The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

PLAYLIST: An Introduction to Ennio Morricone

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.

Unquestionably, 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.

Morricone’s 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.

It was 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.

Given the 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.

Happy listening!

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