Today marks one week since we lost legendary Maestro Ennio Morricone, and in SoundTrackFest we wanted to do something special to honor him.
Last week we picked up the phone (or the email 😄), and 29 Film Music World professionals answered SoundTrackFest’s call to write something personal about him: composers, orchestra conductors, arrangers/orchestrators, producers…
And let us tell you something… When we asked them to write one page about Maestro Ennio Morricone… they jumped onboard this tribute without even thinking twice! And in some cases, we contacted them just a few days ago! Their amazing answer was always the same… “I’ll be honored to do it. Morricone was a big influence for me. When do you need it?”
This attitude makes crystal clear what Maestro Ennio Morricone meant to the community of Film Music World. And today, with this humble homage, this group of professionals wanted to send their own personal ‘Letters to Ennio Morricone’.
Thank you very much to all the people who have collaborated against the clock, making this ambitious special article a reality, probably the most ambitious article we have ever organized: Alberto Torres, Arnau Bataller, Arturo Cardelús, Carlos M. Jara, David Hernando, Diego Navarro, Erik Ochsner, Federico Jusid, Francisco Cuadrado, Gary Marlowe, Iván Capillas, Iván M. Lacámara, Iván Palomares, Javier Quilis, Joseba Beristain, Josué Vergara, Leigh Phillips, Luis Ivars, Manel Gil-Inglada, Manel Santisteban, Marc Timón, Marco Valerio Antonini, Michiel de Boer, Mikael Carlsson, Pascal Gaigne, Pawel Gorniak, Sergio Moure de Oteyza, Vanessa Garde, and Zacarías M. de la Riva. And special thanks go to Diego Ruiz Exposito for the poster and the designs. 🙏🎶💓🎶🙏
Musician and Film, TV, and advertising music composer
Film & TV music composer
Conductor and founder of the BSO
Composer and conductor
Composer and Sound Designer
Composer & Producer
Composer, conductor, and Film Scoring professor
Composer and Conductor
Film Music composer
Composer and music producer
Composer & Orchestrator
Composer & Board Member of ECSA
Award-Winner Film Composer
Composer & Orchestra Conductor
Italian film composer based in Los Angeles
Conductor & Orchestrator
Composer and Producer
Composer for film and TV
Composer for Audiovisual Media
Composer and absolute fan of Ennio Morricone
Alberto Torres (Musician and Film, TV, and advertising music composer)
Morricone is one of those musicians who has blown my head off several times in my life. It always seemed to me the most rock ‘n’ roll thing a guy with a baton in his hand could be. He’s part of my musical sanctuary alongside Bowie, Bach, Morente, Dylan, Goldsmith or Radiohead. His music, no doubt, is very much to blame for my being in this business.
I discovered his work little by little and in an absolutely erratic way. I saw The Mission as a teenager and was fascinated by the soundtrack. Then someone thought it was a good idea to use Gabriel’s theme in the masses at my priest’s managed school (whom I have to thank for my atheism), and I became disinterested. At that time, nothing could compete with Kurt Cobain and Bach’s fugues.
Already at the university, I was looking forward to leaving the conservatory and doing other things when a good friend from the college passed me some western movies with a certain cult aura. So, with a lot of smoke and night sessions, I discovered the Dollar Trilogy. And that’s when the love started. And it came from the common places (which when you’re twenty, you don’t know they are or care): Cinema Paradiso, Novecento, The Untouchables, Once Upon a Time in America… I went digging and it turned out that the video library of the Faculty of Information Sciences of the Complutense in Madrid showed films by Corbucci, Sollima, Pasolini, el Giallo, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! or wonderful freak movies like The Humanoid…
Then I began to study him: his mastery of music writing (to which I often resort in my classes), his love of chess, his melodic intelligence, his work ethic, his brilliant timbre innovation, his militancy in the Italian Communist Party… What made me fall in love was discovering his beginnings as an arranger of melodic pop songs (he even made a hit for Mina, Sa telefonando) and his membership of the quintessential Italian avant-garde music group: the Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza. Formed in 1964 around the figure of Franco Evangelisti, Morricone joined the project’s second formation and recorded on all its albums as a trumpet player and full member. They were a group of composer-performers who improvised, influenced by the works of Cage, Stockhausen and everything that smelled of the avant-garde in those 1960s. Timbre experimentation through electronic or acoustic “ready-made” instruments, formal freedom, and flirtations with popular and traditional music became an exceptional breeding ground for the sonorities and processes that Morricone applied in his soundtracks.
But not only in its soundtracks, since Morricone has a very interesting production of absolute music, far from its cinematography where atonality, technological experimentation or randomness reign. I’m talking about works like Suoni per Dino, Prohibito, Cadenza, Fluidi or Totem… without forgetting his Studies for Piano or the Papae Francisci Mass.
I went to see him play in Paris in November 2018. I was 5 people away from entering the master class he offered the day before at the Cinémathèque (after stoically enduring two hours queuing outside with my girl). In May 2019, I saw him again at the Sports Palace in Madrid. We tried to organize, together with Gonzalo de Pedro, a master class for him at the Cinematheque, but it was impossible to fit the dates. Actually, we were dying to meet him.
It won’t be able anymore. His life is over. But Morricone will be eternal.
Thank you, Maestro.
Alberto Torres composes music for film, TV, and advertising
He is involved in various indie pop, electronic and experimental flamenco projects
(Mechanism, Vallellano & The Royal Gipsy Orchestra or p.a.r.a.d.i.s.o.)
PS: I have attached a Spotify Playlist with the themes and movies of the article.
Arnau Bataller (Film & TV music composer)
Memories of Morricone
With Morricone’s death you realize that “sharing” with others “your” composer, the one who has accompanied you in so many moments of personal and unique experiences, is not easy. You discover that you are not the first to have enjoyed his music and that you will not be the last to discover his cinema. Although we all have our own particular Morricone, today more than ever you understand what it means to be a universal composer, what it means to be recognized in life and what it means to be reassured that your name will surely go down in the history of cinema, and the history of 20th century music in capital letters.
Why is Morricone mine and no one else’s? Because for me Morricone means long summer trips with my family to the Pyrenees listening again and again to their greatest hits for Spaghetti Western. Being 6 years old, getting into the car on your way to a mountain camping holiday, and 5 minutes after leaving home saying: “Shall we put For A Few Dollars More? ” Our summer trips were long journeys, without air conditioning, but luckily with radio cassettes: and of all the cassettes that could have been played (Arevalo’s jokes, Camela’s songs or Cecilio’s greatest hits to cite some hits from the gas stations of the time) we were lucky that my father bought “Ennio Morricone’s Greatest Hits, For A Few Dollars More and others…” So the first conscious memories I have of a soundtrack, were the timbres that the brilliant composer created for this genre. Later on, another mythical cassette for me would join the car collection: the OST of The Neverending Story… but that’s another story.
I would like to think that so many hours of repetition of catchy melodies, iconic motifs, short and simple but very strong harmonic progressions, and new timbres, were somehow embedded in my puerile brain and that to a greater or lesser extent, they have influenced me to be who I am as a composer.
My relationship with Morricone does not end with my childhood memories. In my second feature film, Herois, directed by Pau Freixas, there was a scene of mourning under the sun among gangs of children. For the scene we recorded music that clearly paid homage to “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, giving the scene an epic yet comical tone.
In addition to these memories, Morricone left me with his great sense of melody and the strength of his harmony. I will always remember the search for timbre through the incorporation of instruments that are not part of the classical tradition. I will remember his mixture of avant-garde and popular music, of atonal texture and melody, of his eclecticism, of his ease in transcending the film, of his integrity as a creator, of his capacity to generate new sound languages, but above all, I will remember his passion, love and rigor for a job well done.
Film & TV music composer
Arturo Cardelús (Composer)
He was an absolute giant, a unique artist who marked our lives forever. I could write a book about his talents, but I will focus on the one I admire the most: Morricone sounded like Morricone. No matter the style, the instrumentation, the movie needs, his music always had his signature—it was always his.
In an era where they say that a good soundtrack goes unnoticed, it’s especially hard to say goodbye to Morricone. With his death we lose a way of storytelling, perhaps forever. Films where the music was an essential part of the script, memorable melodies… Can anyone watch Cinema Paradiso and not notice the score?
There are so many great Morricone scores, but if I had to pick a favorite I would choose Once Upon a Time in America. It’s impossible to understand that movie without the music. I think I’ve listened to Deborah’s theme more than any other film music track.
Thanks Maestro for everything you’ve given us. Your music will continue to show us the way.
Carlos M. Jara (Composer)
I find myself writing these words as I listen to the master’s work. He who has left us, and about whom from now on, as expected, we will speak in the past tense. We will go from saying “is” to saying “was”. But if there is anything we can do to ease the sadness that accompanies his loss, it is surely his own work. It will be enough to listen to his music, or to watch a film he worked on. That is the power that his art gives us, that we can visit him again at will.
