This year on the 10th November this brilliant composer and musician, often referred to as’ Parrot Estrada’, will turn ninety! The huge body of work, spanning seven decades, and the innovative and original compositions which he has created for radio, theatre and film is an achievement few could have surpassed. Indeed our memory banks are the richer for his dedication and creative achievements in his field. This article could in no way cover Morricone’s enormous body of work, but acknowledges him as, quote: ‘the world’s greatest living film composer’.
This November at the O2 in London a celebration of his work, spanning sixty years will take place and it will be his last London performance. The Czech National Symphony Orchestra and the Crouch End Festival Chorus will be performing his work and the Maestro himself will be conducting.
I must mention that I loved his music before I even knew who he was! Remembering right back to the music scores for the classic Clint Eastwood films ‘Fistful of dollars’, ‘A few dollars more’ and the ‘Good the bad and the ugly’ he used unusual and experimental sounds which were so innovative that they could never be forgotten.
A musical background
Ennio Morricone was born in 1928 his father Mario Morricone was also a musician, a trumpet player, and taught him trumpet amongst other instruments. He also taught him to read music. It seemed inevitable that Ennio would follow a career in music, He attended the National Academy of St Cecilia in 1940 at the young age of twelve where his instrument was to be the trumpet. He moved on to composition and choral music under Goffredo Petrassi and he has dedicated some music pieces to Petrassi.
The Italian pianist and composer Carlo Zecchi directed the Orchestra of Opera and Ennio was chosen to be a part of this orchestra playing the trumpet. His childhood friend was Alessandro Alessandroni, a musician who played multiple instruments and they collaborated later on the film scores of the Spaghetti Westerns, notably the ‘Good the Bad and the Ugly’ and ‘a Fistful of Dollars’, using unique sounds, whistling and using a twanging sound with guitars.
Ennio graduated in 1946 with a diploma in trumpet. He also composed ‘Il Mattino’ for voice and piano in 1946 and he stayed at the Conservatory until 1954 to receive his diploma in composition.
Morricone wrote for theatre and classical productions often using the texts of poets such as Nobel Prize winner Salvatore Quasimodo.
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Now in demand he began to write arrangements for American radio shows 1953, and between 1954 and 1959 his orchestral and chamber music compositions were being requested. His popularity grew and he began to write for radio dramas and film. His professional life was going well and in his private life too, he married Maria Travia in 1956. They had three sons and a daughter over the following ten years.
To support his family he played in a jazz band and wrote for RAI though when they actually hired him he resigned after a day as his own music was not allowed to be used! RCA Victor came into the picture instead and he was a top studio arranger working with some of the greats, Renato Rascel, Rita Pavone and Mario Lanza, Morricone wrote and arranged many pieces under pseudonyms and was a ghost writer for films credited to other composers. In 1959 he conducted Mario Nascimbene’s score to ‘Morte di un Amico’, an Italian drama directed by Franco Rossi. Luciano Salce’s ‘Il Federale’ (the fascist) in 1961 was really his first film debut and marked a long run with director Luciano.
Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza was a group of composers that he joined and they were dedicated to avant guarde, improvisation and new methods in making music. Known as’ Il Gruppo’ they released seven albums. The most famous being ‘The Feedback’.
In 1969 he cofounded the prestigious recording studio Forum Music Village where he worked with Warren Beatty, Don Siegel, Mike Nichols, John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino, amongst many others. The scores for ’Il Postino’and ‘Life is Beautiful’ won Academy Awards. Many artists recorded at the Forum such as Placido Domingo, Andrea Bocelli, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Will.i.am and Alessandro Alessandroni.
Influences and Achievements
Between 1962 and 1974 he composed and wrote arrangements, working with Helen Merrill, Gianni Morandi, Jimmy Fontana, Francoise Hardy and Demi Roussos and many other well-known artists at the time.
