Yesterday, Monday, July 6th, we woke up with the sad news of the death of Maestro Ennio Morricone in Rome at 91 (read more).
Today in SoundTrackFest we want to continue paying tribute to the Maestro and to his immense and crucial musical legacy, with a special and very personal article, written by Gorka Oteiza, Founder and Director of SoundTrackFest
It is quite difficult for me to identify my first contact with Ennio Morricone’s music. I think that since I was a kid, I have been exposed to his work without being aware of it. My father loved Western movies, and all of us at home knew the iconic themes Morricone had created for Sergio Leone’s films; films that we had seen so many times on TV -even my mother hummed those themes from time to time- although we were not able to link Morricone’s name to the melodies.
I think that my first conscious experience, carefully listening to the music, was with ‘Once Upon a Time in America (1984)’, premiered in Spain in 1985. A film that, at the age of 13-14 years old, impressed me both for its content and for its majestic soundtrack. I think that is the reason why ‘Deborah’s Theme’ has always been my favourite piece from Morricone ever -a bonus track that I’ve expected to find in all the concerts with the Maestro’s music, but that didn’t always happen.
Shortly after, the masterpiece ‘The Mission (1986)’ arrived, considered by many the best creation of Ennio Morricone, and definitely a soundtrack that will be registered forever in the history books: both music history and general history.
‘The Mission’ was one of the first soundtrack CDs that I bought; one that I kept listening and savoring at all times, in a moment when there was no Internet -as we know it today-, and it was complex to enjoy a soundtrack if it wasn’t by watching the movie, and paying special attention to the wonderful suites that have always accompanied the end/beginning credits.
I am not going to spend much time stressing what we all have always known, ‘The Mission’ had to be unquestionably Ennio Morricone’s first Oscar in 1987. An Oscar that was for ‘Round Midnight’ by Herbie Hancock, competing with nominees such as ‘Aliens’ by James Horner, ‘Hoosiers’ by Jerry Goldsmith and ‘Star Trek IV’ by Leonard Rosenman.
From ‘The Mission’ onwards, I was always on the lookout for any new film that was signed by Ennio Morricone that I could access. That’s how I discovered true gems such as The Untouchables (1987), Cinema Paradiso (1988), Bugsy (1991), According to Pereira (1995), The Legend of 1900 (1998), Malena (2000), Mission to Mars (2000) or Ripley’s Game (2002), to mention some of the many soundtracks the Maestro composed every year.
In the 90’s, while I was studying at the University, the Internet started to emerge little by little, and a network of forums and news groups called ‘Usenet’, was a place for all kinds of varied conversations. In one of those forums, I found a group of users who shared passionate talks about film music and about Ennio Morricone, spiced up with primitive audio files, containing soundtracks from very little known Italian movies from his filmography. In many cases the pieces were extracted directly from the film; pieces that didn’t have and probably wouldn’t ever have any kind of release otherwise. It was at that moment when I realized the wide range of music that Maestro Ennio Morricone had, outside the well-known and more commercial circuit.
If anything can be remarked about Ennio Morricone, is his incredible ability to compose, his genius to give us unforgettable melodies, his impressive variety of styles, and his admirable body of work, with a prolific career that leaves us with more than 500 compositions for the cinema, not counting his experimental pieces and his works for concert; another side that the maestro also cultivated whenever he could. In his most prolific times of the 60-70-80’s, Morricone composed for an average of 8-10 films a year, although it is true that some of them had 30 minutes of music or less. To give you just one example, in 1972 he had 29 films credited in IMDB! (link)
He won many awards at festivals, galas, and congresses, and in December 2001 I had the opportunity to see him in concert for the first time. Ennio Morricone was receiving an award for his entire career in Bilbao within the 43rd edition of the ZINEBI Festival, the Honorary Mikeldi Award, and he attended a special concert dedicated to his music, conducted by his son Andrea Morricone. I remember being in the stalls enraptured by his music, and looking up at the VIP box, from where the maestro thanked the audience for the affection showed, and came down to collect the award from the hands of the mayor of the city, Iñaki Azkuna.