In my case, as a composer, I can scrutinize his scores. In this way, I began to see from the time I was a child that those notes were not set at random, but that there was great wisdom behind each stroke. Morricone has been for me one of the greatest contemporary influences. And it still is, because even though I began to study him as a child, my musical knowledge is still far from being able to appreciate all the mastery that is present in his music. That is why he is called, and rightly so: Maestro.
And recently, that trip I made in 2016 to Rome to see him in concert came to mind. I did not make that trip alone, but I did it with Alfonso Cortés Cabanillas, director of the film “Sordo”, a western to which I had the pleasure of giving a soundtrack. I remember the times that Alfonso and I named Morricone in the conception of the soundtrack, because being a western, it was intended to pay him a tribute. If Morricone had listened to that soundtrack I don’t think he would have laughed, but of course he would have seen it as the work of a child. And it certainly should be. But I want to keep in mind that I had the opportunity to see him, and I had the opportunity to pay him a tribute in the best way I could.
I think we can feel fortunate to have lived in his time. And to paraphrase Ulysses in the Iliad [… Because men rise and fall like wheat in winter, but these names will never die. Let them say I walked with giants! Let them say that I lived in the time of Morricone…]
But let’s remember again the fortune we have, and that only in an in-person way has the master left us, to join the Olympus of composers where he undoubtedly has his place. And that we can live with him again with our ears, our spirit and our heart, just by pressing “play”. And that way we can always say: “Morricone IS…”
Carlos M. Jara
David Hernando (Conductor and founder of the BSO)
The mission of Ennio Morricone
Music for the cinema, and other audiovisual media, has always been the great forgotten genre. Music has always been with the “images”; even in Egypt or Ancient Greece times it was there accompanying images. In reality, music just for listening is a fairly recent “invention”, about 300 years ago only.
Ennio Morricone has been one of our best composers, and I am not going to say a film music composer, but a composer. There is no doubt about his great capacity to invent and reinvent himself during his very long career, full of great masterpieces. His conviction about his work and his life is commendable: he was born and died in Rome because that’s what he wanted, he didn’t need to be in Hollywood, nor move in his glamour to work with the best directors and great movies. In his work he always followed a different line from the rest: always looking for something new.
I always liked his concept of tradition, he had a traditional education, an excellent musical preparation, his wife, his family, his grandchildren and his work. He was a music craftsman, learning from his teachers and learning all his life. Music will always be music and our music comes from where it comes from, it is not possible to cheat and skip steps, if you do not know how to read and you do not read much, you will not be able to write a great novel, and in Morricone’s music we can always find this tradition without cheating.
I discovered Morricone in ’89 with “The Mission”, I’m sure I would heard some other soundtracks but I don’t remember them. It was on this date that the murder of five Jesuit priests in El Salvador took place, a trial that comes out precisely now, 30 years later. At that time I was studying for my bachelor’s degree in a Jesuit school in Valladolid and it was a real shock. Some of them had been in Valladolid at our school. At that time, as always, the Jesuits were being very critical throughout Latin America and that’s why a group of military men killed them. The Jesuit Fathers decided then that the best way for us to understand the situation was to take us to see a film: The Mission, which ultimately tells the same story, which happened several centuries before.
I had been studying music for many years, I was already conducting choirs, playing various instruments, and even playing in the school orchestra, so music was already my great passion. I think that the film is talking about communication through music, something that was historically real. Music is what allowed us to get closer to the indigenous peoples, since they were completely reluctant to have contact with the Western world. With time, it was discovered that they had a great talent for music and according to the chronicles of the time, music could be heard in the churches of the jungle with the same quality as in Rome itself. There were even composers like the Spanish Italian Jesuit Domenico Zipoli who worked in this area.
The key element of The Mission is music. No wonder that, as I read it now, it was Morricone’s favorite movie. Today I continue to be moved by it because of all that it means and meant in my life: music as a means of communication, a story of inequality that continues to exist, a struggle for power, different visions to solve it… and music for the movies, something that I dreamed of dedicating myself to, and which I am currently dedicating myself now, recording soundtracks with the best composers in the world.
Morricone and his music will always be in our hearts, because the image reaches our eyes, but the music reaches directly to our soul: our heart.
Conductor and founder of the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra
Diego Navarro (Composer and conductor)
This is for you, dear Maestro
It has only been a few days, a week, and I am still shocked after learning of the disappearance of the enormous Ennio Morricone. Fortunately, he leaves us an extraordinary legacy, at the level of the exalted artist that he was. For me, he represents the absolute pinnacle in terms of music for the audiovisual industry. On a personal level, and in spite of not having had the joy of knowing him in person, I feel that someone very close to me, like family, has left. It has been so much what I have listened to and studied his music, enjoyed compass by compass that, in some way, I feel that I got to know him “inside out”.
I discovered Morricone as a child, and I recognize that he has in a good part responsible for me being a composer of music for the cinema today. From my point of view, as an artist, the feeling of continuous search must be the prevailing attitude in the creator’s day-to-day life. In this sense, Morricone represents an absolute example. You only have to stop and listen to his music, to see how it was always in full evolution. He could not be otherwise, loyal to his label, to a style and sound of his own that defined him as a composer. Morricone always impressed me with the construction and incredible beauty of his melodies. His wonderful orchestrations were effective, perfect, simple for the most part, but written in golden proportion. If you changed something, the piece would start to limp.
I have to admit that he was probably the composer who moved me the most. His music manages to travel to your soul, and to adhere to it. I remember perfectly the enormous impact of when I first saw “Cinema Paradiso” in the theatre. The emotional shock was tremendous. Even today, when I listen to it, I shudder. No matter how many times I do it. Always, the score generates the same effect. It is, to this day, one of my favorite films and soundtracks of all time. I’ve given just one example, I could write pages quoting and analyzing his work.
Ennio Morricone represents the absolute summit of an art. As a composer, the Roman author has had a profound influence on me. The fact that the orchestra was the palette on which to draw his music does not make him an old school composer or, as I once read, “old fashioned” for those of us who continue to write orchestral music today. I have always found this statement to be tremendously absurd. Complete nonsense. I also refuse to accept that, after his disappearance, an era ends. We have lost a genius of music for the cinema that cannot be repeated, but his legacy prevails in all those composers that we have adored and grown artistically through his music, and that we continue to defend a model that continues and will continue to be valid.
The composer had a full life. He lived from his art, created with his wife a beautiful family, composed and conducted his music until a very advanced age, and finally he left us. He left us an immeasurable artistic legacy that will last in time, and that became a legend even before its creator left us. The Maestro will continue to live on through his work, forever.
Composer and conductor
Erik Ochsner (Conductor)
Thank you for making me cry so many times
…the intensity increases, the crescendo sneaks in, wait for it and then….*BOOOOMMMM* rings the plush-rounded big bass drum followed by a majestic trumpet.
I was a first-year student at Dartmouth College and my English class was reading a book by Annie Dillard. She described walking across a field, where you can see a tree in its entirety, and suddenly, in a heartbeat, the tree sheds all of its color as the migrating birds take flight. Somehow the musical memory and this newly found literature intersected in my brain, and I wrote a paper about how imagery is connotative. As we read and experience new things, our reaction is based on our past experiences, no one else’s. The arts are personal, internal, emotional, and create a unique connotative experience for us all. A new piece of music or a new painting or an abstract sculpture – we will all have our own unique interaction with it. We see it, feel it, and understand it differently.
With film scoring, the composer and the film director are moving us towards an emotion. We are subtly, or sometimes, not so subtly, instructed how to feel. A fascinating proposition for a composer, no? The director discusses with the composer how the audience should feel during this scene and that scene. How does a composer achieve that? They must source their own emotions to get to our emotions, and Ennio Morricone was a genius at how to exactly do just that.
One of my favorite soundtracks from Morricone is The Mission. The opening track “On Earth as it is in Heaven” tells us the story in about 4 minutes. The story, more or less, follows a Spanish priest as he travels to South America “to convert the savages” into Christians. First, Morricone uses the inspiration of centuries of liturgical music, including the Spanish church – for example Tomás Luis de Victoria’s “Sancta Maria Succurre Miseris.” Shortly after we hear the strings, harpsichord and classical choir, we are introduced to the sound of priest Gabriel’s oboe, but on top of this, Morricone adds the sound of a less “sophisticated” group of choir members and drummers. He has now achieved the soundscape of classical church and the natives from Argentina. This is perfect: the polished “vs.” the raw. Morricone’s genius. This track always brings goosebumps and tears to my eyes.
The whole world recognizes The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Cinema Paradiso themes, but the soaring and moving melodies from Malena, or Hamlet, or Wolf, or Bugsy, or the Dolce and Gabbana commercials with Sofia Loren! Ennio was a chameleon composer, able to create a new sound palette as required for each piece he composed. To me, that is the sign of genius, and there are not so many composers who can successfully achieve that!
