Life and career
Morricone was born in Rome, the son of Libera Ridolfi and Mario Morricone, a musician. His family came from Arpino, near Frosinone. Morricone, who had four siblings, Adriana, Aldo, Maria and Franca, lived in Trastevere, in the centre of Rome, with his parents. Mario was a trumpet player who worked professionally in different light-music orchestras, while Libera set up a small textile business.
His first teacher was his father Mario Morricone, who taught him how to read music and also to play several instruments. Compelled to take up the trumpet, he entered the National Academy of St Cecilia, to take trumpet lessons under the guidance of Umberto Semproni.
Morricone formally entered the conservatory in 1940 at age 12, enrolling in a four-year harmony program. He completed it within six months. He studied the trumpet, composition, and choral music, under direction of Goffredo Petrassi, who influenced him; Morricone has since dedicated his concert pieces to Petrassi. In 1941, Morricone was chosen among the students of the National Academy of St Cecilia to be a part of the Orchestra of the Opera directed by Carlo Zecchi on the occasion of a tour of the Veneto region. In 1946, he received his Diploma in Trumpet. After he graduated, he continued to work in classical composition and arrangement.
Although the composer had received the Diploma in Instrumentation for Band Arrangement (fanfare) with a mark of 9/10 in 1952, his studies concluded at the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia in 1954 and obtained a final 9.5/10 in his Diploma in Composition, under the composer Goffredo Petrassi.
Morricone wrote his first compositions when he was six years old and was encouraged to develop his natural talents. In 1946, he composed "Il Mattino" ("The Morning") for voice and piano on a text by Fukuko, first in a group of seven "youth" Lieder.
In the following years, he continued to write music for the theatre as well as classical music for voice and piano, such as "Imitazione", based on a text by Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, "Intimità", based on a text by Olinto Dini, "Distacco I" and "Distacco II" with words by R. Gnoli, "Oboe Sommerso" for baritone and five instruments with words by poet Salvatore Quasimodo and "Verrà la Morte", for contralto and piano, based on a text by novelist Cesare Pavese.
In 1953, Morricone was asked by Gorni Kramer and Lelio Luttazzi to write an arrangement for some medleys in an American style for a series of evening radio shows. The composer continued with the composition of other 'serious' classical pieces, thus demonstrating the flexibility and eclecticism which has always been an integral part of his character. Many orchestral and chamber compositions date, in fact, from the period between 1954 and 1959: Musica per archi e pianoforte (1954), Invenzione, Canone e Ricercare per piano; Sestetto per flauto, oboe, fagotto, violino, viola e violoncello (1955), Dodici Variazione per oboe, violoncello e piano; Trio per clarinetto, corno e violoncello; Variazione su un tema di Frescobaldi (1956); Quattro pezzi per chitarra (1957); Distanze per violino, violoncello e piano; Musica per undici violini, Tre Studi per flauto, clarinetto e fagotto (1958); and the Concerto per orchestra (1957), dedicated to his teacher Goffredo Petrassi.
Morricone soon gained popularity by writing his first background music for radio dramas and quickly moved into film.
Composing for radio, television and pop artists
Morricone's career as an arranger started in 1950, by arranging the piece Mamma Bianca (Narciso Parigi). In occasion of the "Anno Santo" (Holy Year), he arranged a long group of popular songs of devotion for radio broadcasting.
In 1956, Morricone started to support his family by playing in a jazz band and arranging pop songs for the Italian broadcasting service RAI. He was hired by RAI in 1958, but quit his job on his first day at work when he was told that broadcasting of music composed by employees was forbidden by a company rule. Subsequently, Morricone became a top studio arranger at RCA Victor, working with Renato Rascel, Rita Pavone, and Mario Lanza.
Throughout his career Morricone has composed songs for several national and international jazz and pop artists. In 1962 Morricone worked with American jazz singer Helen Merrill as an arranger on an EP "Helen Merrill sings Italian Songs" on the RCA Italiana label. Gianni Morandi (Go Kart Twist, 1962), Alberto Lionello (La donna che vale, 1959), Edoardo Vianello (Ornella, 1960; Cicciona cha-cha, 1960; Faccio finta di dormire, 1961; T'ho conosciuta, 1963; ), Nora Orlandi (Arianna, 1960), Jimmy Fontana (Twist no. 9; Nicole, 1962), Rita Pavone (Come te non-ce nessuno and Pel di carota from 1962, arranged by Luis Bacalov), Catherine Spaak (Penso a te; Questi vent'anni miei, 1964), Luigi Tenco (Quello che conta; Tra tanta gente; 1962), Gino Paoli (Nel corso from 1963, written by Morricone with Paoli), Renato Rascel (Scirocco, 1964), Paul Anka (Ogni Volta), Amii Stewart, Rosy Armen (L'Amore Gira), Milva (Ridevi, Metti Una Sera A Cena), Françoise Hardy (Je changerais d'avis, 1966), Mireille Mathieu (Mon ami de toujours; Pas vu, pas pris, 1971; J'oublie la pluie et le soleil, 1974) and Demis Roussos (I Like The World, 1970).
