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Arguably one of the most celebrated and influential film composers in the history of the medium, Ennio Morricone penned the iconic themes for such films as "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" (1967), "Days of Heaven" (1978), "The Mission" (1986), "The Untouchables" (1987) and "Cinema Paradiso" (1988). The "spaghetti Westerns" of Sergio Leone and others helped introduce Morricone to global audiences, and his music - an arresting blend of orchestra, folk instruments, elements of pop and rock music and a wall of offbeat sounds ranging from vocal choruses to clanging bells, gunshots and whip cracks - helped to make him an international sensation. Morricone was adept at nearly every musical approach, from wistful melodies in "Paradiso" and "Bugsy" (1992) to thunderous suspense in "The Untouchables" to jazz, swing, bossa nova, proto-electronica, rock and avant-garde. In the five decades of his busy career, he garnered countless admirers and devoted imitators, all of whom paid fervent tribute to a composer whose talents were vast, far-reaching and altogether timeless.Born Nov. 10, 1928 in Rome, Italy, he was the son of Mario Morricone, a jazz trumpeter, whose love of music clearly translated to his child. He...
Arguably one of the most celebrated and influential film composers in the history of the medium, Ennio Morricone penned the iconic themes for such films as "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" (1967), "Days of Heaven" (1978), "The Mission" (1986), "The Untouchables" (1987) and "Cinema Paradiso" (1988). The "spaghetti Westerns" of Sergio Leone and others helped introduce Morricone to global audiences, and his music - an arresting blend of orchestra, folk instruments, elements of pop and rock music and a wall of offbeat sounds ranging from vocal choruses to clanging bells, gunshots and whip cracks - helped to make him an international sensation. Morricone was adept at nearly every musical approach, from wistful melodies in "Paradiso" and "Bugsy" (1992) to thunderous suspense in "The Untouchables" to jazz, swing, bossa nova, proto-electronica, rock and avant-garde. In the five decades of his busy career, he garnered countless admirers and devoted imitators, all of whom paid fervent tribute to a composer whose talents were vast, far-reaching and altogether timeless.
Born Nov. 10, 1928 in Rome, Italy, he was the son of Mario Morricone, a jazz trumpeter, whose love of music clearly translated to his child. He took up his father's instrument at nine and began formal training in composition and choral music at the National Academy of Santa Cecilia at age 12. Various reports cite his talents as so prodigious at this point that he completed the four-year course in either six months or two years. After graduation, he continued to work in classic composition and arrangement, though his studies were frequently interrupted by the chaos and horror of World War II, which saw Rome subjected to frequent bombings by Allied forces. In the years following the war, he began composing music for radio dramas. He also supported himself as a jazz trumpeter and pop music arranger; first for the Italian state public broadcaster RAI, and later for RCA. Morricone's pop arrangements featured the dramatic and eclectic flare that he brought to his film scores with blasts of brassy trumpets, wall-to-wall vocal choruses, twangy, surf-style guitar and soaring leads.
In the early 1960s, Morricone branched out into film scoring. His early efforts were largely traditional affairs, following the orchestral sweep of American and European composers. Even his Westerns (prior to 1964) were solid if unremarkable in their scoring. However, an arrangement of an American folk song caught the attention of director Sergio Leone - a former schoolmate of Morricone's - that heard exactly what he wanted for his directorial debut, a Western starring American actor Clint Eastwood. The film was "Fistful of Dollars" (1964), and the film would revolutionize the Western genre and world cinema in general with its operatic violence, mile-wide vistas and hyper-stylized production. Morricone's score matched Leone's vision in every way, blending folk instruments like jaw harps and harmonicas with stinging Fender guitar lines and a relentlessly chanting male vocal chorus. The music did not play under the scene, but was rather an inherent part of the film itself, unsettling the audience in tense moments, goosing a laugh in others. It was quite unlike any other movie score heard prior to "Fistful," and it launched Morricone's career as a world-class composer. In the tradition of most European filmmakers wishing their pictures to have international audiences, Leone and Morricone signed their names on "Fistful" with Anglicized pseudonyms - Leone was "Leo Nichols," while Morricone was "Dan Savio." The international success of "Fistful," however, made such smoke screens unnecessary for future projects.