Maestro Morricone, thank you for making me cry so many times. Thank you for moving us in so many ways. I do sincerely regret, I never the honor to meet you. Your music – including 519 film and TV composition credits – has always been so unabashedly full of emotion, how did you do it? I live and hope that I get to conduct more of your music in my lifetime. Rest in peace. Goosebumps and tears.
Federico Jusid (Composer)
Ennio Morricone was undoubtedly one of the most powerful and early stimuli and impacts that connected me to film music. Probably one of the main reasons why I chose this career.
I remember when I was 9 or 10 years old, leaving a neighborhood cinema club, after seeing “The Professional” -by G. Lautner, with Jean Paul Belmondo-, running anxiously towards my house (…now that I think about it, I don’t know how I got into that movie, being alone, in the middle of the military dictatorship in Argentina. Some genius idea of my parents, who must have managed to get me there!) Anyway, the point is that I was in a hurry to get home and put my hands on my piano, so that I could play and decipher that powerful and carefree melodramatic Leit Motiv, but in such good taste, that it had me totally invaded and impregnated. And of course this happened to me successively with “Once Upon a Time in America”, “Cinema Paradiso”, etc.
Then came the years of conservatory and study of academic music, and without realizing it, I distanced myself a little from his work. For Morricone’s music was never the most complex or sophisticated. They are not works that offer a composition student a deep universe for analysis, let’s say.
But later, once I had passed this stage of academic fever and, above all, as I matured as a film musician, I understood that Ennio was, above all, a great filmmaker, a storyteller who told stories through music. And for this supreme objective he was capable of making use, musically, of anything: of symphonism, of the synthesizers of each era, of folk, of a nineteenth-century aesthetic, of melodrama, of kirsch, of even slightly rustic elements or of unforgettable off-key sounds, as in his spaghetti westerns. Anything to ensure that the score always has its own voice, with a huge identity and, most importantly, that it adds another dimension to the film.
Francisco Cuadrado (Composer and Sound Designer)
They say that adolescence is one of the most intense times of life. Physical changes, hormonal development, emotional ups and downs… it is also a time when many young people feel lost. For me, adolescence led me to find myself, what I wanted to do and what I wanted to dedicate my life to. And it was through music. And not just any music.
I was 15, just the age my son Javi is now. I had grown up watching a lot of movies and listening to a lot of music, especially movie soundtracks. There was some magic in how I could remember a scene, a dialogue, an editing sequence, a frame from a certain shot… just by hearing a fragment of the music from a certain film. I had studied at the conservatory since I was 8, but I wasn’t at all attracted to becoming a pianist. In fact, I was considering studying law, above all other options. For me, music was kind of a hobby, a way to disconnect from many things and to connect with others, to express myself and to feel.
It was at Christmas that year, 1989, when I saw Cinema Paradiso. The film grabbed me inside, and it hasn’t let go until today. It wasn’t Totó’s boldness or his relationship with Alfredo. It wasn’t the story of the passionate courtship between the young Salvatore and the beautiful Elena. It was nothing like that. It was to feel all the love for cinema that came out of every frame of that film. Discovering cinema in a completely different way.
And it was the music. The soundtrack composed by Ennio Morricone. The music catalyzed all those emotions, all those experiences, in a different way from what had happened to me with many other films. With Cinema Paradiso I felt that a soundtrack could not only add drama to a scene (like the song “Cinema on fire”), illustrate the passage of time (like the cut “From American Sex Appeal to the first Fellini”), increase the feeling of nostalgia (“Visit to the Cinema”) or exalt the most passionate love (“For Elena”). I felt that I could do all that and, moreover, do it by connecting with the viewer in the most transparent, simple, and direct way.
If there is something that stands out above all else in the music composed by Maestro Morricone for Cinema Paradiso, it is its simplicity. The melodies, many of which have an air of popular music, evolve by joint degree, note by note, or through relatively easy intervals to sing (3rd or 6th). The harmony is brilliantly tonal and consonant, with no great dissonances to obscure the music. The orchestration is masterfully simple: strings, piano, some occasional appearances of keyboard percussion instruments, and a beautiful use of woodwind instruments, with that special velvety tone of the saxophone, which is the protagonist in many of the pieces. Antoine de Saint-Exupèry, the author of “The Little Prince”, said that perfection is not achieved when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away. He could well have said it thinking of the music of Cinema Paradiso.
This soundtrack made me discover that music could make a film reach directly into the soul of the spectator, and generate that magical catharsis that allows you to enjoy that experience again and again just by listening to the first notes. It was then that I decided I wanted to study filmmaking and continue composing, when I decided I wanted to tell stories that way, through music. This soundtrack, like many others by the Maestro, has inspired and accompanied me throughout my career. Today, 30 years later, I still feel that same happiness and love every time I face a new project. Because, deep down, it’s about love. Like the love that comes out of the final scene of the film, that “Projection for Two”. Love for what you do.
Thank you, Maestro Morricone, for giving me that gift with your music.
Composer and Sound Designer
Gary Marlowe (Composer & Producer)
Carissimo Ennio Morricone,
I simply want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Because you were, unknowingly, responsible for what I am now.
It all started when I was a teenager, back in Berlin. I still remember every little detail of the first time I went to see ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, in 1984. The movie theater, the uncomfortable seats, the beautiful girl next to me, the great love of my adolescent years. Your music. Deborah´s Theme. The outside world was gone, we were living only in that tiny, terribly uncomfortable movie theater, tears in our eyes, completely swept away by emotion. And suddenly, everything made sense. In that very moment, it was totally clear to me that I wanted to compose for the movies.
And so it came to happen.
Some time later, I missed the chance to have you as my teacher. By one year. When I started studying at the Chigiana Academy, you had just stopped teaching there. So I went with Nicola Piovani, and Luis Bacalov as my maestri, which of course was fabulous. But, looking back now, I guess you have always been present in those sun-drenched classrooms in Tuscany. Like some sort of invisible “ghost” maestro, or spiritual guide. Might have been the clearly Italian school of musical thinking I was brought up with there, might have been the love for melodies I´ve been taught, might have been the musical era you all came from, that had an undeniable imprint on my musical tastes.
Fact is, when I scored my first, bigger movie for Warner, and delivered my layouts to the director and producers, they went: “unbelieveable… that guy sounds like Morricone!”. I have to admit that I got that completely wrong. I held that for a compliment, and was very proud of it. Foolish me. Took me a while to understand that, of course, there is only one Morricone, and there will never be another alike. It was my blind love for your music, which misled me to try to emulate your style, in a most embarrassing way. I still blush when I think of those attempts. But in all that, there was another lesson, which I got, indirectly, from you. Don´t copy. Be yourself, no matter what they say.
Surely took me some time to digest this, and finally develop my own voice. Still, I am sure that somewhere, deep inside my weird and playful head, your technicolor, cinemascope-size influence is lingering, giving me a nice little “scintilla” (Italian for bright idea) every now and then, as another gift from you.
I am ever so grateful to have had the immense pleasure to see you conduct your own music, in two very special occasions. The first was in Venezia, back in 2007, during the years when I lived there. Your gorgeous music could not have had a better back drop than the Piazza San Marco, and I will remember that magical night under the Campanile forever. It felt like you were playing in your own living room. Only later was I to discover you did indeed have an apartment in Venice.
The second and last time was only a good year ago. My oldest school days friend, surprised me with the tickets for your farewell concert in Berlin. We have spent so many hours together as teenagers, watching your movies in theaters, that he thought it would be just natural to go and see you together, just one more time. Needless to say, that evening was an overwhelming triumph, and I hope you did feel the immense love and respect that we, the audience, had for you.
To see how you worked with the orchestra was nothing short of a revelation. Simply watching you conduct explained so many little things to me that have rather been a mystery before. I feel very sorry for the coming generations, who will not have the great luck to witness you perform live anymore. We who we have seen you in concert are privileged, blessed, and eternally thankful.
I have just received some questions for an interview. The first is: “What is music for the movies for you?”.
My answer will be very short.
Grazie infinite, maestro.
Composer & Producer
Iván Capillas (Composer, conductor, and Film Scoring professor)
I remember when I was a kid listening to a vinyl at my friend’s father’s house with different music. I thought, “… what a funny music, what must it be?” That kind of music wasn’t exactly what you heard on the radio, it had something different, mysterious to me. Sometime later, I discovered that it was the soundtrack of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and I discovered it one day when the movie was on TV.
From then on, I discovered Morricone, and when I saw what that music explained, it stopped being curious, it became cinema instead of music. And that’s one of the greatest things that the Maestro has left me, the art of making films through music.
Morricone and Williams have been my references, I grew up with them. From Morricone I have learned that simplicity is great, direct, transparent; films like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, “Cinema Paradiso”, “The Mission”… are pure cinema and at the same time they are simplicity, honesty, and commitment. And in times when we are asked for more “exotic” things, because they are in fashion, no matter if they explain the film well, badly or not at all, the value of the essential is missing: MAKING CINEMA.
