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Happy Birthday Maestro! Five Memorable Scores from Ennio Morricone

From Sergio Leone to The Untouchables: 5 soundtrack for the 90th birthday of the Italian composer

Ennio Morricone celebrates his 90th birthday on the 10th of November.

THE UNTOUCHABLES Morricone brought his trademark theatrical style (and bagged an Oscar nomination in the process) to Brian De Palma’s gritty and stylish look at Eliot Ness’ attempts to smash Al Capone’s illegal liquor ring in Prohibition-era Chicago. The duo would go on to collaborate again via the 1989 war drama Casualties of War and 2000’s woeful sci-fi adventure Mission to Mars, but this film represents the purest blend of De Palma’s operatic brand of cinema and Morricone’s similarly stirring arrangements. Those two worlds satisfyingly coming together is perhaps best exemplified in the pounding and suspenseful theme song (below).

 

THE HATEFUL EIGHT When it was first announced that Morricone would be providing the score for Quentin Tarantino’s eighth feature it caused more than a few heads to be scratched. The composer had previously criticised the director use of his past music cues in Django Unchained (QT had also plundered snippets of Morricone’s back catalogue for Kill Bill, Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds) but he eventually relented and scored Tarantino’s 2015 snowy ensemble whodunit. The first western scored by Morricone in 34 years, the then 86 year-old managed to compose 50 minutes of original music for the film, picking up a long overdue Oscar for his troubles. It’s a phenomenal piece of work and the track L’Ultima Diligenza per Red Rock (see below) is vintage Morricone.

 

THE THING Stepping away from his usual multitasking composing duties, John Carpenter wisely handed the scoring reins to Morricone for this 1982 fan favourite. The musician’s efforts here are a masterclass in sustained, buttoned-down tension, which perfectly serve the film’s chilling, ominous vibe. It’s said that Carpenter ultimately recorded a few simple electronic pieces to help ratchet up the tension during a couple of moments in the film, but Morricone’s overall contribution is deeply impactful and has helped turn the film into the revered genre piece it has since become.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY Morricone provided the original music score for all three films in the legendary Dollars Trilogy (although weirdly going under the pseudonym ‘Dan Savio’ for A Fistful of Dollars). It’s fair to say the composer’s music here helped create and establish a cinematic vocabulary, accompanying director Sergio Leone’s use of cutting between extreme close-ups to a long or wide shot. Alongside John Williams’ stripped-down motif for Jaws, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’s main theme is arguably the most well-known piece of music in all of cinema, having been used numerous times through the years across many different mediums, be it Leone-style parodies or anything to signify a confrontation of sorts.

 

ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA Reteaming with his old school chum Sergio Leone once more, Morricone was able to muster up an emotional and deeply heartfelt score to the director’s epic swansong. One of the film’s musical highlights (below) is particularly moving, and proves just as poignant when played in isolation to the tragic scene it accompanies within the film. Elements of this piece can clearly be recognised in the composer’s work for Giuseppe Tornatore’s popular, if sentimental, 1988 coming-of-age tale, Cinema Paradiso.

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