Ennio Morricone, the man that defined an entire genre with his music, has passed away at the age of 91. The maestro has over 500 credits to his name according to IMDB. He would compose film scores in Italy for notable directors Bernardo Bertolucci and Lucio Fulci, until he found his true calling with his classmate Sergio Leone. Morricone and Leone would pave the way for the “spaghetti westerns” to make a big splash upon our shores and make a star out of Clint Eastwood. For a while, the three were synonymous with the genre: A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and, most famous, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Morricone, Leone and Corbucci would have an enormous influence on Quentin Tarantino. QT would feature Morricone and Corbucci’s film Navajo Joe, which was directed by Sergio Corbucci, for his film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood with Leonardo DiCaprio as the Burt Reynolds character. Over the years the composer would volley between directors Leone and Corbucci who some felt had a friendly competition with their westerns.
The composer would not only be famous for spaghetti westerns, but also the ushering in of the lurid Italian giallo films, a thriller-horror genre that sometimes could deal with any number of subjects: mystery, crime, detectives and more. This usually was accompanied by extreme violence. Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci would utilize the maestro’s music in Cat ‘o Nine Tails, Four Flies on Grey Velvet and A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. This would lead to several other popular giallo projects such as Black Belly of the Tarantula, Cold Eyes of Fear and Short Night of Glass Dolls.
As popular as Morricone was in the ’60s and ’70s composing such iconic film scores as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, Two Mules for Sister Sara, Sacco & Vanzetti and 1900, he would go ignored by the Academy Awards. That is, until 1978 when he would be recognized for Days of Heaven where he matched director Terrence Malick and Néstor Almendros’ beautiful imagery with a remarkable lyrical score. The merging was like poetry in motion. Yet, he was only to be a nominee, beaten by Giorgio Moroder’s thumping synthetic score for Midnight Express.
The Maestro would be passed over four more times by the Academy with such rousing and beautiful scores from The Mission and The Untouchables until 2016 when he would finally be recognized for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. It felt more like the Academy bowing down to him for all their missteps over the many years. And, Tarantino was the man’s biggest cheerleader.
Morricone’s career spanned from 1960 all the way through 2020. That’s right, at 91 the man was still working. He was in pre-production for the umpteenth version of the fantasy film The Canterville Ghost. His music has inspired countless composers, directors, producers and writers.
Personally, it was Morricone’s score for Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Great Silence, The Guns for San Sebastian and The Five Man Army that consistently drove me to write my novel, Gothic Dust. His music made all those films larger than life and breathed life into all of the characters in my story. In many ways I was able to infuse the spirit of his music into my book which made it a far more interesting read.
Ennio Morricone leaves a legacy of melodic passion, a rhapsody of emotions and an appreciation for the human heart whether it be broken or brimming with love that he so effortlessly set to music. His memory, like his music, will live on. But, I am saddened at the thought that the artist will no longer be creating poetic sounds for our ears in the years to come. For now, sit quietly back and revel in one of his many masterpieces as you try to hold back the tears…