We will miss the Maestro, although he will really always be among us…
Composer, conductor, and Film Scoring professor
Iván M. Lacámara (Soundtrack Composer)
If I had to qualify Ennio Morricone with just one word, besides genius which is the obvious one, it would be versatile. Something that for many purists would be a bad thing, for me is “quality”. Something that every composer should aspire to be.
Throughout his career, it seems he never said no to anything new, or different from what he had done before. It seems that he even sought it out. That non-conformist spirit of self-improvement that has led him to be active until he was 91. Now that’s “dying with your boots on”, and not the westerns he masterfully set music to.
Another fundamental part of this Morricone style, with which he impregnated everything from a Hollywood blockbuster to auteur cinema to a “simple Italian TV movie”, is the melody.
A master in its use. It is a fundamental part of music in order to move people, and in recent years it seems to be so reviled by the directors, and that those of us who try to dedicate ourselves to this, suffer so much today. I envy you Maestro… to be able to compose themes and leitmotifs!
My first Morricone experience, being already aware, was with “The Mission”. A film that I saw in the cinema when I was 9 years old, and which I remember was a bit boring at the time. It wasn’t until bit later, when I was already studying harmony at the age of 14, that its soundtrack caught my attention, as well as that of “The Untouchables”, in such a way that I couldn’t get it out of my head, becoming almost an obsession.
I can only thank you, above all for having been authentic, and not having bowed to fashions and bizarre requests from directors, but also for that humility that you have carried through to the end, not wanting to be the protagonist or your own farewell.
May the earth be gentle to you Maestro.
Iván M. Lacámara
Iván Palomares (Composer and Conductor)
When Gorka Oteiza invited me a year ago to see Ennio Morricone live, I was almost reluctant to do so because I had hardly any time, and I was so wrapped up in the musical delivery that I had at the time. “Orchestra music but processed through the loudspeaker… I don’t know if it’s worth it just to see this man live… besides, he must be very old”.
I left that concert with a slap of humility that still lasts and that I hope and desire will continue to accompany me for the rest of my career.
When I discovered Morricone as an amateur, back in the Pleistocene, I didn’t know very well what to hold on to when listening to any of his music. So, I simply let myself enjoy, admire, and be carried away by that wonderfully written music that moved my feelings and provoked in the film what others have defined as “the Morricone effect”… that one that, just by putting his music in a film, managed to totally change the perception of it.
Already in my way as a composer, as a conductor, and as a filmmaker, one learns to analyze what one hears in a more rational way, and not only receive the emotions, but also analyze them, understand and visualize what notes are written, how they are being interpreted, and how they have been conceived so that everything tells a story.
That concert was the confirmation of being witnessing a totally unrepeatable artist.
First of all, by understanding Morricone’s unique character and personality: It was played what he decided and with the Tempi he wanted. At times, the orchestra and soloists needed to breathe more than the Maestro was asking for.
But the Maestro decided. At the age of 90, there was no trace of imposition in his gesture, but rather of decision, and in the musicians there was only respect and dedication, despite the difficulty of some passages that, in the hands of other maestros, might have generated some resistance in favour of facilitating the performance.
This character, which has been the subject of so many anecdotes in the interviews he conducted, had its reason for being in the tenacity with which he conducted and transmitted his own music.
Unlike the usual writing of the soundtracks, designed to the millimetre of the editing and adapted in their interpretation to fit exactly what happens on screen, the scores I was listening to and visualizing in my mind, were written in an almost linear way and the music was much more based on the musical direction and interpretation of the Tempi, allowing a freedom of expression much more appropriate to concert music than to film music.
In short: Because of how it was written, Morricone’s music sounded like Morricone, not only because of how he had written it, but, to the same extent, because of how he conducted it.
In the hands of another conductor, without the original reference of the recording, the same piece could have sounded completely different.
Someone who decides to leave a film score so open to performance could only be someone who was very clear about how important both the musicians who play it and the way they express it are. And something like that can only happen in a musician who has lived the music from the performer’s point of view, from the lectern and not only from the confines of his studio.
Secondly, the composition itself, the choice of lesser known pieces and the type of writing. From this expressive flexibility emerged notes with snippets of early music and in others with memories of the avant-garde, Baroque, and Renaissance forms, which, holding on to their very solid structure, gave free rein in the interior to an infinite number of madnesses and musical developments of total fantasy, but with absolute control of the musical form, timbre, and counterpoint, without giving up one bit of creative freedom.
That day, I was watching live to a Complete Artist, playing with the freedom of a child but with the control of a master. A musician who, at 90 years of age, had an intact creative energy and a crazy desire to transmit it and assert himself. To a terrible enfant of composition for cinema, who has managed to be faithful to his way of understanding music and to the path of making films with it, surviving the bad ways of the profession.
I believe that Morricone’s greatest legacy, apart from his music, is to have demonstrated that the figure of the Complete Artist does not have to exist only in the field of concerts and pure creation.
That it has a place in a “small” genre such as film music, coming to enlarge it, to sublimate it, and to provoke, as few geniuses do in history, a delicious Stendhal Syndrome.
Grazie, Grazie, Grazie di tutto, Maestro. Fa’ Buon Viaggio.
Composer and Conductor
Javier Quilis (Music composer)
Morricone: A legacy for the History of Music and Film
A few days ago we woke up with the sad news of the disappearance of one of the most respected composers in the world of soundtracks. Maestro Morricone left us at 91, but fortunately his legacy will remain for many years to come.
Talking about his music and what he brought to the world of cinema would take a lot of time and space. So I want to tell you how I discovered Morricone, how he made me fall in love, and how I fell in love again recently.
I was about 7 or 8 years old and a cassette tape came home called “For a Few Dollars More and Other Western Songs”. There was “For a Fistful of Dollars”, “The Magnificent 7”, “Johnny Guitar”, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly ” or “For a Few Dollars More” among others. The truth is that that tape fascinated me and given my young age, it transported me to the lands of the Far West. At that time I was not interested in who the composers of those songs were, but without knowing it, Morricone had appeared in my life.
Some years later (I was 12 years old) I heard “The Mission ” on the radio and asked my parents to buy the record for me. I listened to that vinyl hundreds of times. That music seemed heavenly to me. I fell in love with it. That’s how I began to discover the genius responsible for that music and I began to discover Ennio Morricone and his discography… “Cinema Paradiso”, “Once upon a time in America”, “The Untouchables”, “The Best Offer” or “Malena” are some of the titles that I enjoyed at home and when I listened to them, it was impossible not to move my hands like a conductor, to the sound of those unforgettable melodies. It was poetry in movement made music.
Recently I had lost some interest in the Italian master… but “En mai fais ce qu’il te plait” came along and I fell back into the nets of beauty made music. Lyricism, a sublime orchestration, and a soundtrack that explains narratively as much as watching the film itself. For those who don’t know it yet, I highly recommend listening to it. Personally, the best I have heard of the Roman genius.
I was lucky enough to see the maestro in concert a little over a year ago in Madrid. And although the location, the sound or the repertoire did not seem to me to be of the level expected for a farewell to a career, the mere presence of Ennio Morricone at the head of the orchestra and choirs, justified being there and paying for a ticket.
Now he has left, but it is a good opportunity to discover him (those who don’t know him… yes, there’re are some), to deepen in his discography (as it is my case) and, in short, to enjoy the Italian maestro.
Rest in peace. We will continue to love your music, because as they said in one of your films and I think it’s a life lesson…
“Whatever you do, love it as you loved the cabin of Paradiso as a child.”
Joseba Beristain (Film Music composer)
These days I’ve read many messages on social networks from people who told a kind of revelation when they first heard one of the soundtracks composed by Ennio Morricone. It was not my case. For me, Morricone’s music was something that had always existed. Something that was already a classic, something that people revered and appreciated and that, although I enjoyed it too, I didn’t value as much as I do today.
The ignorance and possibly also the arrogance of my adolescence, made it difficult for me to see beyond the aesthetic beauty of his music. That is why, looking back, I realize that I have had a progressive approach to his music and his person that, as in the best stories, I am discovering little by little.
My first memory of Ennio Morricone’s music is to listen to the soundtrack of The Mission on Cassette, to appreciate and enjoy the varied music beyond Gabriel’s Oboe theme and, to my surprise, also to discover for the first time how a music could represent something, in this case a tribe and at the same time convey different emotions, from joy to desolation. And without wanting to, I discovered what a leitmotif was and how it could be used to tell stories.
Later, I began to compose my own music, and that’s when I discovered the difficulty of creating interesting melodies and the great ability that Morricone had to do so. How was he able to create those long melodies that grow, evolve and unfold in a subtle but clear way, over a rich and solid harmony, with a result always wrapped in a halo of beauty and elegance? How did he do it so that everything would flow so naturally, as if that music had always existed, just as he had written it? If I remember correctly, Morricone himself said that the gift for creating good melodies was something innate to a person, something that could hardly be taught. Of course, he had it. And the aesthetic pleasure of listening to those melodies became an emotional and experiential pleasure, with a direct message to the soul, without intermediaries.
