Ennio Morricone - not just spaghetti westerns

Ennio Morricone - photo Morricone is best known for his Spaghetti Western scores, particularly for the "Dollar" series starring Clint Eastwood. These are a small sample of his partnership with classmate and director Sergio Leone, who produced a large number of films during the 60s and beyond, often released in Italian and then dubbed into English. With this combination of the Italian background and the tough-guy western, it is perhaps not surprising that the partnership also made some gangster films. If you include "Two Mules for Sister Sara" and "In the Line of Fire" it also seems as though Morricone (like Lalo Schifrin) worked regularly with Clint Eastwood! Although English speaking cinema-goers only became aware of him with the appearance of these westerns, Morricone was an established composer prior to this. He was born in Rome in 1928 and studied trumpet and composition there at the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia, as had Nino Rota previously. His subsequent career brought his music to radio and television as well as the concert hall, before scoring films for the Italian cinema.

Ennio Morricone - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly soundtrack CD cover Morricone's music stood out on those early Western movies as something quite new and original. With its unusual instruments and sound combinations it seems to fill in for the action when the characters are in close-up, eyeing each other and waiting for the first move. Then it punctuates the scene like a punch-line when the action is all over in a flash. The composer seemed to have the right musical instincts to emphasise the screen portrayal of legendary, larger than life characters. Those instincts could also create a timeless reverential aura for a story spanning generations for "Cinema Paradiso" and the same timeless magic is recreated for "The Untouchables" and "Once upon a Time in America". As well as these broad slow themes, "Once upon a Time in America" occasionally breaks out into period dance numbers or Dixieland Jazz. It also includes some unusual instrumentation, such as panpipes and banjo. This ability to juxtapose different styles came to the fore in "Two Mules for Sister Sarah" where he highlighted both pseudo-serious and lighter comic elements to combine the nun's supposed religious background with the suggestion of a mule's braying and trotting gait (see Humour in Music).

Ennio Morricone - The Mission soundtrack CD cover These examples highlight the composer's knack for deftly spanning the divide between the sublime and the ridiculous, with his seeming ability to mix unusual sound combinations and trashy pop elements with an atmosphere of legendary or religious reverence. This quasi-religious element, although often present as a subliminal undercurrent, became uppermost to great effect in the score for The Mission. This mixes hymn-like chorales with poignant solos, wordless ethnic chanting, drums and panpipes to bring out the South American jungle setting. The exhuberant chanting uses short detached notes, an usual effect which Morricone also employed on his well-known piece called Chi Mai. First used in the film "Maddalena", this theme was used again in "The Professional" and later the BBC also used it for the Television series "The Life and Times of David Lloyd-George".

Ennio Morricone received an honorary oscar for his contribution to film music, presented by Clint Eastwood at the oscar ceremony in 2007. Morricone has had a total of 5 nominations for Days of Heaven (1978), The Mission (1986), "The Untouchables" (1987), "Bugsy" (1991) and "Malèna" (2000), but had not yet won the winner's statuette. Check out our review of the composer's Concert given in London in 2010, 7 years after his previous conducting appearence in the city.

Morricone Uncovered - Romina Arena Paradiso - Hayley Westenra sings Ennio Morricone album cover In his long career Morricone has collaborated with many artists and in the past 2 years there has been 2 concept albums with the composer specially adapting his film music for two very different singers to interpret. In 2011 "Paradiso" was released by Hayley Westenra (available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com), and in 2012 "Morricone Uncovered" was released by Romina Arena (available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com). After a long association with tracks included on the director's films "Kill Bill" (1 & 2), "Inglourious Basterds" and "Django Unchained", Quentin Tarrantino has finally convinced Morricone to score his latest film The Hateful Eight. Although the album features song tracks and dialogue tracks, the compoer's score is well worth a listen.

In 2015 Morricone composed a Mass called "Missa Papae Francisci" in honour of Pope Francis, and in 2019 Morricone (now aged 90) in turn was awarded with the Gold Medal of the Pontificate for his services to music, peace and spirituality.

Films by Ennio Morricone:

