Italian composer Ennio Morricone, known for his soundtracks in classics such as ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ and ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, died in Rome Monday. Morricone, 91, died in a hospital after suffering a fracture a few days ago. He is survived by his wife Maria Travia.
Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte tweeted, “We will always remember, with infinite gratitude, the artistic genius of the Maestro #EnnioMorricone. It made us dream, feel excited, reflect, writing memorable notes that will remain indelible in the history of music and cinema.”
President Sergio Mattarella, in a condolence message to the composer’s family, wrote: “Both a refined and popular musician, he left a deep footprint on the musical history of the second half of the 1900s.”
Born in 1928, Morricone (pronounced more-ee-cone-ay) studied at Rome’s prestigious Santa Cecilia conservatory before beginning his career as a trumpet player in jazz bands in the 1940s. He also worked as a studio arranger and did ghostwriting for films in his initial years.
The maestro’s success arrived in the 1960s and 70s, when he composed for Westerns – a subgenre of films set in the late 19th century United States (or the “Old West”), where gun-toting cowboys run into adventures ending in revenge or retribution. His music for Sergio Leone’s Dollar trilogy (‘A Fistful of Dollars’, 1964; ‘For a Few Dollars More, 1965; ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, 1966) brought Morricone international fame. Hugely successful, the films also propelled actor Clinton Eastwood to stardom.
The trilogy’s background music, with its coyote howl, harmonicas and eerie whistling, has since achieved cult status, being imitated or adapted in films and television programmes around the world. The song ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’ from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ remains among Morricone’s biggest hits.
Morricone’s film scores are marked by the use of unconventional instruments such as the Jew’s harp, amplified harmonica, mariachi trumpets, cor anglais, and the ocarina. He also used real sounds such as whistling, cracking of whips and gunshots.
His work on Westerns apart, ‘Maestro Morricone’, as many referred to him, was a highly versatile artiste who wrote music across genres – from comedy, historical films, crime dramas, and thrillers. His non-Western classics included Roland Joffe’s 1986 film ‘The Mission’, and Sergio Leone’s ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ of 1984.
Over 50 years, Morricone wrote around 500 scores, and worked with top filmmakers from around the world, including Sergio Leone, Giuseppe Tornatore, Mike Nichols, Brian De Palma, Roman Polanski, Barry Levinson, Terrence Malick, Oliver Stone, Warren Beatty, John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino. His body of work includes around 100 concert pieces, mostly recorded in later life.
His global reach notwithstanding, Morricone only spoke Italian; never bothering to learn English nor living in Hollywood. In 1969, he co-founded the famous Rome recording studio ‘Forum Music Village’. Morricone also composed the official theme for the 1978 FIFA World Cup.
Over his career, Morricone won several awards internationally, including four Grammys, two Golden Globes, and an honorary Oscar in 2007– after being nominated six times. When his work for ‘The Mission’ (1986) did not win an Oscar, it so enraged award observers that the Academy’s rules had to be changed, according to a report in Variety. It was only in 2015 that Morricone won his first competitive Oscar for Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’.
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