Later I discovered the innovative Morricone. I discovered that that sound of the West that was so obvious to me, so classic, that I had experienced with so many imitations, tributes, and parodies, was actually a creation of his. Something that his genius was able to create by breaking all the existing molds in the genre. It’s easy to say. Breaking molds. Many composers try, but few succeed, and even fewer do it with such elegance and efficiency.
Then came the discovery of Ennio Morricone, the creator. The reading of the book ‘In search of that sound’ showed me an ARTIST, with capital letters: intellectual, committed to art, the public, and the expansion of the frontiers of music itself, tireless worker, brave and innovative. Knowing his way of thinking, his way of working, raised even more the idea I had about him.
And then came the concert in Bilbao in 2019, and that’s where I met Morricone the legend, a myth revered communally by millions of people. I was thrilled to see him enter the stage, to be aware that we were before one of the most important pillars of what our profession is. An artist who has left a legacy so vast that it is almost unmanageable, capable of reaching the soul of both the scholars of the subject, and also the most profane.
And then July 2020 arrived. As much as I admire his music and as much as we knew that sooner or later it was going to happen, I didn’t think his death would affect me as much as it did. I felt a great sadness when I heard of his death and when I listened to some of his works again, but above all, I felt grateful and lucky to have been a contemporary of this great musician and to have been able to witness his creation. Grazie Mille, Ennio
Film Music composer
Josué Vergara (Composer and music producer)
My dear Maestro,
It’s hard for me to realize that you’ve already left while I’m writing these words. You are no longer in body, but you will always be in soul and in music. It is so strange the feeling of loss, that it is hard to conceive that you will not sit at your desk again, with your pencil and the pentagram, and that you will not compose another of your wonderful works.
Thank you, Maestro. Thank you for your legacy, for so many years of inspiration, of guidance. For showing me the way and the art of making movies with music. Thank you for making the profession of film music composer a reference.
It would be impossible for me to conceive a world without Morricone, to take away so many moments of life with your notes. Your music is not only the soundtrack of so many films, it is simply the soundtrack of many moments of my life. I can’t feel anything but gratitude.
It’s funny because the first time I heard your music was with “Chi Mai”, and it took a little step to go on with your “Love Theme”, “Gabriel’s Oboe” or “Deborah’s Theme”. How much beauty in those notes, how much excellence and love in that music.
I had the honor of sharing some time with you last year, in the audience, a few meters away from you, in your farewell concert. It was magical, bittersweet, but great. I had a feeling that it would not be much longer that you would remain among us, and that you would soon be required on a higher level, to compose other music.
We will undoubtedly listen to that music one day, although for the moment, we still have your work, which I will take care of and pamper for the rest of my life, where you will have a place again and again.
We will miss you very much, maestro. Although you will still be so present, that it will be as if you had not left.
Composer and music producer
Leigh Phillips (Composer & Orchestrator)
On July 6, I awoke to find numerous messages in my social media inbox, and mobile phone, informing me that Ennio Morricone was no longer with us. Another era had ended abruptly, we had lost another compositional master, another quintessential craftsman. From the outpouring of grief and heartfelt tributes seen in the global media, and on social media, it seems that, despite his extraordinary age, it did little to soften the blow of losing someone who’s music has meant so much to so many, in so many different ways.
My own voyage of discovery with Morricone’s music, began, perhaps, a little later than others’; but I’ll never forget the profound impact (on my 12-yr-old self) of hearing a strident trumpet theme, supported by a pointed and determined string section, accompanying scenes of Arnold Schwarzenegger galloping across the Italian landscape, on a dark horse – it was 1985, and the film was Red Sonja (you’re probably singing it in your head, right now!!). I’m not sure whether it was the quality of the thematic writing, the evocative harmonies, or the pitch-perfect representation of physical motion which attracted my attention (maybe it was all three) but, either way, from that point… I was a Morricone fan!
As I began to study music (more seriously) and broaden my knowledge of a more diverse range of compositional styles, so my appreciation, and awareness, of Morricone’s versatility as a composer also developed. When first encountering his music I (quite wrongly!!) assumed that he was someone who could pen “a good tune” – it was only during my time, as a composition student, that I truly began to comprehend the seemingly limitless nature of his creative abilities. While his writing was always executed with an unmistakable eloquence (even the avant garde stuff!!), I sometimes found it difficult to grasp how the sparkling lines of the Red Sonja theme, the sinister coldness of The Thing, the dark poignancy of Wolf, the chromatic and atonal aggressions of Phantom of the Opera, the psychedelic rock/orchestral fusions which manifested in The Exorcist II, the blistering polyphonic fanfares featured in The Untouchables, the innocent delicacy of Fateless, and (of course!!) the raw and arid sound of the spaghetti westerns, could have all sprung from the same mind!
In recent years, I have been extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore a number of Morricone’s scores in a much more forensic context, preparing several concert suites for film-music festivals and concerts, and an album of arrangements of his music, from the spaghetti westerns, for Silva Screen Records. These projects have only gone to deepen my admiration for the sheer level of artistry and technical skill present in his writing.
One rare moment of synchronicity occurred while working on a programme for Fimucite; you can only imagine my excitement when the organisers requested a suite of music from Red Sonja! While it was both insightful and thrilling to work with this music, and to have the chance to finally understand the “mechanics” of the score; I have to be completely honest, while I was preparing the Main Titles, all I could see was Arnold galloping across the Italian landscape, on a dark horse. 35 years might have passed, but that 12-yr-old Morricone fan is still, very much, with me.
Composer & Orchestrator
Luis Ivars (Composer & Board Member of ECSA)
“I, Ennio Morricone, have died.” Although I, frankly, still don’t take it literally. Since I read the farewell letter from the “Maestro”, a tribute to love, humility, and generosity, his spirit is more present than ever in my heart. It comes and goes continuously. Through his music. Through the memories. Having met him has been a gift that I value much more now. He is the composer who opened my mind and heart to the excellence of film music and I always felt that I was closer to him than to the composers of the Hollywood label.
Mediterranean, intelligent, sensitive, creative, emotional, a perfectionist, a transgressor who was great when he wanted to be, committed to the profession and to composers, Ennio was also an excellent human being. It was in 2007 when I began to realize this. The FFACE, the European Federation of Film Composers, was launched at the Cannes Film Festival. Through the management of UCMF, there was Ennio Morricone leading the European composers on the red carpet of the king of festivals. It was a long day in which the Maestro had the courtesy to receive the representatives of each country, to talk about what we would like with him.
And then it was Spain’s turn. Together with my colleague Ignacio Pérez we talked with him about music, the problems of the profession, and even the Murcia Symphony Orchestra (Ennio was so demanding with his concerts that he wanted to know everything possible). But I especially remember how he explained to us his way of composing in a “horizontal” way, developing first the melody and then attending to the “vertical” of the harmonies.
Thirteen years later, the European Alliance of Composers awarded him the Camille Award for excellence in his career, a prize decided exclusively by composers, which we presented to him in his home in Rome. It was exciting to hear how much he valued an award from his professional colleagues.
We remember Cannes and he gave us life and career stories. There I was, so close to the creator I admired, and yet again I saw the great human being who lived in the genius. He was close, committed, as passionate as a child in the defense of film music. Time flew by, we know that it is relative, but Ennio’s image remained so solid in my memory, that I now know that he has not died. No matter how hard we write it, he is simply immortal.
Composer & Board Member of ECSA
Manel Gil-Inglada (Award-Winner Film Composer)
C’era una volta in Siena!
How can we forget that summer of 1993 when I had the great luck to attend the seminar/course on Music for Film that Ennio Morricone gave at the prestigious Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena!
Those were 15 days of dreaming in the heart of Tuscany, in an environment as captivating as the beautiful medieval city that with its light and magic, makes you fall in love at first sight.
At that time I had decided to dedicate myself in body and soul to audiovisual composition. I already had experience having composed TV tunes, soundtracks for major exhibitions, documentaries, lots of advertising, some series and short films, but the cinema was my pending subject, and the opportunity to do a course with the great Ennio Morricone was not to be missed.
I remember that when I arrived in Siena I went directly to the Accademia Chigiana and once I was correctly accredited I went to one of the theatres in Palazzo Chigi Saracini where Ennio Morricone and his assistant and co-teacher Sergio Miceli were giving the course. I arrived with the class already started and the silence that reigned in the hall of the Palace at that moment was truncated by a beautiful melody coming from the projector. It was the theme of “Deborah” from the film “C’era una volta in America” that flooded the room, and like an arrow captured my heart at once. And there, in the darkness of the room, the emotion took hold of me.
