Monday, July 6, 2020

Ennio Morricone Merges With The Infinite

Ennio Morricone, famed composer of film scores, has passed at the age of 91.

It's hard to measure the impact of Morricone's work.  He scored hundreds of films, shows and other works with a seeming endless variety to his work.  For American ears, he broke onto the American film scene as he shattered our expectations of what a Western might sound like and created an entirely new aural concept to match Leone's vision of the world of gun slingers and pioneers.

To this day, I'm uncertain what instruments were deployed for some of his most famous music, but he wasn't yoked to a symphony - though he was quick to employ one, and a chorus, or - maybe most famously - a solo singer.  While listeners may often pause while watching a film and guess rightly "is this Morricone?", the diversity of approaches from The Thing to Once Upon a Time in America to Days of Heaven can defy categorization.  From electronic instrumentation to oboes to you-name-it, he found the sound of the soul of a film, and made them sing.

The first Morricone score I think I really knew was from the 1986 film, The Mission.  I was in late high school before I saw A Fistful of Dollars and was in college when I saw (on the big screen!) The Good, The Bad and The Ugly for the first time.  But what really sold me were the one-two punch of Once Upon a Time in The West and Once Upon a Time in America.  Sweeping, lyrical and - arguably in the case of Once Upon a Time in America - doing a lot of work to carry the story - the scores worked much like Williams' work - informing us about characters as much as dialog or action.

These days his music is known beyond his films.  Modelo beer has been using The Ecstasy of Gold from Good, Bad and Ugly in their campaigns (and to good effect) for a couple of years now.  Other songs from the Man With No Name trilogy have become staples as music stings to register stand-offs.  Yo-Yo Ma had an album several years ago where he covered Morricone favorites.

Williams may be a house-hold name, but Morricone is the film-buff 101 shibboleth.  You'd best know who he is to be conversant.

We were extraordinarily lucky his talent existed and he was so prolific in his career.  We'll miss you, sir.

(and, we'll always be luck to have had Susanna Rigacci, who performed alongside Morricone at concerts for years.

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