Morricone would score all of Leone's directorial efforts, which included "For a Few Dollars More" (1965), the sequel to "Fistful," as well as his masterpieces, "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" (1967) and "Once Upon a Time in the West" (1969). The popularity of these films made Morricone an in-demand composer for other Italian and European directors, many of whom hoped that a score by him would translate into similar box office results. By 1965, Morricone was writing and composing music for up to 10 movies a year in all genres - from other "spaghetti Westerns" and horror films to spy pictures, dramas, caper films, comedies and virtually everything in between. He soon developed working relationships with directors similar to the one he enjoyed with Leone, including the controversial Pier Paolo Pasolini with "Teorema" (1968) and "The Decameron" (1971); Bernardo Bertolucci with "Before the Revolution" (1964); and horror auteur Dario Argento with "The Cat O'Nine Tails" (1971). Other notable projects during the 1960s and early 1970s included Gillo Pontecorvo's "Battle of Algiers" (1966) and "Burn!" (1968); Mario Bava's comic book tribute "Danger: Diabolik" (1968); Giuliano Montaldo's "Machine Gun McCain" (1969); Henri Verneuil's "The Sicilian Clan" (1969) and Elio Petri's "Investigation of a Citizen Under Suspicion" (1969).
Amazingly, Morricone rarely repeated himself, despite the sheer number of films he worked on at a single time; there were recurring motifs, like his vocal choruses or brass and string passages, but those who followed Morricone's work saw him experiment with, and often times master genres of pop, rock, classical, avant-garde and even electronic music in his scores. His invaluable partners in most of these films were conductor Bruno Nicolai and the Cantori Moderni, a vocal group led by childhood friend Alessandro Alessandroni, whose whistle and guitar work were major elements of Morricone's work. Moderni singer Edda dell'Orso was also a key player; her soaring, operatic soprano was as much a part of Morricone's orchestra as the brass and woodwinds.
Arguably, his greatest score of the period, and the one that would come to define Morricone's style, was for Leone's "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly." A brawny, sprawling Western epic that concluded his three films about Clint Eastwood's cynical "Man with No Name," the film's main title was an astonishing three-minute distillation of Morricone's genre efforts from the 1960s. As Alessandroni's whistle and the Moderni's voice imitate howling winds and animal cries, a barrage of instruments and noises - from whip cracks and guitars to thundering percussion - led a veritable cavalry charge on the listener's senses. The theme, as well as the sonic overdrive of "The Ecstasy of Gold," which underscores the final showdown between Eastwood and co-stars Lee Van Cleef (the Bad) and Eli Wallach (the Ugly), came to define cinematic toughness and conflict for the next 40 years. The theme also became a massive hit on the pop charts for both Morricone and Hugo Montenegro, who released a version in 1968.
Morricone's fame began to attract the attention of Hollywood in the late 1960s when producer Dino De Laurentiis hired him to score 20th Century Fox's production of "The Bible: In the Beginning " (1966). However, his music would not grace a film made in North America until 1971's "Two Mules for Sister Sara," a Clint Eastwood Western directed by Don Siegel. It would not be until the late '70s when he would find regular work in the American film industry, beginning in 1977 with his haunting, African-influenced music for John Boorman's ill-fated "Exorcist II: The Heretic." A year later, he rebounded with one of his most stately and gorgeous orchestral scores for Terrence Malick's "Days of Heaven" (1978). The film would garner his first Academy Award nomination, and was a highlight of a decade marked by typical eclecticism: Morricone's '70s output included everything from Bertolucci's "1900," Pasolini's heart-stopping "Salo" (1975) and the original "La cage aux folles" (1978) to B-pictures like "Orca" (1977) and even episodes of "Space: 1999" (ITC, 1975-77).