Thus began 15 wonderful days of cinema with the Maestro, listening to him talk about his music, his films, his innumerable anecdotes. Listening to Sergio Miceli who was in charge of analyzing his work, his decisions, his function, etc, hours and hours that flew by.
I am often asked about my references and I always say that there are so many of them that it is almost impossible for me to talk about them, without leaving many unmentioned in the attempt. But if there is one thing I am convinced of, it is that thanks to the Maestro, the great film composer and the power that his great melodies exert in the narrative, that they are the object of my obsession and whenever it is in my hand to define my work, my great passion.
Thank you for so much, Maestro!
Award-Winner Film Composer
Manel Santisteban (Composer)
My father was very fond of movies. I remember my childhood watching movies in front of the TV for endless weekends, or in continuous session screenings at the Tivoli cinema, which was right next door to our house. I didn’t know why, but some of those movies moved me so much that they made me cry. It was years later when I discovered that something, which had gone unnoticed, was what moved me; the music that accompanied them.
I wasn’t a particularly crying child, but that combination of a good story, with some beautiful images, and that wonderful, and until then “invisible” music, made the tears run from my eyes and made me feel something different; something that didn’t happen in real life and that moved all my emotions.
Music itself is pure art, direct, immediate, free, but when it is associated with the image its effect is multiplied exponentially. Without me knowing it, my dear maestro Ennio, your music made me jump out of my seat on more than one occasion, because many of those films were yours.
Perhaps that was the seed that made me fascinated by audiovisual music and that made me in the end dedicate my life to it.
It’s a difficult job, where you have to serve the film above all else. There is a higher purpose and your music has to play a secondary role, something difficult to understand at first.
When I followed your interviews and read your concerns, you can’t imagine how I identified I felt with you, and how much it helped me. Knowing that someone as big as you went through the same difficulties as me when approaching a project.
You said you suffered a lot because you had to write music that was right for you, for the film, the audience, the director or the producer.
That it was a tremendously difficult exercise because in addition, the work had to maintain its dignity, its consistency, even without the image.
Besides, you didn’t like repeating yourself and you wanted to renew yourself in each film, I quote “every time I compose I feel a great responsibility because I want to try something completely original, and at the same time be understood”.
Before, I felt it and now I understand the magnitude of your work, the greatness of your music, which reinforces even more my admiration for you.
I’m sure it wasn’t an easy road but you succeeded, dear maestro, your work maintains its dignity even without the film, and your music will live on forever.
Marc Timón (Composer & Orchestra Conductor)
Creating is magical; transcending, divine. This is one of the intimate desires that you silence your ego with, among the warm thoughts that yearn that your work is not only a birth, but a growth, a path and a maturation. An imprint. An endurance.
There are composers who will be remembered for being great melodists, others will be remembered for the color of their music, for their timbre, for their peculiar instrumentation and orchestration, and finally others will remain in our memory for having created the very basis of a genre. However, the case of Ennio Morricone is so special because in his legacy we find the union of these three virtues. He has left us some of the most brilliant and memorable melodies in the history of cinema, he mixed without complex whistles, harmonicas, and strings (among many other rich orchestral and non-orchestral timbres) and he managed, with this mixture, to lay the musical foundations of a whole genre. This is to transcend and this is Ennio Morricone.
If laying the musical foundations of a whole genre and being copied by hundreds of composers is a merit within the reach of a few, making a melody, in the 21st century, is directly one of the most difficult things in music, however simple it may seem beforehand. After all that has been written, to try to make a melody without offending the universe is an exercise in pride and risk. To put it completely naked in the voice of a solo instrument simply accompanied by a chorus or a cushion of strings, becomes literally reckless and in some cases blasphemous. And this is the challenge. And the challenge is life. And as other daring people have done and shown us interesting paths, like Morricone, I embrace the challenge of melody, I drink from the great melodies that have been written, I kneel and, brazenly, I feel ready to sin.
From the darkness of my room, when a few minutes pass in the middle of the night, a slight smile appears on my face. I feel jealousy. Not of the Maestro’s talent. That would be the definition of what it is to be a fool. His talent is a compass for all of us. Jealousy about thinking how wonderful it would be to have the opportunity, in today’s cinema, to write an infinite melody for oboe, chorus, drums, strings, and whatever else it takes. Or to be able to musically conduct a scene like the kisses in Cinema Paradiso, without limitations. Surely technology has brought us very good things, but small pearls like these are the ones that are the most difficult to achieve, nowadays. Perhaps because our world is in a hurry, and films are in a hurry, and we don’t have time to stop and quietly taste the development of great melodic motifs. Or maybe, as a good friend always tells me, the reason is as simple as these melody-driven musical processes sound old, and nobody likes ancient things, unless we call it vintage. Vintage is cool, and anything that’s cool is cool. I smile again, looking forward to those times when you didn’t have to be cool. Or even better: that being cool just because it’s cool can be stale, and that being really cool was being authentic.
Morricone is Morricone because it’s authentic. All of him and all of his production. Scandalously authentic. And for me, everything authentic, in this life, is a role model. To follow, or to disagree and go against, but in my daily struggle, from the love of cinema, not as a composer but as a filmmaker in spirit, that which is genuine is what leads me to healthy creation, to be aligned with the purpose, to feel pleasure in the ritual.
For this reason alone, Ennio Morricone is and will continue to be one of my beacons when the storm rages. A beacon to remember who you are and why you love what you love, and among other reasons, you love him so much because others loved him so much before. And how beautiful is the circle. My last smile of the night is to say, with all my heart, thank you Maestro Morricone.
Composer & Orchestra Conductor
Marco Valerio Antonini (Italian film composer based in Los Angeles)
The King of Melody: Romantic Morricone
Ennio Morricone’s innovations in sound, instrumentation, and dramatic devices in his Western scores are often regarded as his most significant contribution to the craft of film music, and they certainly are, but the aspect of his music that had the most profound impact on me personally was, his afflatus for heartfelt melodic writing, the poignancy of the themes, the emotion of the phrasing.
For me, Ennio Morricone was “the King of Melody”.
As a young composer grown up in Rome and studying at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory of Rome, I felt his constant presence, ideal and physical, in the hallways of that ancient school. He was a prominent topic in the conversations all of us students interested in pursuing a career in “applied music” (as he liked to call media music) would entertain in front of the always-present espresso cup at Renzo’s Conservatory Bar.
Our teachers would refer to him through examples, anecdotes, quotes, he was one of the few rare “commercial music” figures that could be part of the teaching without the “academia” feeling embarrassed about it. And that’s because he was a legitimate member of that academia.
My composition teacher briefly shared the classroom with Ennio, studying with Goffredo Petrassi at the Santa Cecilia Academy, across the cloister, in the south wing of the building that the Accademia shares with the Conservatorio. And the Maestro would visit, every now and then. I remember meeting him during a book presentation in the Academic Hall, in front of the imposing organ. You could tell he felt emotional about being back in the old school building, a sort of unconfessed emotion that would transpire from his eyes, behind the layer of a serious, reserved personality, that at times could come across almost as grumpy.
That same reserved inner emotional world is what can be experienced listening to his melodic writing. There is no doubt about it in masterpieces such as a The Legend of 1900, Cinema Paradiso, Malena, La Sconosciuta, just to name a few. The quality of his melody is always very deeply felt, the balance and architectural equilibrium, which is definitely there, never gets in the way of spontaneity. It’s never “mental” and “constructed”, always from the heart more than from the brain. And it’s a deep emotional feeling that finds his way directly to your soul through moderation and reflection, never by over-the-top explosions of drama or pathos. This had a profound impact on my musical formation, on what I feel the quality of a good theme for a film should be, it defined what kind of melodies I resonate with the most.
Personally, in some specific cases, I think that a cultural element also adds to it. Some examples of Morricone’s music speak with great familiarity to an Italian ear, when you listen to them you go “Oh, I know what you mean there!”. A typical example for me is the opening scene of The Legend of 1900. The eruption of the theme when the traveler sees the Statue of Liberty and the ship approaches New York uses some of the tools of what we could refer to as the “Hollywood Sound”, big sweeping strings, french horn counter-lines, flourishing in the woodwinds, but what it says with those tools is something very different: it is exactly what the average Italian feels about the idea of America. When you listen to that music, you feel that breath of hope, dream, and projection to the future that America always represented for Italian people, a feeling that descends directly from the hope that our migrant great grandparents felt at the turn of the century when they “went to America”. Of course, that’s what the scene is about, and like Morricone liked to say “there’s no important music without a great film that inspires it”, but that subject matter is expressed in this cue with a genuinely and instantly recognizable feeling for anyone who’s from Italy and loves America.
I think the greatness of Maestro Morricone resides in the fine balance between this profound authenticity and the universality of his musical message. His music speaks to the entire world, and at the same time, each one of us can find a deeper, more personal connection to it, regardless of where we’re from, or, even more interestingly, because of where we’re from.