It took years for the Oscars to make up for their 1986 mistake with Morricone, offering him first an Honorary Oscar in 2006, when he was already 78 years old, which he received from Clint Eastwood, who translated his speech from Italian to English.
Years later, he would get his first and only Oscar for best original score, received in 2016 by ‘The Hateful Eight (2015)’, when he was already 87 years old. On this occasion, Morricone shared the nomination with another of the greatest film music composers who has ever lived, and who fortunately we still have among us: John Williams (nominated for ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’).
The hug that Williams gave Morricone when he was announced as the winner was a hug that came from the heart, and it is something that is hard to forget. Just as it is hard to forget an emotional Ennio Morricone collecting the award, who began his speech with a special mention to John Williams, and ended it by dedicating the award to his wife Maria Travia, with whom he has been married for 55 years (since 1965), and whom he thanked for her love, patience, and affection, in every occasion he had.
In recent years, it has been rare to see Ennio Morricone composing the soundtrack for a new movie. As he said in an interview a couple of months before his 90th birthday, ‘I don’t mind being on the podium conducting an orchestra for two hours, but I retire from film music because writing soundtracks is very exhausting. In the movies, music should be good for me and for the public, there are many responsibilities and prejudices’ (read more).
This is probably why in the last 5 years Morricone was constantly touring with his music in concert, year after year, covering all the big European cities. The Maestro‘s advanced age suggested that any of these tours could be his last, until the official announcement came stating that the 2019 tour would be his ‘Farewell Tour’ (read more). Ennio Morricone gave his last live concert in the Italian city of Lucca on June 29, 2019, at the surprising age of 90 (read more). It was the end of a cycle and the end of an era.
Talking about these tours, I would like to take a brief jump back… To 2017-2018, nearly 3 years ago, while I was covering several European concerts in those tours for SoundTrackFest, and when being in contact with the team in charge, a possibility of meeting and interviewing the Maestro in person was forged.
The thing is that with the intention of promoting the tour, a press conference was being considered in one of the big European cities… or even in the Maestro’s house in Rome! A reduced group of specialized film music reporters was going to be invited to attend this event, including myself, having -at least in my case- the option of interviewing Maestro Ennio Morricone in person later on, but in a very brief way.
For various reasons, that press conference was postponed for almost a year, and in the end, it never happened. It is well-known that Morricone didn’t like to give interviews or to participate in public events. But for a whole year, that small chance was always hanging over my head, never giving up hope: I was ready to drop everything at any time, and ready to get on a plane to wherever it was needed.
I don’t know what I would have asked him, and I don’t know what we would have talked about either. I had many ideas written down, but no specific interview prepared. What do you ask to a person who has given hundreds of interviews, and who has already been asked everything? I would have probably asked him about his motivation to keep traveling and keep giving live concerts at such an advanced age, coming from someone who can have everything he wants, and who has already done everything in life. But I didn’t need to ask the question. I think that internally, I already knew the answer… Morricone’s passion to create music and his passion to share it with people, had no limits, except the physical limits imposed by health.
And it’s that delicate health, the issue that has concerned us, film music fans, for a long time. We have been constantly afraid of receiving bad news from Rome at any moment, due to the advanced age of the Maestro, and even more afraid in these convulsive times, when we have a global coronavirus pandemic hitting hard the whole planet.
Unfortunately, yesterday, Monday, July 6, 2020, bad news arrived. Sad news that we knew that would have to come one day, but that we have never been prepared to accept: Ennio Morricone is no longer with us.
Life is a journey, and the most important thing when you reach the end, is to have enjoyed the journey. Morricone, at 91 years old, had a lively, healthy, and fulfilling life, always full of music. And in his case, not only did he enjoy the journey, but also made it enjoyable for many others too.
Maestro Ennio Morricone, your journey with us is over. But thank you for giving us the music that will guide ours.
Ennio Morricone (10 November 1928 – 6 July 2020)
Article and pictures by Gorka Oteiza