Friday, April 17, 2009


Ennio Morricone is, perhaps, the most prolific film composer in the history of the art form. John Barry and John Williams come close, but I don't think they have scored as many films as Morricone. Certainly he is my all time favorite.

Morricone's work is best known to Americans through those wonderful Italian Westerns that were produced in the sixties, known as "Spaghetti Westerns." The term was originally thought to be derogatory but has since become an affectionate description of a sub-genre of film. A few years ago I coined the phrase, Pasta & Pistolas.
Who can forget those whistled notes that introduce the theme from A Fist Full of Dollars. Or the wah-wah echoed tune from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. (The real gem from this film is the track, The Ecstasy of Gold.)
Morricone's music elevated the Western genre to new heights. Of course credit must be given to Sergio Leone, the Ayatollah of the movieola, whose mis-en-scene and montage redefined the horse opera. But Morricone's music became a character in itself. Great filmmakers have often been paired with great composers: Hitchcock and Bernard Hermann; Fellini and Nino Rota; Spielberg and John Williams. But the Sergio Leone / Ennio Morricone combo changed film music forever.
One of my favorite scores is from a film not directed by Leone but by Sergio Sollima entitled, The Big Gundown, or in Italian La Resa dei Conti. The Big Gundown features tracks that reference Beethoven's Fur Elise, a Mormon Choir and the main theme Run, Man, Run sung by Christy. Ennio's score to the film Once Upon a Time in the West is considered by many to be the perfect pairing of music and visual image: Charles Bronson is Harmonica, Henry Fonda's theme is rendered with the steeliest of steel guitars, Jason Robards' theme is a classic western tune whistled by Alessandro Alessandroni, while Claudia Cardinale's theme shows Morricone's sweet and romantic side.
Other scores include The Untouchables, check out the track Strength of the Righteous, The Mission (Gabriel's Oboe & On Earth As It Is In Heaven), Cinema Paradiso, Bugsy, Wolf, The Battle of Algiers, In The Line Of Fire and Bulworth. Ennio Morricone has scored over 500 films and television programs.

One of my favorite tributes to Morricone is John Zorn's The Big Gundown. Zorn deconstructs the music and re-assembles it as only he can. Powerful and edgy.



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