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MikaelaArsenault

Ennio Morricone, Influential Creator of Music for Modern Cinema, Dies at 91

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https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/obituaries/ennio-morricone-dead.html
 

The Italian composer wrote atmospheric scores for spaghetti westerns and some 500 films by a Who’s Who of of international directors.

Ennio Morricone, the Italian composer whose atmospheric scores for spaghetti westerns and some 500 films by a Who’s Who of international directors made him one of the world’s most versatile and influential creators of music for the modern cinema, died on Monday in Rome. He was 91. 

His death was confirmed by his lawyer, Giorgio Assumma, who said that Mr. Morricone had been admitted to the hospital last week after falling and fracturing his femur.

To many cineastes, Maestro Morricone (pronounced more-ah-CONE-ay) was a unique talent,crafting melodic accompaniments to comedies, thrillers and historical dramas by Bernardo Bertolucci, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Terrence Malick, Roland Joffé, Brian De Palma, Barry Levinson, Mike Nichols, John Carpenter, Quentin Tarantino and other filmmakers.

Mr. Morricone scored many popular films of the past 40 years: Édouard Molinaro’s “La Cage aux Folles” (1978), Mr. Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), Mr. De Palma’s “The Untouchables” (1987), Roman Polanski’s “Frantic” (1988), Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Cinema Paradiso” (1988), Wolfgang Petersen’s “In the Line of Fire” (1993), and Mr. Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” (2015).
 

In 2016, Mr. Morricone won his first competitive Academy Award for his score for “The Hateful Eight,” an American western mystery thriller for which he also won a Golden Globe. In a career showered with honors, he had previously won an Oscar for lifetime achievement (2007) and was nominated for five other Academy Awards, and had won two Golden Globes, four Grammys and dozens of international awards.

But the work that made him world famous, and that was best known to moviegoers, was his blend of music and sound effects for Sergio Leone’s 1960s spaghetti westerns: a ticking pocket watch, a sign creaking in the wind, buzzing flies, a twanging Jew’s harp, haunting whistles, cracking whips, gunshots and a bizarre, wailing “ah-ee-ah-ee-ah,” played on a sweet potato-shaped wind instrument called an ocarina. 

Imitated, scorned, spoofed, what came to be known as “The Dollars Trilogy” — “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964), “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966), all released in the United States in 1967 — starred Clint Eastwood as “The Man With No Name” and were enormous hits, with a combined budget of $2 million and gross worldwide receipts of $280 million.
 

The trilogy’s Italian dialogue was dubbed, and the action was brooding and slow, with clichéd close-ups of gunfighters’ eyes. But Mr. Morricone, breaking the unwritten rule never to upstage actors with music, infused it all with wry sonic weirdness and melodramatic strains that many fans embraced with cultlike devotion and critics called viscerally true to Mr. Leone’s early vision of the Old West.

“In the films that established his reputation in the 1960s, the series of spaghetti westerns he scored for Mr. Leone, Mr. Morricone’s music is anything but a backdrop,” The New York Times critic Jon Pareles wrote in 2007. “It’s sometimes a conspirator, sometimes a lampoon, with tunes that are as vividly in the foreground as any of the actors’ faces.”
 

Mr. Morricone also scored Mr. Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968) and his Jewish gangster drama, “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984), both widely considered masterpieces. But he became most closely identified with “The Dollars Trilogy,” and in time grew weary of answering for their lowbrow sensibilities.

Asked by The Guardian in 2006 why “A Fistful of Dollars” had made such an impact, he said: “I don’t know. It’s the worst film Leone made and the worst score I did.”

"The Ecstasy of Gold,” the theme song for “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” was one of Mr. Morricone’s biggest hits. It was recorded by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma on an album of Mr. Morricone’s compositions and used in concert by two rock bands: as closing music for the Ramones and the introductory theme for Metallica.

Mr. Morricone looked professorial in bow ties and spectacles, with wisps of flyaway white hair. He sometimes holed up in his palazzo in Rome and wrote music for weeks on end, composing not at a piano but at a desk. He heard the music in his mind, he said, and wrote it in pencil on score paper for all orchestra parts.

