Once you expand your conception and understanding of popular music to include soundtracks, it immediately becomes clear that Ennio Morricone, the much-revered Italian composer who passed way earlier this week at the age of 91, is one of the most important figures in all of music in the 20th century and beyond.
his score for Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad & The Ugly is his
most recognisable work, its main theme heralded by that infamous five-note ‘coyote
call’, but with over 400 film and television scores to his name – that’s
not even including close to 100 classical works, his performances as an
accomplished trumpet player – his achievements are almost inestimably vast, an
ocean of high quality beneath the clutch of modernist masterpieces like the
same film’s ‘The Ecstasy
Of Gold’ or his work on Cinema Paradiso, The Mission and Once
Upon A Time In The West.
meticulous approach to orchestration, harmony, melody and rhythm meant that his
work was incredibly textured and varied, influenced by a vast range of sources
from conventional orchestral music to the output of avant-garde pioneers such
as Karl-Heinz Stockhausen. As such, it was capable of huge emotional clout –
check out the heart-swelling soundtrack to The Mission – but also able
to evoke terror or tension. Some of his work with his Gruppo di Improvvisazione
Nuova Consonanza (better known as ‘Il Gruppo’) including fellow composers Franco
Evangelisti and Egisto Macchi on the ‘giallo’ thrillers of Italian cinema in
the Sixties and Seventies are absorbing and gripping. Frequently, those heavenly
soundscapes accompanied the actions of desperate men acting in desolate, sparse
surroundings, and that juxtaposition was always thrilling. One of his final soundtracks, for Quentin
Tarantino’s 2016 ‘winter western’ The Hateful Eight, was as masterful
and vital as anything else in his storied career.
Far from being confined to the world of film soundtracks, Morricone’s influence broke down the barriers between the worlds of classical and popular music. You can hear the Italian composer’s sound in the chamber-pop of Scott Walker to The Last Shadow Puppets, while artists as diverse as Radiohead and Jay-Z have taken inspiration from his soundscapes. Peter Hook’s infamous bassline for New Order’s enormous ‘Blue Monday’ smash was an interpretation of the tense, twanging low guitar figure that accompanies the shoot-out at the finale of Leone’s For A Few Dollars More. Morricone’s melding of field recordings and musique concrete with organic sounds can arguably heard in modern-day electronic music producers such as SOPHIE and Arca.
nothing short of extraordinary that Ennio Morricone hadn’t won an Oscar for any
of his work as late as 2007, which was why the Academy hastily cooked up a
lifetime achievement award in an attempt to rectify this scandal. Justice was
at last done when he won an actual competitive Oscar for The Hateful Eight.
massive amount of work he’s credited with, any ‘best of’ or ‘introduction’ to Ennio
Morricone is a rather foolhardy and perfunctory exercise, but hopefully the playlist we’ve put together
(available here or by scrolling below) can at least act as a jumping-off
point for your own explorations of the maestro’s work.
Tags: An Introduction to, Ed Biggs, Ennio Morricone, film soundtrack, playlist
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