In 1963, the composer co-wrote (with Roby Ferrante) the music for the composition "Ogni volta" ("Every Time"), a song that was performed by Paul Anka for the first time during the Festival di San Remo in 1964. This song was arranged and conducted by Morricone and sold over three million copies worldwide, including one million copies in Italy alone.
Another particular success was his composition, "Se telefonando." Performed by Mina, it was a standout track of Studio Uno 66, the fifth-biggest-selling album of the year 1966 in Italy. Morricone's sophisticated arrangement of "Se telefonando" was a combination of melodic trumpet lines, Hal Blaine–style drumming, a string set, a '60s Europop female choir, and intensive subsonic-sounding trombones. The Italian Hitparade No. 7 song had eight transitions of tonality building tension throughout the chorus. During the following decades, the song was covered by several performers in Italy and abroad most notably by Françoise Hardy and Iva Zanicchi (1966), Delta V (2005), Vanessa and the O's (2007), and Neil Hannon (2008). Françoise Hardy – Mon amie la rose site in the reader's poll conducted by the la Repubblica newspaper to celebrate Mina's 70th anniversary in 2010, 30,000 voters picked the track as the best song ever recorded by Mina.
In 1987, Morricone co-wrote 'It Couldn't Happen Here' with the Pet Shop Boys. Other notable compositions for international artists include: La metà di me and Immagina (1988) by Ruggero Raimondi, Libera l'amore (1989) performed by Zucchero, Love Affair (1994) by k.d. lang, Ha fatto un sogno (1997) by Antonello Venditti, Di Più (1997) by Tiziana Tosca Donati, Come un fiume tu (1998), Un Canto (1998) and Conradian (2006) by Andrea Bocelli, Ricordare (1998) and Salmo (2000) by Angelo Branduardi and My heart and I (2001) by Sting.
First film scores
After graduating in 1954, Morricone started writing and arranging music as a ghost writer for films credited to other already well-known composers, while also arranging for many light music orchestras of the RAI television network, working most notably with Armando Trovajoli, Alessandro Cicognini and Carlo Savina. He occasionally adopted Anglicized pseudonyms, such as Dan Savio and Leo Nichols.
In 1959, Morricone was the conductor (and uncredited co-composer) for Mario Nascimbene's score to Morte Di Un Amico (Death of a Friend), an Italian drama directed by Franco Rossi. In the same year, he composed music for the theatre show Il Lieto Fine by Luciano Salce.
The 1960s began on a positive note: 1961 marked in fact his real film debut with Luciano Salce's Il Federale (The Fascist). In an interview with American composer Fred Karlin, Morricone discussed his beginnings, stating, My first films were light comedies or costume movies that required simple musical scores that were easily created, a genre that I never completely abandoned even when I went on to much more important films with major directors.
Il Federale marked the beginning of a long-run collaboration with Luciano Salce. In 1962 Morricone composed the jazz-influenced score for Salce's comedy La voglia matta (Crazy Desire). That year Morricone arranged also Italian singer Edoardo Vianello's summer hit "Pinne, Fucile e Occhiali", a cha-cha song, peppered with added water effects, unusual instrumental sounds and unexpected stops and starts.
Morricone wrote more works in the climate of the Italian avant-garde. A few of these compositions have been made available on CD, such as "Ut", his trumpet concerto dedicated to the soloist Mauro Maur, one of his favorite musicians; some have yet to be premiered.
The Group and New Consonance
From 1964 up to their eventual disbandment in 1980, he was part of Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza (G.I.N.C.), a group of composers who performed and recorded avant-garde free improvisations. The Rome-based avant-garde ensemble was dedicated to the development of improvisation and new music methods. The ensemble functioned as a laboratory of sorts, working with anti-musical systems and sound techniques in an attempt to redefine the new music ensemble and explore "New Consonance."