He sometimes scored 20 or more films a year, often working only from a script before screening the rushes. Directors marveled at his range — tarantellas, psychedelic screeches, swelling love themes, tense passages of high drama, stately evocations of the 18th century or eerie dissonances of the 20th — and at the ingenuity of his silences: He was wary of too much music, of overloading an audience with emotions.
 

He composed for television films and series like “The Sopranos,” wrote about 100 concert pieces, and orchestrated music for singers including Joan Baez, Paul Anka and Anna Maria Quaini, the Italian pop star known as Mina.

Mr. Morricone never learned to speak English, never left Rome to compose, and for years refused to fly anywhere, though he eventually flew all over the world to conduct orchestras, sometimes performing his own compositions. While he wrote extensively for Hollywood, he did not visit the United States until 2007, when, at 78, he made a monthlong tour, punctuated by festivals of his films.
 

He gave concerts in New York at Radio City Music Hall and the United Nations, and he concluded the tour in Los Angeles, where he received an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement. The presenter, Clint Eastwood, roughly translated his acceptance speech from the Italian as the composer expressed “deep gratitude to all the directors who had faith in me.”

Ennio Morricone was born in Rome on Nov. 10, 1928, one of five children of Mario Morricone and the former Libera Ridolfi. His father, a trumpet player, taught him to read music and play various instruments. Ennio wrote his first compositions at six. In 1940, he entered the National Academy of Santa Cecilia, where he studied trumpet, composition and direction.

His World War II experiences — hunger and the dangers of Rome as an “open city” under German and American armies — were reflected in some of his later work. After the war, he wrote music for radio; for Italy’s broadcasting service, RAI; and for singers under contract to RCA.

In 1956, he married Maria Travia. They had four children: Marco, Alessandra, Andrea and Giovanni. 

His first film credit was for Luciano Salce’s “The Fascist” (1961). He soon began his collaboration with Mr. Leone, a former schoolmate. But he also scored political films:Gillo Pontecorvo’s “The Battle of Algiers” (1966), Mr. Pasolini’s “The Hawks and the Sparrows” (1966), Giuliano Montaldo’s “Sacco and Vanzetti” (1971) and Mr. Bertolucci’s “1900” (1976).
 

Five Morricone scores nominated for Oscars displayed his virtuosity. In Mr. Malick’s “Days of Heaven” (1978), he captured a love triangle in the Texas Panhandle, circa 1916. For “The Mission” (1986), about an 18th-century Jesuit priest (Jeremy Irons) in the Brazilian rain forest, he wove the panpipe music of Indigenous people with that of a missionary party’s European instruments, playing out the cultural conflicts.
 

In “The Untouchables,” his music pounded out the struggle between Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and Al Capone (Robert De Niro) in Prohibition-era Chicago. In Mr. Levinson’s “Bugsy” (1991), about the mobster Bugsy Siegel (Warren Beatty), it was a medley for a star-struck sociopath in Hollywood. And in Mr. Tornatore’s “Malèna” (2000), he orchestrated the ordeals of a wartime Sicilian town as seen through the eyes of a boy obsessed with a beautiful lady. 

Talking to Mr. Pareles, Mr. Morricone placed his acclaimed oeuvre in a modest perspective. “The notion that I am a composer who writes a lot of things is true on one hand and not true on the other hand,” he said. “Maybe my time is better organized than many other people’s. But compared to classical composers like Bach, Frescobaldi, Palestrina or Mozart, I would define myself as unemployed.”

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Wow. Well, all you have to do is check out all those credits. I'm sorry to say while I've been aware of Mr. Morricone for a long time - he may have been the second film composer I ever knew by name after John Williams - I probably never gave him more than 10 seconds of thought in a row during his lifetime other than when I would realize, "Oh, he wrote that too, huh?". He was certainly more worthy of my sustained attention. RIP.

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1 hour ago, cigarjoe said:

Needs a TCM day or week

Not a bad idea. On March 6, 2014, TCM focused on Morricone's music by showing films that included "For a Few Dollars More" (1965),  "Death Rides a Pale Horse" (1969) and "The Mercenary" (1970). 

In 2005, the American Film Institute selected the Top 25 movie scores of all time. Morricone's score from "The Mission" was ranked No. 23.

But my favorite score of his is the music from "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984). It likely was not nominated for an Academy Award because of a paperwork screwup.