Marco Valerio Antonini
Italian film composer based in Los Angeles
Michiel de Boer (Conductor & Orchestrator)
When SoundTrackFest asked me to write a letter to Ennio Morricone, the first thing that I was thinking of was Moment for Morricone. A piece for concert band and fanfare, arranged by the Dutch composer and arranger Johan de Meij. I was a young flugelhorn player at my local fanfare and it would be my first big concert. The piece was a medley of themes from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “Once Upon a Time in the West”. The opening of that piece was the harmonic theme, 4 16th’s, half note, 2 quarters and a dotted half note. Up until today, where ever I am, if I whistle those 4 16th’s and half note, someone will answer with those 2 quarters and a dotted half note. It has become iconic.
I think that this piece awoke my interest in film music. Not that I was aware of it at that time, but I remember I was struck by the beauty of the themes and the lyrical melodies. It made me watch the movies and at that time it became my favorites. Later in my career I found out that it was your typical style, Maestro Morricone.
Although I have never had the opportunity to see you live, I listened, studied and played your music. At the start of my trumpet studies, I played in a brass band. Soprano cornet it was. We had an annual concert coming up and the conductor asked me if I would play a solo. We looked and listened to different solo’s but the melody of “La Califfa” was too beautiful to ignore. Weeks I studied on that melody to get it the way you meant it in my opinion. The melody looks simple, but the intervals, the phrasing and endurance you ask with it are a real challenge for the soloist and the orchestra. Another piece I was fortunate to play as a soloist is “Il Triello”. Also a melody that sounds simple, but to get its emotion, feel, and phrasing right is the biggest challenge. Every note has a meaning and fits perfectly with the picture shown on the screen. An art that is difficult to master.
After my trumpet study I went through with conducting. I studied you scores in my free time and I learned so much. Your detailed coloring pallet and use of choir and extraordinary instruments like electric guitars were visionary at that time. You showed us a different perspective of music coloring around beautiful melodies. It definitely shows your skill as a former orchestrator and I have still a lot to learn from that. Not only in film music, but also in your works for the pop and classical scene. You mastered all the different coloring and styles, and that made you unique.
In 2016 I organized my first film music project “Magic of the Movies” and for some reason, around all the heavy, big Hollywood blockbusters, I had to program “Moment for Morricone”. A 110 piece concert band and 40 piece mixed choir brought your music to life in a way I only dreamed of 20 years before. That piece, with those themes stood and stands for my journey into film music.
I want to thank you Maestro for all you have given us. My love for film music came from Your Love for it. And the beautiful and emotional melody and lyrics of “Once upon a time in the West” theme ‘Your Love’ says it all what your music did and will continue to do with people all around the world.
I woke and you were there
Beside me in the night
You touched me and calmed my fear,
Turned darkness into light
I woke and saw you there
Beside me as before
My heart leapt to find you near
To feel you close once more
To feel your love once more
Your strength has made me strong
Though life tore us apart
And now when the night seems long
Your love shines in my heart…
Your love shines in my heart…
Michiel de Boer
Conductor & Orchestrator
Founder of “Magic of the Movies” and Composers Cafe
Mikael Carlsson (Composer and Producer)
Morricone showed us all that film music is music, period.
“That version of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is all wrong. It should be the one with Hugo Montenegro. What’s that weird version you’re playing?”
My journalist professor smiled at me in a condescending but also forgiving way. I had produced my first student radio show and had chosen my new passion, film music, as the subject. The idea was to condense film music history – at that time some 35 years shorter than it is now – into an entertaining and educational 60 minute format. It was a given to include a Morricone spaghetti western classic in the program.
I tried to smile back in the same ambiguous manner and said: “Hey, it’s the original, recorded and conducted by Morricone himself. You know, the original soundtrack recording. It can’t be more right than that.” But my professor just shook his head. “Who cares? This piece has its own life now, and the Montenegro version is the one people recognize. If I were you, I would consider changing it.”
The radio show turned out okay in the end, and the Morricone original stayed in it. I believe this was the first time I realized how big Morricone was – my teacher was not a film music fan of any kind (if you mentioned names like Horner or Kamen he would look much less condescending, but still forgiving, at me). But this specific theme, the best known of all the spaghetti western tunes, was one where he not only knew the melody – he even had a strong opinion on which version was the right one. Morricone’s music had taken on a life on its own. It was immortal; everyone knew it and all was entitled to it.
There are only little more than a handful of composers who penned film music that became building blocks of our popular culture and postmodern heritage. You have tons of Williams of course, you have Herrmann, a bit of Max Steiner – today people would perhaps even consider Zimmer to be among the few who transcends the genre boundaries. But back in the 80s, when I was doing my little radio show, part of the attraction of being into film music was the air of mystery surrounding the authors of film music. Without the Internet community, you could easily be under the impression that you were the only Silvestri fan on earth. Or at least the only one in your own city.
But this was not the case with Morricone. Even before Internet, basically everyone knew his name and at least a few of his themes – cover versions or not. So, how come Morricone was a “household name” among people who were otherwise complete film music illiterates?
Of course, Morricone worked on some pretty influential and remarkable movies – Once Upon a Time in America is the top masterpiece in my book – but, at the end of the day, I believe it all boils down to originality. Some of the cliches we have today were practically invented by Morricone. What made him so great was his artistic integrity and his clear ambition to create music that served its purpose without losing sight of a personal musical vision. Even if Morricone had reasons to acknowledge current musical trends, you can still hear that it’s a Morricone score – the late 60s/early 70s psychedelic sleaze pop is one example that comes to mind.
While film music in general has always had a formulaic, “least denominator” quality, there are composers who regard the film medium as a genuine opportunity to experiment. Goldsmith is probably the best American example. Without doubt, Morricone is the best European. At the other end of the spectrum there is a quality which is even more rare in film music these days: the will to use harmony and melody for dramatic impact and narrative structure. Just listen to how Morricone colours his string writing harmonically in ’Deborah’s Theme’ from Once Upon a Time in America, clearly one of the most beautiful music pieces ever written (period – I am not going to add “in the history of film scoring”).
I never met Morricone or had the opportunity to work with him. I have never produced an album of his music, but I have, of course, as a concert producer programmed some of his music for live performance. It’s remarkable, and another proof of quality that his film music holds up so well away from the images it was written for. It is music, not only film music. Sometimes, you hear composers defend their film scores saying that we have to understand that their music is written to accompany a visual narrative and cannot be fully appreciated out of context. In my opinion, such “excuses” are often redundant – for some reason, many film composers have a tendency to apply an unnecessarily elitist and academic viewpoint on their own music as soon as someone wants to hear it liberated of the imagery. But in the case of Morricone, these concerns are never voiced at all. In fact, you could perform most of Morricone’s music in its original shape and they would work beautifully as music. Pick a cue and play it. The audience will get it, and in most cases, love it.
We live in an era which is painful to many of us film music aficionados who have been around for a while. My generation grew up on Goldsmith, Bernstein, Williams, Jarre and, of course, Morricone. Not many of them are left. They are, or rather were, the last of the dinosaurs and boy, how I love those giants of the past. The music of Ennio Morricone was indeed immortalized already 35 years ago, when I first realized how big he was, and we all know that his music will live on for a long time, most likely forever. What he achieved was truly remarkable, outstanding and inspiring. He showed us all that film music is not only film music – it is music, period.
Soundtrack album producer (MovieScore Media)
Concert producer (Soundtracks Live)
Pascal Gaigne (Composer)
Dear Ennio, when I grow up I want to be like you…
I have never spoken to or been near Ennio Morricone, I have no photo with him, and I have only seen him live once at the Auxerre Festival in 2006; and it was just a coincidence, as I was to receive a European composer’s award for the soundtrack for Dark Blue Almost Black, and I didn’t know it, but after the presentation it was Morricone’s Concert.
I am very embarrassed to meet people I admire very much artistically, for fear that I will be disappointed by their person: that they are rude, egocentric, etc… Anyway I would have been unable to articulate three coherent words with the nerves and my shyness.
It happened to me the following year at the same Festival. I was working as a translator between Maurice Jarre and J. María Benítez, with John Barry at 3 meters away, and I never told him that I was a composer or that I admired him very much…
In spite of all this, I have always felt a strong connection with his music, his unparalleled melodic gift, his knowledge and use of all kinds of musical languages.
Ennio was not a film music composer, it is part of the musical-visual language that he invented and developed together with some others.
When I think of Ennio, I always remember this saying that I have heard a thousand times from producers or directors: “The best film music is the one you don’t realize is there, or the one you don’t hear!” And I take the list of Ennio’s films, and of the 620 references, there are at least 200 that I recognize by the music (and in a few I don’t even remember the plot… or the director).