Known as "The Group" or "Il Gruppo," they released seven albums across the Deutsche Grammophon, RCA and Cramps labels: Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza (1966), The Private Sea of Dreams (1967), Improvisationen (1968), The Feed-back (1970), Improvvisazioni a Formazioni Variate (1973), Nuova Consonanza (1975) and Musica su Schemi (1976). Perhaps the most famous of these is their album entitled The Feed-back, which combines free jazz and avant-garde classical music with funk; the album is frequently sampled by hip hop DJs and is considered to be one of the most collectable records in existence, often fetching over $1,000 at auction.
Morricone played a key role in The Group and was among the core members in its revolving line-up; in addition to serving as their trumpet player, he directed them on many occasions and they can be heard on a large number of his scores from the 1970s.
Held in high regard in avant-garde music circles, they are considered to be the first experimental composers collective, their only peers being the British improvisation collective AMM. Their influence can be heard in free improvising ensembles from the European movements including Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, the Swiss electronic free improvisation group Voice Crack, John Zorn and in the techniques of modern classical music and avant-garde jazz groups. The ensemble's groundbreaking work informed their work in composition. The ensemble also performed in varying capacities with Morricone, contributing to some of his '60s and '70s Italian soundtracks, including A Quiet Place in the Country (1969) and Cold Eyes of Fear (1971).
Film music genres
His earliest scores were Italian light comedy and costume pictures, where Morricone learned to write simple, memorable themes. During the sixties and seventies he composed the scores for comedies such as Diciottenni al sole (1962), Il Successo (1963), Lina Wertmüller's I basilischi (1963), Slalom (1965), Menage all'italiana (1965), How I Learned to Love Women (1966), L'harem (1967), A Fine Pair (1968), L'Alibi (1969), Questa specie d'amore (1972), Forza "G" (1972) and Fiorina la vacca (1972).
His best-known scores for comedies includes La Cage aux Folles (1978) and La Cage aux Folles II (1980), both directed by Édouard Molinaro, Il ladrone (1980), Georges Lautner's La Cage aux Folles 3: The Wedding (1985), Pedro Almodóvar's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990) and Warren Beatty's Bulworth (1998). Morricone has never ceased to arrange and write music for comedies. In 2007, he composed a lighthearted score for the Italian romantic comedy Tutte le Donne della mia Vita by Simona Izzo, the director who co-wrote the Morricone-scored religious mini-series Il Papa Buono.
Though his first films were undistinguished, Morricone's arrangement of an American folk song intrigued director and former schoolmate Sergio Leone. Before being associated with Leone, Morricone had already composed some music for less-known western movies such as Duello nel Texas (aka Gunfight at Red Sands) (1963). In 1962, Morricone met American folksinger Peter Tevis, who is credited with singing the lyrics of Morricone's songs such as "A Gringo Like Me" (from Gunfight at Red Sands) and "Lonesome Billy" (from Bullets Don't Argue).
Association with Sergio Leone
The turning point in Morricone's career took place in 1964, the year in which his third child, Andrea Morricone, who would also become a film composer, was born. Film director Sergio Leone hired Morricone, and together they created a distinctive score to accompany Leone's different version of the Western, A Fistful of Dollars (1964).
The Dollars trilogy
Because budget strictures limited Morricone's access to a full orchestra, he used gunshots, cracking whips, whistle, voices, jew's harp, trumpets, and the new Fender electric guitar, instead of orchestral arrangements of Western standards à la John Ford. Morricone used his special effects to punctuate and comically tweak the action—cluing in the audience to the taciturn man's ironic stance. Though sonically bizarre for a movie score, Morricone's music was viscerally true to Leone's vision.
As memorable as Leone's close-ups, harsh violence, and black comedy, Morricone's work helped to expand the musical possibilities of film scoring. Morricone was initially billed on the film as Dan Savio. A Fistful of Dollars came out in Italy in 1964 and was released in America three years later, greatly popularizing the so-called Spaghetti Western genre. For the American release, Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone decided to adopt American-sounding names, so they called themselves respectively Bob Robertson and Dan Savio. Over the film's theatrical release, it grossed more than any other Italian film up to that point. The film debuted in the United States in January 1967, where it grossed US$4.5 million for the year. It eventually grossed $14.5 million in its American release, against its budget of US$200–250,000.
With the score of A Fistful of Dollars, Morricone began his 20-year collaboration with his childhood friend Alessandro Alessandroni and his Cantori Moderni. Alessandroni provided the whistling and the twanging guitar on the film scores, while his Cantori Moderni were a flexible troupe of modern singers. Morricone specifically exploited the solo soprano of the group, Edda Dell'Orso, at the height of her powers "an extraordinary voice at my disposal".
