Ennio Morricone: The Greatest of Movie Composers

Ennio Morricone was probably the most influential and innovative film composer of the 20th century. He surely was the most sought-after one as well. Morricone became a pillar of musical diversity, wit and sophistication. He composed 520 soundtrack albums and 14 studio albums. Most famous for his collaborations with Sergio Leone and Quentin Tarantino, Morricone has also worked with dozens of other movie makers and musicians leaving us a great legacy to look into.

by Ivan Kuznetsov


Early years
Ennio Morricone was born in Rome in 1928. His father, Mario Morricone, was a trumpet player. He happened to be the biggest childhood influence on Ennio who wrote his first piece of music at the age of six. At 12, Morricone entered the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia where he was supervised by skilled a trumpeter Umberto Semproni and a known composer Goffredo Petrassi. During his study, Morricone frequently practiced with various jazz bands. He successfully graduated from the Conservatory with instrumentation, trumpet and composition diplomas.
Morricone earned his first international notice in the early 60s when he started collaborating with the Italian movie director Sergio Leone. Leone was a pioneer in the "Spaghetti Western" genre. A Fistful of Dollars (1964) was Morricone's debut score. The main theme of the movie became a by-the-book example of what a Western soundtrack should sound like. A mysterious guitar accompanied by a distant church bell and a whistled lead melody create the authentic atmosphere of the Wild West. 'A Fistful of Dollars' was followed up by another Western by Leone called For a Few Dollars More (1965), in which Morricone took over the composer duties again. This time he used an unusual musical technology to create the theme: he used a jaw harp and imitated a galloping horse with the rhythm section. The third movie in the Dollars trilogy The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) was again marked by the brilliant cooperation of Leone and Morricone. The Italian composer created an ingenious tune that immediately became his signature theme.
In the 70s Morricone continued occasionally composing for Westerns and devoted more time to criminal and futurism genres. However, he always stayed true to his roots and never missed a chance to collaborate with Italian directors. Morricone's most notable works in the 70s were the series Space: 1999 (1975) and Corleone (1977) where he teamed up with Pasquale Squitieri. Also, Morricone focused on his solo career releasing several albums with his band called 'Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza' that he had founded back in 1964.
Even if you have never seen this movie you have most likely heard the main song in a commercial or a meme video. Even though it was hard to surpass the success of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Morricone kept on scoring for Westerns, which resulted in his involvement in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and A Fistful of Dynamite (1971). Morricone's Once Upon a Time in the West soundtrack has over 10 million copies sold and to this day remains one of the top 5 best-selling scores of all time.
Morricone ran into the 80s gaining new ground both technologically and socially. In 1982, he had a hand in John Carpenter's horror movie The Thing (1982). Morricone created a dense sci-fi synth symphony that was wisely simple, yet quite intimidating and atmospheric. In terms of technology the score was a milestone for Morricone: he skillfully used a heavily guttered synth bass, plucks and white noise. 1984 saw the reunion of Morricone and Leone who combined their efforts to work on Once Upon a Time in America (1983). Morricone's soundtrack holds together the story of the Jewish mobsters and subtly runs through the intricate vagaries of their lives. Morricone successfully mixed jazz and folk motives to picture the streets of the faded-away America.
The mid-late 80s were highlighted by Morricone's involvement in several major projects. He began producing less, however his works became more extensive and precise. Morricone participated in The Mission (1986) by Roland Joffé. Orchestral pieces accompanied by the gospel-like choirs create an elevated spirit around the two main characters and their noble deeds. Morricone always called this particular soundtrack a miraculous insight. And this miracle got him an Oscar nomination. In 1987 and 1988 Ennio Morricone scored The Untouchables (1987) by Brian De Palma and Cinema Paradiso (1988) by Giuseppe Tornatore. These two works turned out to be strong soundtracks perfectly styled and recorded. Each of the two movies became the most successful pictures in the careers of both directors.
In 2015 Morricone agreed to collaborate with Quentin Tarantino on his modern Western Hateful Eight (2015). The Italian composer absolutely struck his own and Tarantino's fans with the integrity the score was laid down with. Tarantino even admitted that at some point in the intro during the first screenings the viewers would applaud to the music. With this soundtrack Morricone won an Oscar in the Best Original Music Score nomination.
In over 70 years of his career Ennio Morricone won four Grammys, three Golden Globes, six BAFTAs and two Oscars one of which was the Honorary Academy Award He also influenced such musicians as Hans Zimmer, Radiohead, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and many others. Ennio Morricone became a symbol of his century. He is an artist whose contribution to filmmaking and music should be never undervalued. Rest In Peace, Ennio.
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