The one who told me most about him was Dulce Pontes, who collaborated with Ennio several times and made some impressive versions… She told me about his assiduousness at work, every day, paper and pencil, not even piano… Who works like that today? Very few…
Composing, unleashing the orchestral fires, emotional states, aggression, fear… in silence… is the most amazing thing that can happen to us (those who have this capacity know it…).
If… apart from this… Ennio and I have something in common… is that we both wanted to be doctors before being musicians… well, we failed!
Dear Ennio, when I grow up I want to be like you… Hahahaha!
Pawel Gorniak (Composer for film and TV)
It can be said with certainty that Morricone was one of the greatest, with whom I was lucky to live in the same times. For me, as a person who writes film music on a daily basis, it’s hard to find even the right words how important this film music icon was, is and will be. He created so many new paths and showed how film music can sound at all.
It’s like a mentor, a guide, a book full of knowledge. This is a regrettable loss for music and cinema. I didn’t even realize before that how big the number is, but while writing this article I checked that Morricone wrote music for nearly 500 films and TV series. It’s over 5 productions for every year of his life, which is an absolutely incredible amount of music written.
He impressed me with the variety of styles in which he composed. He was not afraid of experiments introducing new instruments to the film music, he also experimented with electronics, and he was able to express different colors in music so well. He impressed me with his devotion to his listeners, the number of concerts he played for fans practically to the very end.
At the age of 78 on his acceptance speech during the Academy Awards ceremony he assured everyone that he will continue to compose – what of course he did, with great success, writing so many great scores including the one that brought him an Oscar for “The hateful eight”. Oscar, which in my opinion, was for the whole of Morricone’s work, for his contribution.
Although even if “The Hateful Eight” may not be the composer’s most remembered soundtrack, this award showed that he was also deeply appreciated by Hollywood, the place which he had always avoided. It is also impressive how true Morricone remained until the end of his days, faithful to his ideals. He showed that you do not have to follow the path trodden by others, and that he did not have to leave his beloved Italy, abandoning it all for the film factory, and his genius and unique voice was strong enough that Hollywood will follow him instead.
Composer for film and TV
Sergio Moure de Oteyza (Soundtrack composer)
The reason of why and how
I was just a few years old when, on a rainy afternoon of those mythical cinema Saturdays on TVE (Spanish TV), they programmed a cowboy film in which the slow tempo, the close-ups with those looks of outlaws tanned by the wild west, dominated everything in that long and wonderful prologue that the film had; it was of course “Once Upon a time in the West”. A harmonica was played, and I had not paid much attention to it until then, but suddenly it was as if something forced me to turn my head and be literally hypnotized by that sound, which took shape as the strings came in and the brass section tucked it in. It was a powerful sound, which gave Leone’s masterful close-ups an authority and aesthetic beauty that I had not yet perceived in any film. I asked my parents who the author of the score was, and that’s when I first heard his name: Ennio Morricone.
Some years later, in one afternoon, but this time in the cinema, I attended the screening of the magnificent “The Untouchables”. It was a gangster film that had a list of leading figures in both the technical and artistic team. I did not know who composed the music, until at the beginning of the film I felt the same sensation as years before; that powerful sound, of an overwhelming personality flooded everything again and grabbed me by the lapels to tell me in my ear: you have to dedicate yourself to film music, it was Ennio who was shaking me and left me no other option.
Some justify their vocation to dedicate themselves to speaking on the altars of the church to the call of the Lord, in my case, and without wanting to blaspheme, it was an Italian gentleman who accompanies me every day when it comes to creating a score, who called me, to remind me that one must be honest, creative and different. Believe me when I say that I am trying, and from now on it will be an obligation for me, a prayer, a modus vivendi.
He is the reason of why and how I do this, because his art has overwhelmed me like no other author has ever done, with its own discourse, scripting each shot to give it entity and with that second reading that well-musically prepared images have, with that key that only the great ones have, to access your emotional centre, to model it as they please, and make you feel vulnerable at their mercy.
Talking or writing about the Maestro is as pleasurable as his art is unfathomable. Now he has left us physically, but he leaves us his work, his compositions. His way of seeing the cinema and music will always be with us, because he is already part of us, of our visual and sound memory, of our sensitivity. No doubt many years will pass before someone, with those invisible strings that he handled so well to move us internally like puppets, can exist again.
Sergio Moure de Oteyza
Vanessa Garde (Composer for Audiovisual Media)
I may have come across Mr Morricone’s music long before I could put a name and a conscience to his work. In my house, my father has always been a film buff and since I was a child, I have been lucky enough to enjoy good cinema, that personal and unmistakable “story telling”, its particularity, the incredible melodism, the harmonic dramatism accompanied by memorable melodic parts (always linked to his internal movement of voices, always masterful and of exquisite use), the particular use of certain instruments that in context, give coherence to the emotional and musical discourse,… The list of praise and admiration goes on and on!
And… now it seems that he has left us a legacy, his “farewell”, with treasures that not only work on the screen, but go beyond it; direct to every emotional expression and to the moving discourse. Unique and unrepeatable.
Last year I was recalling his repertoire with Alessandro Alessandroni Jr. (based in LA), son of the “whistler” of Morricone, who lived all his childhood in sessions with his father playing the guitars of his famous westerns and many more collaborations. One thing was very clear to me: the respect between musicians for his figure, as a composer, and the artistic admiration, above all.
It always seems that there is a distinction in “what the audience wants to hear” and in what the musician writes, in pursuit of stylistic or sound complexities. Morricone, from the taste and the excellence, makes us reach the two at once.
I write these lines listening to a varied playlist of his. Goosebumps, with Deborah’s Theme or with Cinema Paradiso (that for a former pianist who has lost most of the most perfectionist technique, the care of sound and the meaning of each note becomes the means of expression and this is one of her Masterpieces).
I remain excited, dismayed and thinking that he has marked a before and after. I remember his concert last year, in 2019, at the Wizink Center in Madrid and admire every moment, especially her vitality as she climbed on the podium and began conducting, her own music. With ‘tempis’ in general, above what we hear in his recordings, full of energy and life, for a person of his age who found it difficult to get from the side of the stage to that Podium, where one would think that he was going to take his music more slowly… Wrong of me to think that one could “relax”. Because Morricone was thinking about music and you could feel his mental liveliness, thinking about music until the end of his days.
I am also left with an internal reflection, about “respect for the musician” and how he defended his own music. Because nowadays, composers seem to be at the mercy of what the director wants, and our own voice and criteria can be “diminished” at times by “complying and looking good”. Perhaps it can be one of his legacies, too, that we should take note, not only as admirers of his musical art, but also as filmmakers, with “something to say” and “respect to establish” about our own language.
Thank you Maestro Morricone!
You’ll be deeply missed.
Composer for Audiovisual Media
Zacarías M. de la Riva (Composer and absolute fan of Ennio Morricone)
As I think of Ennio again
Don Savio, this is how Ennio signed in “For a Fistful of Dollars” his first collaboration with Leone. He wasn’t the only one who signed under a pseudonym. Everyone except Clint Eastwood did. They thought they could sell the movie as an American, and they were right. The film was a huge success, and Morricone was just a blink away from saying goodbye to Leone right at the end of the project. The director wanted to use pre-existing music (what we call temp-track) in the final scene of the film. Morricone refused and in the end he got away with it, because he ended up composing for that scene what would be the main theme of the film.
I’m telling you all this so that you can see the genius of this man, his decision, capable of betting everything on his vision. This is possibly one of the three qualities of Ennio that I admire the most: his stubbornness. The other two are: his audacity, and his melodic ability.
I knew Ennio’s music a few years ago, when he was a teenager. It was through his music for “The Mission”. There I discovered his ability to create unforgettable melodies, his boldness to orchestrate. In “The Untouchables” I was surprised by his not at all “Hollywood” treatment of music. I read somewhere that Morricone composed like 9 different versions for the main theme. That it was difficult for him to do something triumphant and epic because it didn’t work for him with the film. At the end De Palma chose the most triumphant theme of the 9, and that is the main theme we all know today. Then came “Cinema Paradiso” and I was an absolute fan.
I learned many things about our craft from him, and here I leave you with two of them:
- The use of the harmonic pedals: I think he used them at first to be able to hide the entrance of the music and then when the harmony transcended the pedal, to move in some way at some specific point. Listen to his track “Malena”, you can hear this perfectly.
- The use of the medium and high strings arranged in layers. This is difficult to explain with words, easier if you listen to it in tracks like “Love Theme” by Cinema Paradiso. It is a sign of identity of his music, it is in many of his soundtracks. He introduces layers of strings that change height according to the harmony, and generates a kind of sound mattress that is idiosyncratic to his music. I copied this resource in “Gorka se desvela” which belongs to my first soundtrack “Jaizkibel”
Ennio Morricone is one of the “culprits” (the other is John Williams) for me being a film musician. He has left a huge void and I will miss him.
Thank you for that! Ci vediamo Maestro!
Zacarías M. de la Riva
Composer and absolute fan of Ennio Morricone