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Morricone was one of the rare film contributors who received an honorary Academy Award before winning a competitive Oscar (this also happened to the filmmaker Sir Charles Chaplin, the actors Henry Fonda and Paul Newman and the writer-director Spike Lee). On February 25, 2007, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented an honorary statuette to Morricone "for his magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music." He was presented the award by Clint Eastwood, who starred in Sergio Leone's "The Man With No Name" trilogy, scored by Morricone.

See the source image

Nine years later, on February 27, 2016, Morricone received his first competitive Academy Award at the age of 87. He won the Best Original Score Oscar for Quentin Tarentino's 2015 Western "The Hateful Eight." The award was presented by another iconic film composer, Quincy Jones. Morricone received five other Academy Award nominations during his career. They were for his scores from "Days of Heaven" (1979), "The Mission" (1986), "The Untouchables" (1987), "Bugsy" (1991) and "Malèna" (2000).

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The greatest composer of film music ever, bar none. He was the only one whose scores I could listen to outside of the film.

Here are my top five

1. A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) Mexican flavored acoustic guitars, voices and whistling brought in a new era of film music.

2. For A Few Dollars More (1965)  More whistling and great guitar highlight the title theme. The later duel sequence with the chimes of the watch is a haunting moment.

3. The Good The Bad And The Ugly (1966) He really perfected his sound here, the title theme has more whistling with bursts of electric guitar. The rousing "Ecstasy Of Gold" near the end may be his masterpiece.

4, The Untouchables (1987) Harmonica, pounding piano are great on the credits scene. A grand sweeping score at the raid on the Canadian border and at the end credits. 

5. Casualties Of War (1989) The use of wind instruments (not sure what they are called) give a quiet menace to this score. The use of strings and what sounds like a some kind of whistling instrument (maybe a piccolo)  are very poignant. 

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Ennio got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2016 -  A very moving ceremony - Quentin Tarantino was there, as was (ahem) Harvey Weinstein to acknowledge -

 

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Here he is conducting his suite Ecstasy of Gold - Theme from Fist Full of Dollars -  with opera singer Susanna Rigacci 

 

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Now this is reminiscent of an old movie storyline: The filmmaker Sergio Leone and Morricone were boyhood schoolmates in Rome (circa 1937).

Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone pose together in the primary ...

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just a great, great composer.

these are the guys that younger composers need to look to.

 

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RIP.  Sad day for film score aficionados.

Sepiatone

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The Big Gundown is my favourite Morricone score.  I recently saw two Chinese martial arts films which just did needle drop illegal appropriation of cues from the soundtrack album:  Dragon Inn  (1967) and  Moonlight Sword and Jade Lion (1977).  I'm sure there are more of them too.

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Another (of the many, many recognizable themes that Morricone composed) is this one from The Mission -

 

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7 hours ago, jakeem said:

But my favorite score of his is the music from "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984). It likely was not nominated for an Academy Award because of a paperwork screwup.

"Poverty"'s a good track, but Morricone's more iconic  OUTIA track was the one that made me look up more Morricone films:

 

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Several years ago, I was inspired to get a 2-CD set of Morricone's music when I heard a translated interview with him on NPR.  Even though I don't particularly care for some of the associated movies (like the spaghetti westerns, which I find oppressive with their heat and dust and generally unpleasant characters), I found the music extremely captivating.  I also learned from this selection of his music that it varied much more widely in style than I had realized -- not everything was twangy guitars and whistling (although I loved those pieces, too).  These two discs take me into another world.

RIP Maestro.

51-m8F6BZML._SX425_.jpg.191a40dabc5b1462b48ae218a4cf1549.jpg

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Besides The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West , his score score for The Mission is my favorite, I think it's a smashing composition.

Rest in Peace, Signor Morricone.

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Morricone and Gheorghe Zamfir, who is really much more talented than you'd think if you only remember the early 80s mail-order album:

 

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Morricone conducts Once Upon A Time In The West, again with Susanna Rigacci -

 

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Morricone was a master at heightening tension with his music during spaghetti western showdowns. Here's the most famous scene from Leone's "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" (1966), which featured Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach:

 

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The Once Upon a Time In The West theme, directly above, also picks up on another of Morricone's scores in A Fistful of Dynamite (also known as "Duck, You Sucker !"), with James Coburn and Rod Steiger -

 

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