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Ennio Morricone is an Italian composer whose music is instantly recognizable, using an interesting fusion of pre-existing genres such as classical, folk and popular. He has scored more than 400 films, perhaps most famouslyThe Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Equally important are his concert works which include absolute music. He has also worked as an orchestrator, conductor and composer for various venues including the theatre, radio and cinema.
Morricone was born in Rome in 1928. He followed in his father’s footsteps and learned the trumpet. As a trumpeter, he substituted secretly for his father in a light music orchestra, giving him exposure to popular and mass-media music. He was also a composition student of Goffredo Petrassi, a proponent of modern music, at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia. Under Petrassi, Morricone learned serialism and was introduced to the work of the improvisation group Nuova Consonanza. In the popular genre, he worked as an arranger for radio songs, radio and television plays and variety shows. His work helped the first Italian singer-songwriters, including Gianni Morandi and Gino Paoli, establish themselves.
Morricone’s film career began with the Luciano Salce film Il Federale (1961). His first big success in film music came with the series of Westerns, beginning withA Fistful of Dollars (1964) directed by Sergio Leone, who Morricone claimed ‘wanted more from music that other directors—he always gave it more space’. Other films in the series areFor a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), Once Upon a Time in The West (1968) and A Fistful of Dynamite (1971). Leone described their partnership as ‘a marriage like Catholics used to be married before the divorce laws’. Following this, he went on to collaborate with other important Italian directors such as Bernardo Bertolucci, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Elio Petri and Paolo and Vittorino Taviani. In total, he scored more than 400 films.
In addition to the westerns, Morricone’s most famous films include The Battle of Algiers(1965); Sacco and Vanzetti (1971); Cinema Paradiso (1988); The Legend of 1900, Malena; The Untouchables(1987); Once Upon a Time in America (1984); The Mission(1986) and U-Turn (1997).
The style of Morricone’s film music is an interesting fusion of pre-existing genres such as classical, folk and popular. This is already in his first film with Leone, in which he uses a combination of synthetic folk, contemporary, urban rock and a choral/orchestral style. Beginning withGiù la testa (1971), Morricone began experimenting with rhythmic and harmonic ‘modules’ or ‘micro-cells’ of four, eight or 16 beats. The juxtaposition of these modules allows Morricone to create different moods and styles. This technique is at its prime inThe Mission.
Outside of film music, Morricone’s passion for absolute music, with more than 100 works, is evident. Though he composed just a few works within this genre in the 1940s,ll mattino for piano and voice (1946), Imitazione for piano and voice (1947) andIntimità for piano and voice (1947), he composed much more in the 1950s and then again prolifically from the 1980s. Some of his notable concert works include Concerto per Orchestra n. 1 (1957),Cantata per L’Europa (1988), Ombra di lontana presenza(1997), Sicilo ed altri frammenti (2007) and Vuoto d’anima piena(2008). The peak of his chamber music can be seen in the three pieces for cello,Riflessi (1989-90).
Beginning in 2001, Morricone began an intense period of conducting both his film and concert music in concert halls throughout the world. Morricone has received many honours with his recordings, including 27 gold discs, seven platinum disc and three Golden Plates. Additionally, he received the Critica discografica award for his music toIl Prato (1979). His music to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,which begins with the familiar coyote howl, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2010, he received the Polar Music Prize.
The last decade of Morricone’s career has featured many scores for various television series such asUn difetto di famiglia (2002), Musashi (2002), L’Ultimo dei Corleonesi(2007) and Memories of Anne Frank (2009). His music has also been used recently in films such as Quentin Tarantino’sKill Bill (2003), Death Proof(2007), Inglorious Bastards (2009) and Django Unchained (2012).
In 2013, Morricone began another world tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his film career. Morricone composed the cantataVoices from the Silence in response to 9/11; the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed this work in 2014 under Riccardo Mutti. The same year, Morricone collaborated with Giuseppe Tornatore on a documentary about himself. Continuing his tour in 2015, Morricone performed for more than 150,000 people.
Morricone’s newest concert work is his Mass for Pope Francis (2015), which he conducted in June 2015. The work was commissioned by the Jesuit Order to celebrate the 200 year anniversary of the re-congregation of the Jesuit Order in Rome.
Also in 2015, Morricone collaborated with Quentin Tarantino to create an original soundtrack,The Hateful Eight (2015), which was premiered on 7 December 2015 and received a Golden Globe nomination the next day. Morricone’s original soundtrack for Giuseppe Tornatore’sThe Correspondence (2015) was released on 15 January 2016.Lo sguardo della musica (2016), for which he wrote the music, is currently being filmed.
Despite Morricone’s vast array of works in various genres, he is still most identified by his work in westerns, which is interesting since, of his 400 plus film scores, only 35 are westerns.
Morricone writes all of his scores himself, never delegating the work to others, making his number of film scores even more incredible. In addition to the westerns he composed forQueimada (1969) and Novecento (1976). He also composed horror scores for Argento and Carpenter and gangster films.
Morricone is an Officier de l’Ordre de Arts et des Lettres and a Commendatore dell’Ordine ‘Al Merito della Repubblica Italiana’. For his film music he has received five Academy Award nominations, a Grammy and a Leone d’oro. He also received the Laurea ad Honorem from the University of Cagliari.