his first Academy Award for his score in Quentin Tarantino’s film The Hateful Eight (2015), becoming the oldest person ever to win a competitive Oscar. As for the non-competitive awards, he had already won an Academy Honorary Award for his legendary career in the entertainment industry.
His achievements include a number of awards in both the music and film industry, turning himself into a legend and a source of inspiration for other influential artists such as Hans Zimmer, Muse, Metallica, and Radiohead. On top of that, his soundtrack for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) is considered one of the most significant pieces in history, which also made the Grammy Hall of Fame.
In Morricone’s own words, “[i]n love, as in the arts, consistency is everything. I do not even know if love at first sight exists, neither I know if I believe in supernatural intuitions. I just know that there is tempo, coherence, seriousness, and value.”
The Grandmaster of Film Music
The deep regard for his past instructors inspired him to learn the trumpet in the early days. He diligently studied this instrument in his youth, which eventually paved the way for him to compose one of the most suggestive soundtracks for Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964). At the time he used the pseudonym of Dan Savio, but shortly after the success of the aforementioned Spaghetti Western, his real name was set to become one of the most prestigious film composers in the world, especially after developing a filmmaking partnership with Sergio Leone.
There are few film composers whose work is as instantly recognizable as Ennio Morricone’s. When writing a score for a Spaghetti Western, he would use very peculiar tricks to make those evocative sounds – whistles, creaks, and cowbells – that feel like the mood and the rhetoric of the film were elegantly dueling along a thin thread stretched between violence and the irony of life.
This grandmaster’s work appeared in over 500 original soundtracks he produced along with the greatest artists of all time
Moving along, Morricone composed the music for a true Italian masterpiece that is Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (1988). The elements of melancholy in this drama combine with a profound sense of nostalgia that not only paints a sad, sentimental picture, but also adds layers to the characters’ psychology so much so that the entire plot acquires an almost epic aspect to it when it’s hit by the composer’s accompaniment.
The epic aspects of this grandmaster’s work appeared in over 500 original soundtracks he produced along with the greatest artists of all time, such as Terrence Malick, Bernardo Bertolucci, Brian de Palma, and Sergio Leone. His legendary status was corroborated by the fact that his work was always being re-used in films and TV. For instance, Tarantino reused many of his ‘70s themes in his Inglourious Basterds (2009), and derived a fantastic original song entitled “Ancora Qui” for his film Django Unchained (2012).
As we go down the line, the inevitable happened. For the new Hollywood sensation, Quentin Tarantino was able to convince Morricone to partake in one of his last projects and produce his final masterpiece that is “Last Stage to Red Rock,” the opening theme from The Hateful Eight (2015).
L’Ultima Diligenza per Red Rock:
The tender melody slowly builds darker and darker, with the nightmarish motif that fans remembered from his Spaghetti Western repertoire, where things escalate into a chaotic universe of tolling bells, human shouts, and choral barks. It’s no surprise that his excellence was recognized at the 88th Academy Awards.
As a creator myself, listening to his last composition connects me to something elemental, which allows me to build my own piece around the music. Morricone instilled in me the notion that every piece must be an expressive universe unto itself. Whether it’s through music, writing, or film, it doesn’t matter what form it manifests in as long as it uniquely stands on its own. That’s why the exceptional aspects of this grandmaster’s melodies will continue playing for generations to come.