Composers and music supervisors and producers pay tribute to the maestro of movie music who died this week
When it comes to levelling up the moving picture with the addition of a stirring soundtrack, Ennio Morricone was the maestro. He scored over 400 movies, creating the iconic sound of the Western with his partnership with Sergio Leone, but he also amped up the atmosphere with giallo director Dario Argento and found his frivolous side in the 60s and 70s when he created the sound of swinging Euro comedies.
Unsurprisingly, Morricone’s work has been an inspiration to many composers, musicians, producers and execs working in film, television, commercials and gaming today. Following his death, at the age of 91, an orchestra of talent has come together to talk about what Morricone’s music meant to them.
Mike Bamford, Founding Partner, String and Tins
I saw him at the O2 in 2015 with 86 strong Czech National Symphony Orchestra and 76 piece choir. Whilst he cut a fairly diminutive figure in front of them all - he was wielding Dumbledore levels of power when The Ecstasy of Gold reached its peak.
Ayla Owen, VP, Sync & Creative Services, Warner Chappell Music
Although I’d heard his Spaghetti Western themes throughout my childhood without even realising it, it was Ennio Morricone’s heart-piercingly poignant score for Nuovo Cinema Paradiso that stopped me dead in my tracks, and which absolutely slays me to this day. I first saw this masterpiece in a run-down art house cinema in Washington DC back in the humid summer of ‘93. I was young and in love, and it felt like the soundtrack was written just for me. It is the mark of a true musical genius when a score sounds instantly iconic, and even now when I hear the ‘Cinema Paradiso’ theme I’m transported back to the steamy village square of Palazzo Adriano on a paralysing wave of nostalgia. There are others of equal beauty that move me enormously, such as ‘Deborah’s Theme’ from Once Upon A Time In America, but Nuovo Cinema Paradiso is different. It’s personal. Thank you Signor Morricone, for composing that Summer of my youth, just for me.
Lucas Mayer, Composer, Music Producer and Co-founder, DaHouse.
Ennio Morricone died this week.
He was a reference for every film songwriter I know.
I don't feel like making a list of the ten best soundtracks of his career. You can look it up online.
But, if you are a composer working for advertising agencies, you already composed something inspired by Ennio Morricone.
The first film I remember watching with his work was For a Few Dollars More, the guitar riff is memorable.
He even inspired the guys from New Order with that sequence of notes:
In my studios, we always refer to this kind of riff as Morricone's guitar. Almost all songs of my band, The Client Said No have some notes with this reverb bringing emotion and this epic feeling. Listen to Back Into Your Arms guitars, for example.
Two years ago DDB Berlin asked us for a soundtrack for this VW commercial. We had to compose something expressing the emotion of the kid, like an epic film, so here comes the Moricone's Guitar again. In this one, we added a Morricone's Whistle as well.
And in the end, a little bit of that Stranger Things Synth that everybody asked on briefs that time.
I know he didn't compose only western, but he created a style in this genre.
Can you imagine when your name can sum up a brief?
Paul Stroud, Composer, MassiveMusic:
As a composer, particularly one that writes to picture, I have approximately the same chance of missing the water after falling from a boat as I do missing the blackhole-like gravitational influence of Ennio Morricone. Amongst the handful of truly great film composers, Morricone stands out; seemingly pulling work from undiscovered territory with such confidence that we believe it has always been there. His ease in creating something unexpected but so readily embraced by the listener is a superhero ability.
The sheer boldness of his work is unlike any other; how does one write so iconically? So colourfully? Such thick brushstrokes yet with such grace. It’s not just his incredibly well-crafted raw compositions that are so sublime, but his choice of instrument combinations, textures he achieved and melodies so present they stand like characters in the films he wrote for. And at a time when sample library mockups weren’t a thing, he knew exactly how it would sound and the emotional effect it would have before entering the sound stage. Unlike many of his peers, Morricone cannot be heard before Morricone. I can’t imagine ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ not being in our musical lexicon. It is that Ennio Morricone was able to bring the previously unthought-of into existence that moves me. I want to think like Morricone.
