Ennio Morricone, the great composer of roughly 500 scores. “Fifteen films a year isn’t all that much.”
On Monday (6 July 2020), the World Soundtrack Academy and Film Fest Ghent were saddened by the news that Ennio Morricone had deceased at the age of 91 in his hometown of Rome. We would like to express our condolences and deepest sympathy to his family members. As a festival that focuses on film music, we feel highly privileged to have welcomed the world-renowned Italian composer as a guest of honour twice (in 1987 at the festival and in 2000 at a concert organized by Film Fest Ghent), where he performed his music live with the Belgian National Orchestra.
For more than 30 years, he has been the most recognized and perhaps most cherished composer worldwide. In 2016 he received his first actual Oscar for scoring Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight after already having accepted an Honorary Academy Award for his magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music in 2007. Morricone studied composition, arrangements and choir conducting at the music academy of Santa Cecilia at the request of his father. He eventually became notorious after his collaborations with Sergio Leone in the spaghetti western trilogy (i.e. A Fistful of Dollars, Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) which introduced Morricone’s voice.
During the 1960s and 1970s, he scored films of Italian masters suchlike Pier Paolo Pasolini, Elio Petri, Bernardo Bertolucci and Gillo Pontecorvo after which he became internationally popular with many distinguished directors among whom Mikhaïl Kalatozov, Yves Boisset, Terrence Malick, Margarethe von Trotta, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood and Brian De Palma, only to name a few. With approximately 500 original scores for both films, TV series, operas and ballet performances, the magnitude of his output is astounding. When asked about his labour and the impressive quantity of the scores he produces each year, he answers rather laconically: “Fifteen films a year isn’t all that much. Bach wrote a cantata for the coming Sunday mass every week, right?”
Writing was simply his vocation. This immaculate passion was translated well into his musical scores, encapsulating a classical allure - he appointed Bach and Stravinsky as his biggest inspirations - with romantic themes of a universal reachability. Whether you think of the mysterious, majestic violins and choral singing for his romantic pieces; the false-sounding pianos and nervous dissonances from electronics for his thriller music; the obsessive harmonica, rough guitar passages and flapping whips at Leone’s westerns; the passionate march music for the political drama La Battaglia di Algeri; or the rattling violins in the devilish The Heretic; when you recall Ennio Morricone’s wonderful scores, they have all become larger-than-life. Arguably no film composer has made his mark on the canon of film music in the manifest way that Morricone did. May he rest in peace.
Patrick Duynslaegher, advisor and curator of our retrospective section and former programme director of Film Fest Ghent, met Ennio Morricone during an interview in Rome. Read his interview (in Dutch) here.