An Offbeat Marquee Tribute – Ennio Morricone

Like many people, I was not expecting to wake up and find that one of the greatest creative forces in the world of film has passed. Sadly, Italian composer Ennio Morricone has left
us at age 91. And while most people will point to the masterful music penned for the work of
Sergio Leone or for blockbusters like The Untouchables, I feel that, given the point of this column is
to share with you the strange and the obscure, I owe it to Il Maestro to show you just how
impactful he was.

According to IMDb, Ennio Morricone has 520 credits to his name as a composer. Now this
number is inherently inflated, as it includes uses of his music for behind the scenes featurettes
on DVDs as well as an abundance of music written for television. If you want to get an idea of
Morricone’s contribution to the feature-length motion picture in its theatrical, documentarian,
and televised form, I have got the estimation in hand:

453 credits.

453 motion pictures are in the ether of this planet who have been graced with the music of the
Roman composer. Many of you know their names; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The
Untouchables, The Hateful Eight
which finally awarded him an Academy Award. But many of
you may not even know of the scores for films that do not even have formal releases at
present. 1969’s Vergogna schifosi, for example. An Italian thriller that tells a tale of blackmail
and the bourgeoisie, and yet listen to this most summery sound. Many of Ennio’s usual suspects
are there. The heavenly soprano of Edda Dell’orso, a woman whose voice has soared for him on
scores such as Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America. Alessandro
Alessandroni, the multi-instrumentalist and childhood friend, whose talents and those of his
group, I Cantori Moderni, have sung and played for Morricone and many others in the Italian film industry. All together to bring this sensual, dreamy music to life.

Even more astounding than the talents of those Morricone surrounded himself with is his
furious work ethic. In 1969 alone, Morricone scored 21 other motion pictures alongside scoring
Vergogna schifosi. Ponder that if you will; 22 films scored, all released in the same year. That is
Morricone’s genius. He writes great music, and he whips it up fast like there is no tomorrow.
Though he has recycled work in the past, it never becomes a matter of using the same tracks ad
nauseum. He never stopped writing and creating, in both the concert halls, and for the silver
screen. It says a great deal of the composer’s discipline and genius that he could maintain such
an intense output in his prime. The fact that Morricone’s library has grown so fruitful that many
of the films he has scored may have been lost to time truly says it all.

But what the masses do have access to nothing to forget. From the majesty of Cinema Paradiso
and The Mission, to the seductive qualities of Black Belly of the Tarantula and Metti, una sera a
cena
, to the uncomfortable atmospheres of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and A Quiet
Place in the Country
, Morricone’s back catalogue is jaw-dropping in quantity and quality. Everything from psychedelic rock to romanticism to lounge to the Avant Garde had been
incorporated into his toolkit and have added up to a simultaneously identifiable and chameleonic
composer. I will liken him to Bernard Herrmann; both are composers who have mastered the
art of orchestration and having mastered this art has allowed their compositional styles to slip
into any genre they please. Classical compositions can be couched in modern timbres, such as
his psychedelic Dies Irae in the 1968 comedy Escalation, and synths can be progressively
incorporated as a part of the toolkit, like with the classic 1982 horror The Thing and the 1988
mystery Frantic.

My parting words for Morricone are as follows: few people have influenced the world of film in the way he has. His music has become so ubiquitous and beloved, it is as embedded into pop culture as Herrmann’s shrieking strings in Psycho or the bold fanfare afforded to Star Wars by John Williams, and Star Trek by Jerry Goldsmith. Speaking of Goldsmith, he himself had a simple outlook on matters of longevity: “If our music survives, which I have no doubt it will, then it will because it is good.” If there is truth in these words, Morricone has left us music with an eternal allure and majesty.

And now, as I like to do with certain tributes, a quote from the man himself:

“I really like conducting my music in concerts because I’m convinced it’s not just for films; it has its own life. It can live far away from the images of the movie.” – Ennio Morricone (1928 – 2020)

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