Steve Spiro, Creative Director, Felt Music
Ennio Morricone, composer, orchestrator and conductor, born in Rome November 1928 and died 6 July 2020
If ever a name was synonymous with movie soundtracks, it was Ennio Morricone. Although it took the Hollywood film industry until 2007 to reward Morricone with an honorary Academy Award, after he had been nominated on five separate occasions without winning an Oscar, his scores for “The Good The Bad and The Ugly” (1966), “Once Upon A Time In The West” (1968) and “The Mission” (1986) are among the best-known and most accomplished ever written. In 2016 he won the Oscar for best original score for his work on Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”. Morricone’s score sold three million copies, and his soundtrack albums for subsequent Leone westerns would prove even more successful – released in 1972, his “Once Upon A Time In The West” score would sell 10 million. Having sold 70 million records, Ennio Morricone was also a touring superstar in his own right, and performed his music live right up until the beginning of this year. I had the privilege of seeing him perform in 2003 at The Royal Albert Hall with a full orchestra and 70 mm screen showing clips from some of his most notable films. It was probably one of the most moving concerts I’ve ever seen. Now deeply embedded in popular culture, his scores will forever represent the fatalistic heroism of galloping into the great unknown, as steeped in myth and glory as the old west it evoked. Other famous scores include “Cinema Paradiso” and “Once Upon A Time In America”
The thing that most struck me about Morricone’s compositions are the memorable and timeless hook-lines he wrote for his main themes. He would often use an instrument or sound to represent the films key characters. His choice of sounds and instruments became synonymous with his scores, using twangy electric guitars, coyote howling and the sound of cracking whips. Having a featured top-line performed by a soprano singer, harmonica, oboe or even a solo whistle gave his scores a memorable intimacy and drama that made his sound so iconic.
RIP Ennio and thank you for the great legacy of immortal scores and cinematic inspiration you have left behind.
Jennie Whitehouse-Vaux, Account Manager, BMG Production Music
I was quite young when I first became aware of Ennio Morricone having been introduced to his music by my dad, who is a big Spaghetti Western fan. I have always been fascinated by film soundtracks and was immediately struck by the individuality of Morricone's scores and the interesting and sometimes unusual combination of instruments he chose to write with. His use of voice in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly intrigued me, from the low male chanting, the ‘coyote howl’ and the whistling in the main theme to the beauty of Edda Dell’Orso’s voice in The Ecstasy of Gold, which cuts through so gracefully in such a male focussed film.
He was clearly best known for his Spaghetti Westerns, but his scores for films in other genres deserve just as much attention. The delicacy with which he treated his solo instruments, like the oboe in The Mission and the pan pipes in Once Upon a Time in America, brought so much emotion to the scenes. Despite the variation throughout all his scores, they are always undeniably Morricone.
He has definitely been an inspiration for my own compositions, especially incorporating different vocal textures within a piece and his stunning use of chord progressions. His ability to complement the visuals within a film through his music was truly masterful, and we have undeniably lost one of the greats.
Dave Reynaud, Composer, Mcasso
Morricone’s creativity and musicality as a composer and performer not only enhanced the cinematic film score but went on to define it. He displayed an extraordinary talent that repeatedly transformed what might have been any accompanying soundtrack into an inseparable counterpart, creating the perfect marriage between the music and the moving image.
Think of cowboys riding their trusty four-legged steeds across windswept desert plains with their clinking spurs and you think of the unmistakable flute Leitmotif from ‘The Good, The Bad And The Ugly’. Think of the mortally wounded Frank (Henry Fonda) in the closing scenes of ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ and you will haunted by the dying sounds of the Harmonica and its “Death Rattle”. Morricone was a master in crafting musical symbols, identities and meanings from single instruments all the way up to the full orchestral toolbox. He could tell a whole story in a single melody, popularising and becoming synonymous with every genre in which he chose to work. He pushed boundaries and was always experimental in finding just the right sound for the job.
I’ve always found it hard to watch one of his films or listen to one of his soundtracks and imagine hearing anything different, and that for me is what makes him one of the greatest composers.
James Radford, Composer and Music Supervisor, Radford Music
I first saw ‘The Mission’ back in 1986 when I was 14.
It was a day that left an everlasting impression on me and was the moment that inspired me to pursue a career in the music industry as a composer and music supervisor. I can still remember walking out of the cinema having been changed forever by the exquisite beauty of the music I’d just heard. This was when I first discovered the incredibly powerful connection between music and picture and its ability to evoke such extraordinary emotions. Morricone was an absolute master of this skill and ability.
Today in my role as a music supervisor for commercials I am always searching for memorable, emotive and instantly relatable pieces of music that stand out from the crowd. Morricone’s genius was an ability to not only create palpable tension and drama in scenes but also to score some of the most memorable and beautiful film themes of all time. Morricone was the master of writing melodies that remain embedded in the consciousness long after the final credits roll.
For me Morricone was, and always will be, the greatest composer in cinematic history and I thank him for providing me with the inspiration to follow my dream.