The composer subsequently scored Leone's other two Dollars Trilogy (or Man With No Name Trilogy) spaghetti westerns: For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). All three films starred the American actor Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name and depicted Leone's own intense vision of the mythical West. Some of the music was written before the film, which was unusual. Leone's films were made like that because he wanted the music to be an important part of it; he kept the scenes longer because he did not want the music to end. According to Morricone this explains why the films are so slow.
Despite the small film budgets, the Dollars Trilogy was a box-office success. The available budget for The Good, the Bad and The Ugly was about US$1.2 million, but it became the most successful film of the Dollars Trilogy, grossing US$25.1 million in the United States and over 2,3 billion lire (1,2 million EUR) in Italy alone. Morricone's score became a major success and sold over three million copies worldwide. On 14 August 1968 the original score was certified by the RIAA with a golden record for the sale of 500,000 copies in the United States only.
The main theme of For a Few Dollars More ("Per Qualche Dollaro in Più") was covered by Hugo Montenegro ("For a Few Dollars More"), Babe Ruth ("Theme From a Few Dollars More"), Golden Palominos ("For A Few Dollars More"), Material ("For a Few Dollars More"), and Matti Heinivaho ("Arosusi"). More recently, a Techno-Industrial cover was done by Komor Kommando ("Hasta Luego"). A remix was done by Terranova, "For a Few Dollars More (Terranova Remix)".
Hugo Montenegro's version of the main theme of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly sold over one million copies worldwide. Montenegro's album with the same name included a selection of Morricone's compositions from the Dollars Trilogy. In the United States, the album was certified gold by the RIAA on 9 September 1969. The main theme was later sampled by artists such as Cameo ("Word Up!"), Bomb the Bass and LL Cool J.
"The Ecstasy of Gold" became one of Morricone's best-known compositions. The opening scene of Jeff Tremaine's Jackass Number Two (2006), in which the cast is chased through a suburban neighborhood by bulls, is accompanied by this piece. While punk rock band the Ramones used "The Ecstasy of Gold" as closing theme during their live performances, Metallica uses "The Ecstasy of Gold" as the introductory music for its concerts since 1983 This composition is also included on Metallica's live symphonic album S&M as well as the live album Live Shit: Binge & Purge. An instrumental metal cover by Metallica (with minimal vocals by lead singer James Hetfield) appeared on the 2007 Morricone tribute album We All Love Ennio Morricone. This metal version was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Rock Instrumental Performance. In 2009, the Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist Coolio extensively sampled the theme for his song "Change".
Once Upon a Time in the West and others
Subsequent to the success of the Dollars trilogy, Morricone composed also the scores for Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Leone's last credited western film A Fistful of Dynamite (1971), as well as the scores for My Name Is Nobody (1973) and A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe (1975), produced by Sergio Leone.
Morricone's score for Once Upon a Time in the West is one of the best-selling original instrumental scores in the world today, with up to 10 million copies sold, including one million copies in France and over 800,000 copies in the Netherlands. One of the main themes from the score, "A Man with Harmonica" (L'uomo Dell'armonica), became worldwide known and sold over 1,260,000 copies in France alone. This theme was later sampled in popular songs such as Beats International's "Dub Be Good to Me" (1990) and The Orb's ambient single "Little Fluffy Clouds" (1990). Film composer Hans Zimmer sampled "A Man with Harmonica" in 2007 as part of his composition "Parlay" (from the soundtrack Pirates of the Caribbean – at World's End).
The collaboration with Leone is considered one of the exemplary collaborations between a director and a composer. Morricone's last score for Leone was for his last film, the gangster drama Once Upon a Time in America (1984). Leone died on 30 April 1989 of a heart attack at the age of 60. Before his death in 1989, Leone was part-way through planning a film on the Siege of Leningrad, set during World War II. By 1989, Leone had been able to acquire US$100 million in financing from independent backers for the war epic. He had convinced Morricone to compose the film score. The project was canceled when Leone died two days before he was to officially sign on for the film. In early 2003, Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Tornatore announced he would direct a film called Leningrad. The film has yet to go into production and Morricone has been cagey thus far as to details on account of Tornatore's superstitious nature. As of 2018 , no further details about this film have been released.
Association with Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Sollima
Two years after the start of his collaboration with Sergio Leone, Morricone also started to score music for another Spaghetti Western director, Sergio Corbucci. The composer wrote music for Corbucci's Navajo Joe (1966), The Hellbenders (1967), The Mercenary/The Professional Gun (1968), The Great Silence (1968), Compañeros (1970), Sonny and Jed (1972) and What Am I Doing in the Middle of the Revolution? (1972).