His collaboration with director Sergio Leone which spanned over twenty years ,was greatly influential in the development of his creativity and fame and included the 1964 ‘A Fistful of Dollars ‘and the Dollars trilogy in the genre of so called ‘Spaghetti Westerns’. Others film scores followed, ‘The big gun down’ 1966, (in collaboration with Sergio Sollima). ’Face to Face’ 1967. He also collaborated with Sergio Corbucci in ‘Navajo Joe’ 1968.’What am I doing in the middle of a revolution’ 1972 and many other less popular ‘Spaghetti Westerns’. In 1968 he wrote 20 film scores and directors were keen to work with him ,such as, Gillo Ponte Corvo, ’Battle of Algiers’ and ‘Queimada’ with Marlon Brando, and later with Bernado Bertolucci ‘Novecento’ 1976.
In 1970 he wrote the score for, ‘Violent City, ‘featuring actor Charles Bronson. He was sought after by many directors as his talent and innovative creativity was unique. Horror films were to follow ‘Holocaust ‘2000 starring Kirk Douglas 1982 and John Carpenter’s ‘The thing’,.
The American release of the ’Dollars trilogy’ in 1967 gave his music popularity in the States. Ennio was never really swayed too much by his image in the states and never seemed to be concerned at the fact that he was not fluent in English, after all his language was music!
Morricone went on to write music for English language Cinema, the famous soundtrack for ‘The Mission’ 1986 being one of his best known, this was with Roland Joffe. He went on to collaborate with Giuseppe Tornatore with a score for ’Cinema Paradiso’. Morricone received a Bafta and also a David di Donatello award for the score. He went on to write scores for more of Tornatore’s films winning a Golden Globe for Best Original score for ‘Legend of 1900’.
His score for ’The Untouchables’ working with Brian De Palma, resulted in his nomination for the Academy award for Best original Score.
In the 1990’s, he not only composed a huge body of musical scores for film and, political dramas but also songs.
‘Se Telefonando’ was a great success in 1966. The version performed by Mina with its wonderful melodic trumpet lines was a best seller.
Three million copies were sold of the song’ Ogni Volta’ (Every Time) which he co-wrote with Roby Ferrante and it was performed by Paul Anka at the ‘Festival di San Remo’. In 1964.
The official theme music for the FIFA world cup 1978 was composed by Morricone as was ‘Libera l’amore’ performed by Zucchero, and ‘My Heart’ by Sting.
Awards and recognition
The 2007 tribute album ‘We all love Ennio Morricone; was nominated for a Grammy Award and Sarah Brighton, Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion featured on the album.
‘Once upon a Time in the West’ won the Bestselling original Instrumental Score and sold ten million copies.
His work has not been limited to the taste of classical or jazz musicians but also has been used by bands like Metallica who used ‘The Ecstasy of gold’ as their opening theme. Rapper JZ has incorporated his music, Jackass Number two in 2006 and the Ranones’ closing theme during live concerts. Morricone co-wrote ’It Couldn’t Happen Here’ with the Pet shop boys.
The genre of his compositions for film has also not been limited and the music journeys through westerns, historical drama, crime, documentaries, comedies, horror and action adventure.
More recently in 2016 the score which Morricone composed for Quentin Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’ won him the Academy Award for ‘Best original Score’ and in the Baftas for ‘Best Film Music’ and won him the’ Golden Globe Award’.
Ennio Morricone has won more than fifty awards, sold over 70 million records, has composed more than five hundred film and television scores and has been awarded the highest honour in Italy the OMRI. It would need a whole new article to list all of his achievements. Suffice to say that the music created by Ennio Morricone has touched the hearts of millions. Music is an international language and communicates across cultural boundaries It is also ageless and it seems Ennio Morricone is himself ageless when it comes to composing. Having always preferred to remain and compose in Italy he has become a true inspiration and a living treasure of Italy.
Long may the Maestro continue with his musical genius!