The 1980s saw Morricone as busy as ever, but producing some of his most enduring work since the 1960s. He recorded his final collaboration with Leone for 1984's "Once Upon a Time in America," the director's ill-fated gangster epic that brought his storied career to an ignoble close. In its wake, however, he struck fresh and fertile relationships with such directors as Roland Joffe, Giuseppe Tornatore and Brian De Palma. Each of these collaborations yielded impressive results: his score for Joffe's "The Mission" (1986), which blended South American traditional folk music with Western liturgical motifs, was a substantial hit on the pop charts and earned him a second Oscar nomination. A third Academy Award nod came the following year for his edgy, electric music for De Palma's "The Untouchables" (1987). "Cinema Paradiso" (1988) for Tornatore, emphasized his effortless ability to compose emotionally moving and memorable film music after three decades and literally hundreds of scores. He would reunite with all three directors through the decade and into the 1990s on films like "Fat Man and Little Boy" (1989), "City of Joy" (1992) and "Everybody's Fine" (1990). Morricone also scored a considerable pop hit with "Chi Mai," a composition originally recorded for 1971's "Maddelena," but used to great effect in 1981's "Le Professionnel" and the BBC Wales drama "The Life and Times of David Lloyd George" (1982).
The 1990s saw Morricone working regularly with such directors as Barry Levinson, whose "Bugsy" (1992) brought a fourth Oscar nomination, as well as Pedro Almodovar on "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" (1990), Franco Zefferelli on "Hamlet" (1990) and "Bugsy" star Warren Beatty, who tapped him to score his romance with real-life wife Annette Bening in "Love Affair" (1994) and provide mournful music for his political satire "Bulworth" (1998). There were also reunions with Clint Eastwood in Wolfgang Peterson's "In the Line of Fire" (1993) and Dario Argento in the disturbing "Stendahl Syndrome" (1996). A fifth Oscar nomination came for Tornatore's "Malena" in 2000; it was just one of numerous honors bestowed upon the composer during this period, including a Golden Globe for "The Legend of 1900" (1998) and a Golden Lion from the 1995 Venice Film Festival.
The turn of the new millennium marked Morricone's fifth decade as a composer, and found him still active, though mostly in his native Italy. His work, however, had made him an international legend; compositions and songs from his work were heard in television commercials and film scores, especially those of Quentin Tarantino, sampled in pop songs, and used as the inspiration for countless other scores. His overall influence on popular culture was so great that his music eventually became its own genre, with "Morricone-esque" evoking a sound that was grand, eclectic and adventurous. That unfettered creativity finally received its greatest tribute in 2007 when Morricone was awarded a special Oscar for career achievement. Presenting him with the award, and translating his heartfelt speech from his native tongue, was Clint Eastwood, whose own career had followed an upward trajectory since their first collaboration in 1964.
That same year, Sony Records released We All Love Ennio Morricone, a tribute album timed to coincide with the Oscar presentation. The CD compiled covers of some of his best-known tracks by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Celine Dion, Metallica (who opened each of their concerts with his "Ecstasy of Gold") and Andrea Bocelli. Springsteen's rendition of "Once Upon a Time in the West" netted Morricone a Grammy, and the album itself was a bonafide hit. He also busied himself for the better part of the decade with a world tour that presented his greatest themes to audiences in London, Mexico City, New York, Vienna and points across the globe. During his stop in New York, he presented a concert for the United Nations, which included a compositional tribute to the new Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon.
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There have been persistent (but erroneous) rumors that Morricone and composer Nicola Piovani are one and the same. This information has appeared in print several times in sources ranging from the 1981 book-length study of film music "Keeping Score" to a filmography in the August 1989 Premiere by John Clark to "The Encyclopedia of Film". It has been refuted by the usually reliable Film Dope and Fabiano Canosa, the film director of the Public Theater. In 1999, Piovani won an Oscar for composing the score to "La Vita E Bella/Life Is Beautiful" and in press interviews once again addressed the false rumor.
"With a film score, I'm concerned with the needs of the director, with public taste and with bourgeois culture. With symphonic music, I'm free." --Ennio Morricone on why he works on choral pieces between his film work, quoted in Time Out New York, October 7-14, 2000.
Morricone on his legendary score for "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly": "I knew Leone was making a Western parody. It was a picaresque film, with characters that were caricatures and paradoxical behavior. He told me what he was doing and I knew what he wanted. He didn't ask for anything I didn't even read the script." --to Daily News, January 21, 2001.
"Especially in America, there is a feeling among producers and directors that a film has a greater chance if there is a song. It isn't their fault. It is the fault of radio, because radio will only play a song, not instrumental music. But I think it is a mistake." --Morricone on the dying art of film scores, to Daily News, January 21, 2001.
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