In addition, Morricone composed music for the western films by Sergio Sollima, The Big Gundown (with Lee Van Cleef, 1966), Face to Face (1967) and Run, Man, Run (1968), as well as the 1970 crime thriller Violent City (with Charles Bronson) and the poliziottesco film Revolver (1973).
Other relevant scores for less popular Spaghetti Westerns include Duello nel Texas (1963),
Le pistole non-discutono (1964), A Pistol for Ringo (1965), The Return of Ringo (1965), Seven Guns for the MacGregors (1966), The Hills Run Red (1966), Giulio Petroni's Death Rides a Horse (1967) and Tepepa (1968), A Bullet for the General (1967), Guns for San Sebastian (with Charles Bronson and Anthony Quinn, 1968), A Sky Full of Stars for a Roof (1968), The Five Man Army (1969), Don Siegel's Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), Life Is Tough, Eh Providence? (1972) and Buddy Goes West (1981).
Dramas & political movies
With Leone's films, Ennio Morricone's name had been put firmly on the map. Most of Morricone's film scores of the 1960s were composed outside the Spaghetti Western genre, while still using Alessandroni's team. Their music included the themes for Il Malamondo (1964), Slalom (1965) and Listen, Let's Make Love (1967). In 1968, Morricone reduced his work outside the movie business and wrote scores for 20 films in the same year. The scores included psychedelic accompaniment for Mario Bava's superhero romp Danger: Diabolik (1968).
His talent and creativity were such that many other directors were soon keen to collaborate with him, and in the next few years Morricone scored a lot of films by politically committed directors: collaborating with Marco Bellocchio (Fists in the Pocket, 1965), Gillo Pontecorvo (The Battle of Algiers (1966) and Queimada! (1969) with Marlon Brando), Roberto Faenza (H2S, 1968), Giuliano Montaldo (Sacco e Vanzetti, 1971), Giuseppe Patroni Griffi ('Tis Pity She's a Whore, 1971), Mauro Bolognini (Drama of the Rich, 1974), Umberto Lenzi (Almost Human, 1974), Pier Paolo Pasolini (Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, 1975), Bernardo Bertolucci (Novecento, 1976) and Tinto Brass (The Key, 1983).
In 1970, Morricone wrote the score for Violent City. That same year, he received his first Nastro d'Argento for the music in Metti, una sera a cena (Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, 1969) and his second only a year later for Sacco e Vanzetti (Giuliano Montaldo, 1971), in which he had made a memorable collaboration with the legendary American folk singer and activist Joan Baez. His soundtrack for Sacco e Vanzetti contains another well-known composition by Morricone, the folk song "Here's to You", sung by Joan Baez. For the writing of the lyrics, Baez was inspired by a letter from Bartolomeo Vanzetti: "Father, yes, I am a prisoner / Fear not to relay my crime". The song became a hit in several countries, selling over 790,000 copies in France only. The song was later included in movies such as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and in the video game Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots as the closing theme as well as Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes.
In the same year, Morricone composed the score for the less-known drama Maddalena (1971) by the Polish film director Jerzy Kawalerowicz which included its composition 'Chi Mai'. The theme appeared on the million-selling score for Georges Lautner's Le Professionnel (1981), as well as the TV series, An Englishman's Castle (1978) and The Life and Times of David Lloyd George (1981). Because of its appearance on the latter, "Chi Mai" reached number 2 on the UK Singles Chart in 1981. The single was certified by the BPI with a golden record on 1 May 1981 and sold over 900,000 copies in France alone. "Chi Mai" is also the name of the online community about Morricone, which offers a repository of information and a free online magazine called "Maestro", containing reviews, articles, discoveries and free comments.
In the beginning of the 1970s, Morricone achieved success with other singles, including A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) and God With Us (1974), having sold respectively 477,000 and 378,000 copies in France only.
Between 1967 and 1993 the composer had a long-term collaboration with director Mauro Bolognini. Morricone wrote more than 15 film scores for Bolognini, including Le streghe (1966), L'assoluto naturale (1969), Un bellissimo novembre (1969), Metello (1970), Chronicle of a Homicide (1972), Libera, My Love (1973), Per le antiche scale (1975), La Dame aux camelias (1980), Mosca addio (1987), Gli indifferenti (1988) and Husband and Lovers (1992).
Horror & giallo
Ennio Morricone's eclecticism and knack for creating highly poignant, melodic and emotional music found great scope also in horror movies, such as the baroque thrillers of Dario Argento, from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1969), The Cat o' Nine Tails (1970) and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) to The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) and The Phantom of the Opera (1998). His other horror scores include Nightmare Castle (1965), A Quiet Place in the Country (1968), The Antichrist (1974), Autopsy (1975) and Night Train Murders (1975).