    Ennio Morricone - Once Upon a Time in the West soundtrack CD cover
  • My Name is Nobody
  • Arabian Nights (Il Fiore Delle Mille e Una Notte)
  • A Fistful of Dollars - the music surely heightened the impact of this original classic
  • For a few Dollars More
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - the best, and generating a no. 1 hit in the UK by Hugh Montenegro
  • A Pistol for Ringo
  • Slalom (aka "Snow Job")
  • Fists in the Pocket
  • The Cat o' Nine Tails
  • The Return of Ringo
  • Maddalena - first use of the "Chi Mai" theme
  • The Sicilian Clan
  • Operation Kid Brother - co-composed by Bruno Nicolai, this is a fun Bond spoof with the lead played by Neil Connery, brother of Sean!
  • Once upon a Time in the West - the moody music including "Man with the Harmonica" came first before the plot!
  • A Fistful of Dynamite - set in revolutionary Mexico, this music for this western follows the quirky plot as it balances serious and comedic ideas
  • Two Mules for Sister Sara - wonderful mix of mule sounds, mule riding, Mexican villages and religious music
  • Sacco & Vanzetti - this Italian film about 2 anarchists who were falsely accused of murder has haunting music by Morricone and the equally haunting voice of American folk singer Joan Baez; the penultimate track on the album is an evolving buzzing sound suggesting the power source of the electric chair
  • La Cage aux Folles 1, 2, 3
  • Orca...Killer Whale
  • Cosi´ come sei (Stay as You Are) - largely romantic music with a bittersweet touch of jazz
  • Once upon a Time in America - like many scores for Sergio Leone, Morricone wrote much of the music before shooting so the director could play it on set, including "Cockeye's Song" which one of the characters plays on the pan-pipes and "Debora's Theme" which Debora dances to - both themes permeate the whole movie
  • Ennio Morricone - Once Upon a Time in America soundtrack CD cover
  • Red Sonja
  • The Untouchables
  • Exorcist 2: The Heretic
  • Days of Heaven - his first oscar nomination
  • Casualties of War - not as Adagio as Barber's but another highly effective score using some pan-flute solos
  • Days of Heaven
  • Bloodline
  • Windows
  • The Island
  • The Fantastic World of M.C. Escher - a domumentary about the famous Dutch graphic artist
  • Ennio Morricone - The Untouchables soundtrack CD cover
  • Lady of the Camelias
  • Le Marginal (The Outsider)
  • The Professional - again using "Chi Mai"
  • The Thing - not John Carpenter himself on this occasion
  • The Mission - a haunting combination with the unmissable "Gabriel's Oboe"
  • In the Line of Fire
  • Frantic - in typical Morricone style there is a mix of french waltz with accordion, electronica and jazz elements plus a good deal of Herrmann Hitchcockian suspense
  • Love Affair - lyrical and moving
  • Disclosure - with a jazzy theme
  • Lolita - the music is dark and haunting for this new adaptation of the Vladimir Nabokov novel previously made by Stanley Kubrick
  • Wolf
  • Young Einstein - song only
  • The Legend of 1900 - the score has a typical Morricone mix of epic and melancholy tracks; the story is about a pianist with plenty of period piano music (e.g. Ragtime) and a duel with Jelly Roll Morton!
  • Cinema Paradiso - the themes for this beautiful oscar-winning film are touched with a wistful nostalgia - Ennio's son Andrea Morricone, who also conducts concerts of his father's work, composed the Love Theme
  • Bugsy
  • U-Turn - not far removed from western territory, Morricone is the perfect choice for this whacky movie and conjures up plenty of his hallmarks
  • Ennio Morricone: The Hateful Eight - soundtrack CD cover
  • Canone inverso - making love (and music)
  • Mission to Mars
  • Malena
  • Ripley's Game
  • Baaria
  • Love Story
  • The Best Offer (La Migliore Offerta)
  • The Hateful Eight - for Quentin Tarrantino

TV Music by Ennio Morricone:

The composer has many credit in television for theme tunes, incidental music and one-off use of existing music on the soundtrack. Though much of this work is for Italian television, English-speaking viewers will be familiar with some of his TV work, so here is a small sample:

  • The Viginian - in its final season the series was renamed "The Men from Shiloh" with opening titles very much like Sergio Leone's Westerns. Morricone was asked to compose a theme in his Spahgetti Western style. (The original theme for "The Virginian" was composed by Percy Faith, and the series also boasted composers of the calibre of Leonard Rosenman, Bernard Herrmann and David Shire)
  • Ennio Morricone - The Complete Dollars Trilogy soundtrack CD cover
  • Space 1999 - a credit in this series though his contribution is unknown
  • Orient-Express - mini series
  • The Life and Times of David Lloyd-George - this BBC series borrowed the familiar "Chi Mai"
  • Marco Polo - another mini series
  • I promessi sposi (The Betrothed) - Italian drama mini-series with Burt Lancaster in the cast as a Cardinal
  • La Piovra - TV mini-series
  • Nostromo - mini series

Ennio Morricone - CD Recommendations:

You will find almost any CD by Ennio Morricone to be rewarding. Check out our review of The Mission or listen to any collection of Great Western Themes which will no doubt include several by Morricone. There are some links below to essential Morricone soundtracks.

Ennio Morricone - Sheet Music:

Although sometimes hard to find, there are now several sheet music publications with music by Ennio Morricone. The following items can be ordered from these online stores:

Ennio Morricone - Memorabilia:

Here are some CD covers signed by Ennio Morricone. Our thanks to Petr Kocanda for permission to use his collection of autographed CDs. Click on any thumbnail to see a full size version of the image in a separate window.

Ennio Morricone: A Fistful of Dollars - signed CD Ennio Morricone: La Piovra - signed CD Ennio Morricone: Marco Polo - signed CD Ennio Morricone: Once Upon a Time in the West - signed CD Ennio Morricone: Red Sonja - signed CD Ennio Morricone: The Legend of 1900 - signed CD