Juan Cortes, composers, The Record House
Film and music have very little in common. More often than not, the relationship between director and composer could be defined as a marriage at the edge of divorce.
Today we say goodbye to one of the greatest musical minds of the last century. Ennio’s legacy will be remembered for generations, not only through his vast musical catalogue, but also through the indelible mark he left on every film composer alive today.
To understand Morricone's genius, we have to briefly talk about how film and music work. Music relies in form and other musical elements, like harmony and rhythm, for it to be musical. Music in film has the terrible challenge to break form and to not be boring but intriguing, to not be functional but creative, to not be horrible but beautiful. It is a terrible challenge, and oftentimes incredibly frustrating. You often end up with a score full of odd time signatures and incomplete musical phrases. Ennio geniusly relies on his vast musical knowledge of both form and language. He not only could make any scene musical, but also can take the lead in the narrative in each scene with his masterful understanding of it. You can’t picture Clint Eastwood without singing Ennio’s theme for “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. “Cinema Paradiso” would not feel as intense without that roaring loving theme. Tarantino’s “Hateful 8” would not be as hateful without the fury of that bass clarinet.
Ennio’s legacy, to me, is how he taught us to write music for film. Thank you Ennio. Without you, film music would be more terrible.
Jane Carter, Managing Director, Universal Production Music UK
There is a wealth of music written for film and yet only a few select film composers achieve true global recognition. Ennio Morricone is one of those. His unique style has touched the souls of so many people not to mention the many composers and musicians he has inspired. It is an honour to represent some of the Maestro’s music in our catalogue at Universal Production Music. We strive for quality and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was one of the greatest film music composers of our time. As an oboist myself, learning to play in the 80s, I was always looking for music beyond Handel, Vivaldi and Mozart! I loved Morricone’s film music and after watching “The Mission” I became obsessed with Gabriel’s Oboe and used to play it over and over again. I’m sure I drove the neighbours’ mad not to mention my family, but it is one of his most brilliant evocative pieces of music. All of us in music and in film are extremely lucky to have enjoyed Morricone’s work for so many years. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.
Charlie Howard, Audio Producer, String and Tins
The loss of Ennio is one of the deepest to film and music. He is someone who's calibre of work will stand the test of time not only because of its quality because of its importance. There are few people who manage to give life to motion picture with music in the way he did; a Titan of simplicity and creativity. Morricone was the first for me, to champion what was almost pure imagination, I still to this day find it hard to imagine any other music being viable options in place of what he has given us. The slow thud of drums and the harrowing whistle on that western to the piano and strings of Paradiso (which could walk in to any Ghibli film and work perfectly) show you how versatile his view was, but the legacy of showing us what a film score should and could be is the real gold we were given.
Ennio is truly one of the greatest. He devoted his whole life to music – “In love as in art, perseverance is everything,” he once said. “I don’t know if love at first sight and supernatural intuition exist. I know that tenacity exists, as well as consistency, reliability, endurance”. He now passes on an artistic legacy that feels larger than life itself. He was able to describe a whole world in a composition, with the music itself being the poetry. Everyone showed reverence to him. Yet, as if often happens to the greatest, he received many Oscar nominations but won one only in 2016.
Everyone will always want ‘a piece of Morricone’. Just think of all the times a client uses his music as a reference, or all the rappers (!) who sampled his music – from Wu-Tang Clan (‘Rushing Elephants’), Jay-Z (‘Blueprint²’), Eminem (‘Bad Meets Evil’) to Italian rappers Co’ Sang (‘Niente a Vedé Cu Ll’ Ati’) and Articolo 31 (‘Il Mondo Dove Vivo’), just to name a few. He’s more than the one who defined the sound of the Spaghetti Western. He’s the one who created epic music. To Italy and the world, he will always be this sublime unachievable mastermind. “I hope we will turn into sounds. After all, if that's what we were originally, it seems plausible to think that we will go back to it”. A full-package visionary. I’m not surprised he eventually became music on a full moon.
Adam Smyth, Sound Designer & Composer, String and Tins
Any film score fan knows Ennio Morricone's work. Any music fan knows Ennio Morricone's work. A true sign of his brilliance. His music made good films great and great films legendary. He was an astonishing storyteller and left behind a huge contribution to cinema. 'Ecstasy of Gold' from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly score still stops me in my tracks. Back in November 2018, I got to see Ennio Morricone perform his music live with a huge orchestra and choir. He entered the O2 like an 89-year old rockstar and gave us three hours, two encores and an experience I'll never forget. Ciao Maestro.
Image credit: By Sven-Sebastian Sajak - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47479017