In addition, Morricone's music has also been featured in many popular and cult Italian giallo films, such as Senza sapere niente di lei (1969), Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970), A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971), Cold Eyes of Fear (1971), The Fifth Cord (1971), Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971), My Dear Killer (1972), What Have You Done to Solange? (1972), Black Belly of the Tarantula (1972), Who Saw Her Die? (1972) and Spasmo (1974).
In 1977 Morricone scored Alberto De Martino's apocalyptic horror film Holocaust 2000, starring Kirk Douglas. In 1982 he composed the score for John Carpenter's science fiction horror movie The Thing. Morricone's main theme for the film was reflected in Marco Beltrami's film's score of prequel of the 1982 film, which was released in 2011.
The Dollars Trilogy was not released in the United States until 1967 when United Artists, who had already enjoyed success distributing the British-produced James Bond films in the United States, decided to release Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns. The American release gave Morricone an exposure in America and his film music became quite popular in the United States.
One of Morricone's first contributions to an American director concerned his music for the religious epic film The Bible: In the Beginning... by John Huston. According to Sergio Miceli's book Morricone, la musica, il cinema, Morricone wrote about 15 or 16 minutes of music, which were recorded for a screen test and conducted by Franco Ferrara. At first Morricone's teacher Goffredo Petrassi had been engaged to write the score for the great big budget epic, but Huston preferred another composer. RCA Records then proposed Morricone who was under contract with them, but a conflict between the film's producer Dino De Laurentiis and RCA occurred. The producer wanted to have the exclusive rights for the soundtrack, while RCA still had the monopoly on Morricone at that time and did not want to release the composer. Subsequently, Morricone's work was rejected because he did not get the ok by RCA to work for Dino De Laurentiis alone. The composer reused the parts of his unused score for The Bible: In the Beginning in such films as The Return of Ringo (1965) by Duccio Tessari and Alberto Negrin's The Secret of the Sahara (1987).
Morricone never left Rome to compose his music and never learned to speak English. But given that the composer has always worked in a wide field of composition genres, from absolute music, which he has always produced, to applied music, working as orchestrator as well as conductor in the recording field, and then as a composer for theatre, radio and cinema, the impression arises that he never really cared that much about his standing in the eyes of Hollywood.
1970–1985: from Two Mules to Red Sonja
In 1970, Morricone composed the music for Don Siegel's Two Mules for Sister Sara, an American-Mexican western film starring Shirley MacLaine and Clint Eastwood. The same year the composer also delivered the title theme The Men from Shiloh for the American Western television series The Virginian and the score for Phil Karlson's war film Hornets' Nest, starring Rock Hudson, and scored Bluebeard, starring Richard Burton, two years later.
In 1974 Morricone wrote music for some unknown episodes of the science-fiction television series Space: 1999, directed by Lee H. Katzin, and the following year he scored the George Kennedy revenge thriller The "Human" Factor (1975 film), which was the final film of director Edward Dmytryk. Two years later he composed the score for the sequel to William Friedkin's 1973 film The Exorcist, directed by John Boorman: Exorcist II: The Heretic. The horror film was a major disappointment at the box office. The film grossed US$30,749,142 in the United States, turning a profit but still disappointing in comparison to the original film's gross. The same year he scored the Dino De Laurentiis produced adventure film Orca, starring Richard Harris, which was also only a minor hit but later developed a cult following.
In 1978, the composer worked with Terrence Malick for Days of Heaven, starring Richard Gere. During the lengthy editing process of the romantic drama, which won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography with an additional three nominations for the score, Terrence Malick and Billy Weber made use of a temporary score dominated by Morricone's music for the Bernardo Bertolucci film Novecento. Malick also chose the ethereal Aquarium music from Camille Saint-Saëns ("The Carnival of the Animals") to frame the film. When Malick decided he wanted Morricone to score his movie, the director sent a version of it to Italy with the Novecento temp track in place. Morricone agreed to the assignment and Malick flew to Italy because the composer did not fly, so would not travel to the United States. Malick took the movie over to Morricone in Italy and Morricone was writing for Days of Heaven the whole time. Afterwards they scored the music in Italy. In Days of Heaven, Morricone's elegiac music coexists with pre-existing selections.
Despite the fact that Morricone had produced some of the most popular and widely imitated film music ever written throughout the 1960s and '70s, Days of Heaven earned him his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Score, with his score up against Jerry Goldsmith's The Boys from Brazil, Dave Grusin's Heaven Can Wait, Giorgio Moroder's Midnight Express (the eventual winner) and John Williams's Superman: The Movie at the Oscar ceremonies in 1979.
