By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 6, 2020)
I often use the same harmonies as pop music because the complexity of what I do is elsewhere.
— Ennio Morricone
Well, this is embarrassing. When I heard the news this morning that film composer Ennio Morricone had passed away, my initial thought was “Wait…isn’t he already gone?” I quickly came to my senses and realized I was conflating him with film director Sergio Leone, who passed away in 1989. That gaffe either demonstrates that a). I’m a tad slow on the uptake, or b). The names “Leone” and “Morricone” are forever enmeshed in the film buff zeitgeist.
Of course, if I’d really been paying attention I would have noticed that his score for Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 western The Hateful Eight was an original one; perhaps I could be allowed some leeway of willful ignorance, based on Tarantino’s history of “re-appropriating” some of Morricone’s music that was originally composed for Leone’s films back in the 60s and 70s.
While he was unarguably most recognized for collaborating with fellow countryman Leone on genre classics like A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, and A Fistful of Dynamite (aka Duck, You Sucker!) that is not to imply that spaghetti westerns were Morricone’s raison d’etre.
Indeed, he worked with a bevy of notable film directors, like Bernardo Bertolucci (1900, Luna), Roman Polanski (Frantic), Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven), Pedro Almodovar (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!), Brian De Palma (The Untouchables, Casualties of War), Samuel Fuller (White Dog), even John Carpenter…a director known for also taking on the scoring duties for his films, didn’t pass up a chance to work with the maestro (The Thing).
Morricone’s music was burned into my neurons before I had even seen any of the films he scored. When I was a kid, my parents had one of those massive, wood-finished stereo consoles with built-in AM-FM tuner, turntable and speakers. One of my favorite albums in my parents’ collection was this one, by Hugo Montenegro and his Orchestra:
I remember strategically planting myself dead center (for that maximum “360 Stereo” effect). “Hut, two, three, fo! Hut, two, three, fo! Ah-ah-ah-ah-aaah, wah-wah-waaah…” I was riveted.
Something about Morricone’s music captured my imagination. I guess it was…cinematic.
That’s the beauty of Morricone’s art; you can appreciate it as a film buff, as a music fan-or both. That was evident from reactions on social media, like Yo-Yo Ma’s lovely tribute:
I'll never forget the way Ennio Morricone described music as “energy, space, and time.” It is, perhaps, the most concise and accurate description I’ve ever heard. We'll truly miss him. This is the Love Theme from "Cinema Paradiso." #EnnioMorricone pic.twitter.com/kpbkodhHrh
— Yo-Yo Ma (@YoYo_Ma) July 6, 2020
With an embarrassment of riches to pick from (60 years of score credits to his name), this may be a fool’s errand, but here are 10 of my favorite Morricone soundtrack compositions: