At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Ennio Morricone - film music maestro

Composer who scored some of cinema's greatest soundtracks


Ennio Morricone, pictured in 2012
Ennio Morricone, pictured in 2012
Ennio Morricone, who composed some of the most memorable soundtracks in the history of the cinema, was born on this day in 1928 in Rome.

Still working even as he enters his 89th year, Morricone has written more than 500 film and television scores, winning countless awards.

Best known for his associations with the Italian directors Sergio Leone, Giuseppe Tornatore and Giuliano Montaldo, he has also worked among others with Pier Paolo Pasolini, Brian de Palma, Roland Joffé, Franco Zeffirelli and Quentin Tarantino, whose 2015 Western The Hateful Eight finally won Morricone an Oscar that many considered long overdue.

Among his finest soundtracks are those he wrote for Leone's 'Dollars' trilogy in the 1960s, for the Leone gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America two decades later, for Joffé's The Mission and De Palma's The Untouchables.

He composed the score for Tornatore's hauntingly poignant Cinema Paradiso and for Maddalena, a somewhat obscure 1971 film by the Polish director Jerzy Kawalerowicz that included the acclaimed Come Maddalena and Chi Mai, which later reached number two in the British singles chart after being used for the 1981 TV series The Life and Times of David Lloyd George.

Much of Morricone's film music, as well as his more than 100 classical compositions and numerous jazz and pop songs from the 1960s and 70s, has been recorded and his commercial sales have topped 70 million records worldwide.

Listen to Morricone's beautiful Gabriel's Oboe from The Mission



Morricone, whose parents moved to Rome from Arpino, an ancient hill town near Frosinone in southern Lazio, was brought up in the Trastevere district of the capital, one of five children raised by his father, Mario, a professional musician who played the trumpet, and mother Libera, who ran a small textile business.

He learned the fundamentals of music from his father before entering the National Academy of St Cecilia, where he first met Sergio Leone.

Sergio Leone, the director behind the 'Dollars' trilogy
Sergio Leone, the director  behind
 the 'Dollars' trilogy
On graduating, he had some success writing for the theatre as well as for radio. After marrying his girlfriend of six years, Maria Travia, in 1956, and becoming a father a year later, he began supporting his family by playing in a jazz band and arranging pop songs for the Italian public broadcaster, RAI.

Over the next few years he composed pop songs for Rita Pavone, Mario Lanza, Paul Anka and Francoise Hardy among many others.

He branched into film music for the first time in the early 1960s, taking the commission that was to change his life when Leone, his friend from St Cecilia's, asked him to write the score for his groundbreaking Western, A Fistful of Dollars.

Starring the 34-year-old American actor, Clint Eastwood, in his first major role, A Fistful of Dollars was a huge success, spawning two more in the genre that became known as 'Spaghetti Westerns'.  For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly each grossed more than $20 million.

A Fistful of Dollars made $14.5 million, which was incredible given that Leone made it on a budget of less than $250,000.  With only limited access to a full orchestra, Morricone had to improvise, incorporating gunshots, cracking whips, a whistle, a jew's harp, trumpets, and a Fender electric guitar into his score, as well as using human, mainly female voices as musical instruments. The result was a highly distinctive score that it became a classic in the history of cinema music, as instantly recognizable today as it was then, and several of Morricone's innovative measures became part of his repertoire.

Listen to Morricone's music for the opening scene of The Hateful Eight




The trilogy began a relationship with Sergio Leone that would last 20 years and opened many doors for Morricone, whose career prospered from then on.

His first nomination for Best Original Score at the Academy Awards came in 1979 for Days of Heaven, directed by the American Terence Malick.  There were two nominations in the 1980s, for Joffé's The Mission in 1986 and De Palma's The Untouchables in 1987, and probably would have been a third had the American distributors of Leone's Once Upon a Time in America (1984) submitted the paperwork on time.

Morricone was particularly disappointed not to win with The Mission, which features the wonderful melody Gabriel's Oboe as its main theme, complaining that jazz musician Herbie Hancock's score for Bertrand Tavernier's Round Midnight, while beautifully done, used existing music.

The Hateful Eight: Morricone's score for Quentin Tarantino's film won an Oscar
The Hateful Eight: Morricone's score for
Quentin Tarantino's film won an Oscar
Further nominations came for Barry Levison's Bugsy (1991) and Tornatore's Malena (2000), and by the second decade of the new millennium Morricone's 50-year movie career had brought him 44 major awards.

It appeared, though, that the award he craved above all would elude him, and an honorary Oscar in 2007 for his overall contribution to film music seemed a slightly hollow consolation prize.

But then, late in 2014, just past his 86th birthday, he was approached by Quentin Tarantino, with whom he had collaborated previously but had had a difficult relationship. Morricone had not scored a complete Western for 35 years and had not worked on a high-profile Hollywood production since 2000 but The Hateful Eight, set just after the American Civil War, appealed to him.

He produced a score that was magnificent, one that would sit comfortably alongside anything he had done previously, from the sweeping L'Ultima Diligenza per Red Rock that accompanies the chillingly atmospheric opening scenes, to Regan's Theme, a melody of gathering pace with echoes of what he did for Leone half a century previously.

It earned Morricone his third Golden Globe, to go with The Mission and the ragtime-jazz score he wrote for Tornatore's Legend of 1900 and then, at the 87th Academy Awards night of February 22, 2016, the one he thought would never come and which made him, at 87 years, the oldest winner of a competitive Oscar.

Morricone, who has never left Italy despite being offered a villa in Hollywood by one of the studios he worked with, remains an active composer.  He and Maria had four children - Marco, Alessandra, Andrea, who himself became a film music composer, and Giovanni, who is a film director and producer in New York.

The unspoilt hill town of Arpino
The unspoilt hill town of Arpino
Travel tip:

Arpino, home of Morricone's parents, is a hill town situated about 120km south-east of Rome, 46km north-west of Frosinone in Lazio. Clinging to a ridge on top of a hill, it is relatively accessible from a nearby station on one of the Rome-Naples railway lines, yet attracts few tourists and therefore has the unspoilt feel of a traditional southern Italian community.

Hotels in Arpino by Hotels.com

Travel tip:

The Trastevere district of Rome, which sits alongside the River Tiber, is regarded as one of the city's most charming neighbourhoods, full of winding, cobbled streets and well preserved medieval houses.  Increasingly fashionable with Rome's young professional class as a place to live, it has an abundance of restaurants and bars and a lively student music scene.

Hotels in Rome by venere.com

More reading:



How Shakespeare adaptations made Franco Zeffirelli a household name

Sergio Leone - distinctive style of 'Spaghetti Western' creator

How Nino Rota found fame for The Godfather theme


Also on this day: 


1816: Lord Byron, the English poet and aristocrat, sets foot in Venice for the first time.

(Picture credit: First photo of Morricone by Georges Biard via Wikimedia Commons)
(Videos from YouTube)

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