In 1979, Morricone provided the music for the thriller Bloodline, directed by Terence Young, best known for directing the James Bond films Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), and Thunderball (1965). Subsequently, the composer was asked to score Michael Ritchie's The Island (1980, starring Michael Caine), Gordon Willis's thriller Windows (1980), Andrew Bergman's comedy So Fine (1981) starring Ryan O'Neal, Matt Cimber's film Butterfly (1982), starring Pia Zadora, Samuel Fuller's controversial drama film White Dog (1982) and Thieves After Dark (1984), Jerry London's critically acclaimed TV movie The Scarlet and the Black (1983), starring Gregory Peck, and Richard Fleischers box office bomb Red Sonja (1985), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brigitte Nielsen.
1986 onwards: from The Mission to The Hateful Eight
Morricone's most fruitful and often long-term collaborations in English language cinema been with directors such as Brian De Palma, Barry Levinson, Warren Beatty, Oliver Stone and especially Roland Joffé, for whom Morricone wrote one of his best-known scores, the highly evocative soundtrack for The Mission (1986).
Association with Roland Joffé
The Mission, directed by Joffé, was about a piece of history considerably more distant, as Spanish Jesuit missionaries see their work undone as a tribe of Paraguayan natives fall within a territorial dispute between the Spanish and Portuguese. At one point the score was one of the world's best-selling film scores, selling over 3 million copies worldwide.
Morricone finally received a second Oscar nomination for The Mission. Morricone's original score lost out to Herbie Hancock's coolly arranged jazz on Bertrand Tavernier's Round Midnight. It was considered as a surprising win and a controversial one, given that much of the music in the film was pre-existing. Morricone stated the following during a 2001 interview with The Guardian: "I definitely felt that I should have won for The Mission. Especially when you consider that the Oscar-winner that year was Round Midnight, which was not an original score. It had a very good arrangement by Herbie Hancock, but it used existing pieces. So there could be no comparison with The Mission. There was a theft!" His score for The Mission was ranked at number 1 in a poll of the all-time greatest film scores. The top 10 list was compiled by 40 film composers such as Michael Giacchino and Carter Burwell. The score is ranked 23rd on the AFI's list of 25 greatest film scores of all time.
The composer wrote also the music for three other movies by Joffé: Fat Man and Little Boy (1989, starring Paul Newman), City of Joy (1992, starring Patrick Swayze) and the opening film for the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, Vatel, starring Gérard Depardieu, Uma Thurman and Tim Roth.
Association with De Palma and Levinson
On three occasions, Brian De Palma worked with Morricone: The Untouchables (1987), the 1989 war drama Casualties of War and the science fiction film Mission to Mars (2000). De Palma's The Untouchables, starring rising star Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness, Robert De Niro as Al Capone and the Oscar-winning Sean Connery, was released in 1987. Morricone's score for The Untouchables resulted in his third nomination for Academy Award for Best Original Score.
In a 2001 interview with The Guardian, Morricone stated that he had good experiences with De Palma: "De Palma is delicious! He respects music, he respects composers. For The Untouchables, everything I proposed to him was fine, but then he wanted a piece that I didn't like at all, and of course we didn't have an agreement on that. It was something I didn't want to write – a triumphal piece for the police. I think I wrote nine different pieces for this in total and I said, 'Please don't choose the seventh!' because it was the worst. And guess what he chose? The seventh one. But it really suits the movie."
Another American director, Barry Levinson, commissioned the composer on two occasions. First, for the crime-drama Bugsy, starring Warren Beatty, which received ten Oscar nominations, winning two for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Dennis Gassner, Nancy Haigh) and Best Costume Design.
The highest-grossing American movie for which the composer wrote a complete score was for Levinson's Disclosure in 1994, starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore.
"He doesn't have a piano in his studio, I always thought that with composers, you sit at the piano, and you try to find the melody. There's no such thing with Morricone. He hears a melody, and he writes it down. He hears the orchestration completely done", said Barry Levinson in an interview.
Other notable Hollywood scores
During his career in Hollywood, Morricone was approached for numerous other projects, including the Gregory Nava drama A Time of Destiny (1988), Frantic by Polish-French director Roman Polanski (1988, starring Harrison Ford), Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 drama film Hamlet (starring Mel Gibson and Glenn Close), the neo-noir crime film State of Grace by Phil Joanou (1990, starring Sean Penn and Ed Harris), Rampage (1992) by William Friedkin, and the romantic drama Love Affair (1994) by Warren Beatty.
