Ennio Morricone was born in Rome on 10 November 1928. His long artistic career includes a wide range of composition genres, from absolute concert music to applied music, working as orchestrator, conductor and composer for theatre, radio and cinema. In 1946, Ennio received his trumpet diploma and in 1954 he received his diploma in Composition at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia under the guidance of Goffredo Petrassi. He wrote his first concert works at the end of the 1950s, then worked as arranger for RAI (the Italian broadcasting company) and RCA-Italy. He started his career as a film music composer in 1961 with the film Il Federale directed by Luciano Salce. World fame followed through the Sergio Leone westerns: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), Once Upon a Time in The West (1968) and A Fistful of Dynamite (1971).
In 1965, Morricone joined the improvisation group Nuova Consonanza. Since 1960, Morricone has scored over 450 films working with many Italian and international directors including Sergio Leone, Gillo Pontecorvo, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci, Giuliano Montaldo, Lina Wertmuller, Giuseppe Tornatore, Brian De Palma, Roman Polanski, Warren Beatty, Adrian Lyne, Oliver Stone, Margarethe Von Trotta, Henry Verneuil, Pedro Almodovar and Roland Joffè. His most famous films (other than the Italian westerns) include: The Battle of Algiers; Sacco and Vanzetti; Cinema Paradiso; The Legend of 1900, Malena; The Untouchables; Once Upon a Time in America; The Mission and U-Turn. His absolute music production includes over 100 pieces composed from 1946 to the present day. Titles include Concerto per Orchestra n.1 (1957); Frammenti di Eros (1985); Cantata per L’Europa (1988); UT, per tromba, archi e percussioni (1991); Ombra di lontana presenza (1997); Voci dal silenzio (2002); Sicilo ed altri frammenti (2007); Vuoto d’anima piena (2008). In 2001, Ennio Morricone began a period of intense concert activity, conducting his film music and concert works for symphony orchestra and polyphonic choir in more than 100 concerts across Europe, Asia, USA, Central and South America.
During his long career, Ennio Morricone has also received many awards. As well as the Golden Lion and the honorary Oscar he was awarded in 2003, he has been presented with eight Nastri D’argento, five BAFTAs, five Oscar nominations, seven David Di Donatellos, three Golden Globes, one Grammy Award and one European Film Award. In 2009, the then President of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, also signed a decree appointing Morricone to the rank of Knight in the Order of the Legion of Honor.
In the recording field, Morricone has received 27 gold discs, seven platinum discs, three Golden Plates and the Critica discografica award for the music of the film Il Prato. The soundtrack from the film The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2009 while Morricone himself was awarded the prestigious Polar Music prize the following year.
His more recent works include scores for the television series Karol and The End of a Mystery, 72 Meters and Fateless. In the 21st century, Morricone’s music has been reused countless times for television and in movies including Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003), Death Proof (2007), Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Django Unchained (2012). In 2007, Morricone received the Academy Honorary Award “for his magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music”.
In November 2013, he began a world tour to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his film music career and performed in locations such as the Crocus City Hall in Moscow, Santiago, Chile, Berlin, Germany (O2 World), Budapest, Hungary, and Vienna’s Stadhalle. On 6 February 2014, Riccardo Mutti conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing Morricone’s Voices from the Silence, a cantata Morricone composed in response to 9/11 to give voice to innocent victims. In Autumn 2014, Morricone participated in the recording of a documentary about himself by Giuseppe Tornatore, which is yet to be released.
His European tour resumed from February 2015 to March 2015, with 20 concerts in 12 countries, in Europe’s largest arenas, such as the O2 in London and the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam. Playing to a total of 150,000 spectators and with most of the shows sold out, Maestro Morricone’s My Life in Music European Arena Tour was a resounding success.
On 12 June 2015, Morricone conducted a mass composed in dedication to Pope Francis. It was commissioned by the Jesuit Order to commemorate the 200 year anniversary of the recongregation of the Jesuit Order at the Jesuit Church in Rome.
2015 also saw Morricone collaborate with Quentin Tarantino on an original soundtrack for the very first time. On December 7th 2015, The Hateful Eight had its world premiere followed by a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Original Score category the very next day.
Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Correspondence, with an original soundtrack composition by Morricone, is being released on January 15th 2016
As Bernard Herrmann is to Hitchcock, Nino Rota to Fellini, John Barry to James Bond and John Williams to Spielberg, Ennio Morricone is to Sergio Leone. It is impossible to recall Leone’s films in the mind’s eye or ear – from A Fistful of Dollars (1964) via The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) to the very different Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Once Upon a Time in America (1984) – without Morricone’s music.
So close was the creative partnership of composer and director that Leone once described it as “a marriage like Catholics used to be married before the divorce laws”. Morricone returned the complement by saying, “Leone wanted more from music than other directors – he always gave it more space”. The resulting films were mythical melodramas, with Morricone supplying the melo.
From the early whipcracks, bells, whistles, Italian folk instruments, incomprehensible lyrics and Fender Stratocaster riffs – which may have been distant spin-offs from Morricone’s researches into John Cage and the idea that all sounds can belong to the realm of music – to the romantic score from America with its wistful Eastern European pan-pipes and dense orchestral textures, the work of these two artists ran on parallel lines.
The opening bars of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, with their “Ay-ee-ay-ee-ay” coyote howl, are among the most instantly recognisable in the history of the movies. But Morricone has often been at pains to point out that even during his most prolific period in the 1960s and 1970s – when as Bernardo Bertolucci once joked “you barely saw a major Italian movie without music by Ennio” – he only scored thirty-five Westerns out of four hundred and fifty films, just over eight percent of his astonishing output. Only thirty-five! That’s more than Elmer Bernstein, Dimitri Tiomkin and Jerome Moross combined.
No-one is quite sure exactly how many films Morricone has scored in total, since his first credit in 1961; certainly over 400, maybe as many as 450. Since he always writes down every note himself (unlike some film composers I could mention) and sees composition and orchestration as part of a single process, the achievement really is astonishing – more mainstream film scores than any other composer, ever.
Apart from the Westerns, there have been revolutionary anthems for Queimada (1969) and Novecento (1976), horrors for Argento and Carpenter, gangster films from The Sicilian Clan (1969) to The Untouchables (1987), plus countless love themes which tend to go for baroque, atonal action sequences, nostalgic elegies, lyrical hymns, ominous strings, strident adventures, and an Italian hit parade of main title songs. He seems equally at home with genre films (allgenres) as with smaller-scale, more personal projects. In The Mission (1986), he created a beautiful score which is about the power of music itself – as a means of salvation on the one hand, and of colonial oppression on the other: the film ends with a broken violin floating down river.
Throughout his near 50 year career as a film composer, across the board, his signature ideas have included simple ideas (easy to hum) in complex arrangements, unusual instrumentation, concrete sounds, the use of the human voice as part of the orchestra, long silences, musical gags and single notes sustained for ever.
Giuseppe Tornatore, of Cinema Paradiso fame, has said of him “he is not just a great film composer he is a great composer”.
By Sir Christopher Frayling, Former Chairman, Arts Council England