Ennio Morricone - Biography

By J Poet

Ennio Morricone is one of the few musicians to have invented a new genre. His soundtracks for a series of Italian western films by director Sergio Leone, many starring Clint Eastwood, created “spaghetti Western” music by mixing surf guitar, classical, pop, rock, electronic, avant-garde, and Italian music and sprinkling it with samples of birdcalls, gunshots, footsteps, animal noises, and whistling. The sound became as popular as the films they were part of. The soundtracks for A Fistful of Dollars (1964 RCA), The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966 EMI ), For a Few Dollars More (1967 RCA), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968 RCA) and A Fistful of Dynamite (2007 MSI:Cinevox Italy) became international hits, with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly becoming one of the first soundtrack albums to go gold. Morricone has scored more than 500 films worldwide, as well as several hundred TV shows. He has also composed more than 100 works of serious neo-classical music. He enters his 42nd year as a musician with no signs of slowing down his prodigious output.


Morricone was born in Rome in 1928, the son of a jazz trumpet player. He started trumpet early and by the age of six was composing songs. His father enrolled him in the Santa Cecilia Conservatory for trumpet lessons when he was nine. At 12 Morricone started formal schooling and took degrees in trumpet, choral music, choral direction and orchestral direction before he was 14. He initially composed neo-classical and modern music heavily influenced by John Cage. Most of these early works have never been recorded.


In 1947, he started writing music for theatrical productions and finished his degree in composition at Santa Cecilia. He played in a jazz band called Nuova Consonanza and became a staff music arranger for the Italian broadcasting service. He was hired as an arranger for RCA Italy in 1948 and was soon in demand for his inventive charts. He arranged for stars like Renato Rascel, Rita Pavone, and Mario Lanza and wrote the #7 hit “Se telefonando” for pop singer Mina.


In 1959, director Franco Rossi asked him to compose music for Morte di un amico, which led to work on Luciano Salce’s Il federale in 1961 and Paolo Cavara’s I Malamondo (1964 Epic), a Modno Cane-like documentary that featured Morricone’s soon to be famous blend of surf guitar, mariachi trumpets and ominous drumming. That same year Sergio Leone, who had also attended Santa Cecilia, asked Morricone to arrange some American cowboy songs for a western he was working on. His soundtrack for A Fistful of Dollars (1964 RCA) got almost as much attention as the film for the way it worked gunshots, the cracking of a whip, twang heavy electric guitar, and whistling into the score.


The theme song for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966 EMI) may be the most famous piece of movie music ever written; its been recycled and parodied endlessly ever since its debut. Released as a single “The Theme for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” stayed on the American pop charts for more than a year, hitting #1 for several weeks. A cover version by Hugo Montenegro went to #2. While his spaghetti Western music made him famous, Morricone never rested on his laurels and remained a prolific composer scoring The Battle of Algiers (1966 United Artists) with Gillo Pontecorvo, For a Few Dollars More (1967 RCA), L'Avventurier (2005 Dagored), I crudeli (2006 Dagored), Faccia a faccia (2008 Phantom UK), Danger: Diabolik (1968 Pallottola Foro Italy), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968 RCA), Ecce Homo (2005 Dagored), La donna invisibile (2006 Dagored), Burn (1969 United Artists), Violent City (1970 RCA Italy), Metti una Sera a Cena (2006 Cinevox) which won an Italian Oscar for Best Film Music and Sacco e Vanzetti (1972 RCA Italy) which featured Joan Baez and won another Italian Oscar for Best Film Music.


Morricone scored Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977 Warner) and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film Music for Days of Heaven (1979 Pacific Arts.) He continued scoring about a dozen Italian films each year as well as international hits like La Cage aux Folles (1980 Cerberus), which went gold, La Cage aux Folles II (1981 Cerberus), La tragedia di un uomo ridicolo, Jon Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing (1991 Varese Sarabande), Sergio Leone’ s Once Upon a Time in America (1984 RCA), The Mission (1986 Virgin), which became one of the best selling soundtrack albums of all time and went gold, The Untouchables (1987 A&M), which won a Best Motion Picture Score Grammy, Cinema Paradiso (1988 DRG Italy), Pedro Almodovar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990 Jive), Bugsy (1991 Columbia), and In the Line of Fire (1993 Columbia.)


The composer has stayed active in the new Century with soundtracks for Mission to Mars (2000 Hollywood) as well as many Italian films. Io Ennio Morricone (2002 Milan) is a four CD box that includes 27 movie themes and three serious works: “Concerto N. 1 Per Orchestra,” “Concerto N. 3 Per Chitarra Marimba Ed Orchestra d'Archi,” and “Concerto N. 4 Per Organo, Due Trombe, Due Tromboni Ed Orchestra.” Morricone received a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 2007.

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