Ennio Morricone


The SCL and the greater film community is today mourning the passing of arguably the finest exponent of the art and craft of film composition: the maestro Ennio Morricone. With his introduction of unconventional instruments, his fearless embrace of melody and his sheer simplicity of their application to visuals, he single-handedly revolutionized music for film and its function for so many filmmakers.
Despite being based in Europe for virtually his entire career, we were fortunate to have the pleasure of Ennio’s company at several SCL events over the years, and some of them are archived and available to view on our website – the most recent being the 2016 Oscar reception when he was being celebrated for what would turn out to be his only contested Oscar win, despite five prior nominations, for his score to The Hateful Eight:

In 2007, while he was in town to receive an Honorary Oscar, the SCL feted him with an 
SCL Lifetime Membership in a reception at the home of John and Bonnie Cacavas:

On another occasion, film music journalist and historian Jon Burlingame interviewed him following a screening of Malenawhich featured his heartfelt score:

I had the good fortune of perusing many of his original scores. There was always much to admire in his writing, not the least of which was his ability to write a fairly concise suite and by virtue of bar numbers and cuts noted in the margins dictate an entire score, cue by cue, to the musicians  But it always amazed me that the pristine purity of sound bore little resemblance to the look of the music on a Morricone score. Those of you who have had the opportunity to see the maestro’s handwritten notation will know what I’m talking about. 

I remember the first time I laid eyes on a page of his score for Franco Zefferelli’s Hamlet. The 11” x 17” paper had printed staves but no bar lines. Those were drawn by hand, without the help of a ruler, and listed from the top left to the bottom right of the page – so much so, that the fourth and last bar of the contrabassi (bottom stave) had room for no more than a whole note. The note themselves were large, so large in places that they overlapped several lines and spaces so that often, only someone with an understanding of harmony would be able to determine the intended pitch. And the accidentals….well they were placed in the bar, generally above or below the note to which they were attached, but never directly in front or in line. In other words, a copyist’s nightmare. To someone who did not know otherwise, the page gave the appearance of having been written by a child, completely belying the sumptuous tones represented by these annotations – a reminder that looks can be so deceiving.
With over 500 film and TV scores to his name, Morricone’s life’s work of over 50 years in music is almost certainly more than can be thoroughly studied by another in their lifetime. Yet there is so much to be learned from him, we can only look forward to the pleasure of trying.

Riposa in pace, maestro.

– Ashley Irwin

Read more about Ennio Morricone’s career in this tribute by Jon Burlingame in Variety.