Ennio Morricone: The soundtrack of our lives


Everyone has a corner in their brain reserved for cinematic memories held in place by the music of Ennio Morricone. The eminent Italian is  one of the few composers with scores that can’t be prised from the celluloid images, and for purists he’s still a baton’s length above other icons like John Williams and John Barry.

The 88-year-old is one of the most prolific composers in film music history, with over 500 soundtracks, ranging from classical orchestral scores to jazz-funk exploitation flick soundtracks. His staggering body of work also means that his 100 non-soundtrack albums somehow get filed as an aside, even though it’s a separate bulging canon of piano concertos and choral compositions to be filed under ‘classical’, as well as his outer limits free jazz and psychedelia. He once even pointed out that during his most prolific period in the 1960s and 1970s, he only scored 35 westerns. Only.

Morricone received his first diploma in 1946 for trumpet, and his diploma in composition in 1954, before working as an arranger for the RAI (Italian broadcasting company). His first film score was for the 1961 war movie Il Federale, and by the mid-60s he had secured legendary status with his soundtracks for Serge Leone’s Fistful of Dollars trilogy. The Mission and Once Upon a Time in America are his other obvious blockbusters — but only won his first soundtrack Oscar in 2015 for scoring Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.

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For every obvious cinema cue that’s been whistled by millions for 50-odd years, he’s also a record crate-digger’s dream, with a trail of psychedelic jazz freakouts, deranged wah-wah funk and leftfield bossa nova, on soundtracks like Veruschka, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and Spasmo.

But let’s not kid ourselves — he’s not selling many tickets to his Dublin concert tomorrow on the back of pieces sampled by Flying Lotus, Jay-Z and Wu-Tang Clan. Morricone is in the middle of his ‘60 Years of Music’ tour, and all of the pieces and movements will be classics. This is billed as his last ever Irish show, so he’s not going to pull out much ‘difficult’ material at this stage, with the 86-piece Czech National Symphony Orchestra, and 75 choralists.

There’ll be plenty of ridiculous goosebump moments, from the simple whistled motif and deranged ‘Ah-ee-ah-ee-ah’ coyote wail on The Good the Bad and the Ugly, to the majestic Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission.

There’ll be deeper cuts as well, from Casualties of War to Cinema Paradiso and 1970s Italian crime dramas — and you probably forgot he did the soundtrack to The Untouchables. It’s one of the most expensive gigs in Ireland this year, but Il Maestro is surely worth a Few Dollars More.

  • Published in Irish Daily Star

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