None of the aforementioned films were box office successes, but fortunately Morricone was also commissioned for more successful motion pictures such as In the Line of Fire (1993) by Wolfgang Petersen, starring Clint Eastwood and John Malkovich, the horror film Wolf (1994, Mike Nichols), which featured Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer in the lead roles, and Bulworth by Warren Beatty.
In 1997, Morricone composed the music for Lolita (by Adrian Lyne) and Oliver Stone's U Turn, starring Sean Penn and Jennifer Lopez. A year later, Ennio Morricone wrote a complete score for the 1998 drama What Dreams May Come, but Vincent Ward found the music too emotional and replaced Morricone with Michael Kamen.
One of his last complete scores for an American-related project includes the 2002 thriller Ripley's Game, starring John Malkovich, by Liliana Cavani.
Noted background music from the shooting scene "target practice" in Quentin Tarantino D'Jango Unchained was also featured in Kung Fu theaters movies.
Extensive reuse of his music
Besides the 500 original film scores that have been composed by Morricone for movies and television series in a career of over six decades, his music is in addition frequently reused in more than 150 other film projects. Morricone's compositions appeared in the German TV series Derrick (1989), the live-action comedy film Inspector Gadget, Ally McBeal (2001), The Simpsons (2002), The Sopranos (2001–2002) and more recently in Dancing with the Stars (2010).
Quentin Tarantino borrowed Morricone's music for several of his films. The Main Title of Death Rides a Horse (1967) can be heard in Kill Bill: Volume 1, while Kill Bill: Volume 2 contains music originally from For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Mercenary and Navajo Joe. The themes "Paranoia Prima" and "Unexpected Violence" ("Violenza inattesa"), originally from respectively The Cat o' Nine Tails and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, were used in Death Proof (2007) by Tarantino.
In 2009, Tarantino originally wanted Morricone to compose the film score for Inglourious Basterds. Morricone was unable to, because the film's sped-up production schedule conflicted with his scoring of Giuseppe Tornatore's Baarìa. However, Tarantino did use eight tracks composed by Morricone in the film, with four of them included on the soundtrack. The tracks came originally from Morricone's scores for The Big Gundown (1966), Revolver (1973) and Allonsanfàn (1974).
In 2012, Morricone composed the song "Ancora Qui" with lyrics by Italian singer Elisa for Tarantino's Django Unchained, a track that appeared together with three existing music tracks composed by Morricone on the soundtrack. "Ancora Qui" was one of the contenders for an Academy Award nomination in the Best Original Song category, but eventually the song was not nominated. On 4 January 2013 Morricone presented Tarantino with a Life Achievement Award at a special ceremony being cast as a continuation of the International Rome Film Festival. In 2014, Morricone claimed that he would "never work" with Tarantino again, but later agreed to write an original film score for Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, which won an Academy Award in 2016 in the Best Original Score category. His nomination for this film marked him at that time as the second oldest nominee in Academy history, behind Gloria Stuart. Morricone's win marked his first competitive Oscar, and at the age of 87 he became the oldest person at the time to win a competitive Oscar.
In 2014, Morricone's song "Giù La Testa" was featured in Florian Habicht's feature film Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets, an unconventional rockumentary about British group Pulp which premiered at SXSW that year.
Composer for Giuseppe Tornatore
In 1988 Morricone started an ongoing and very successful collaboration with Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore. His first score for Tornatore was for the drama film Cinema Paradiso. The international version of the film won the Special Jury Prize at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival and the 1989 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Morricone received a BAFTA award with his son Andrea, and a David di Donatello for his score. In 2002, the director's cut 173-minute version was released (known in the U.S. as Cinema Paradiso: The New Version).
After the success of Cinema Paradiso, the composer wrote the music for all subsequent films by Tornatore: the drama film Everybody's Fine (Stanno Tutti Bene, 1990), A Pure Formality (1994) starring Gérard Depardieu and Roman Polanski, The Star Maker (1995), The Legend of 1900 (1998) starring Tim Roth, the 2000 romantic drama Malèna (which featured Monica Bellucci) and the psychological thriller mystery film La sconosciuta (2006).
More recently, Morricone composed the scores for Baarìa - La porta del vento (2009), The Best Offer (2013) starring Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess and Donald Sutherland and the romantic drama The Correspondence (2015) starring Jeremy Irons and Olga Kurylenko.
The composer won several music awards for his scores to Tornatore's movies. So, Morricone received a fifth Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe nomination for Malèna. For Legend of 1900, he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.
Television series and recent works
Morricone has worked for television, from a single title piece to variety shows and documentaries to TV series, including Moses the Lawgiver (1974), The Life and Times of David Lloyd George (1981), Marco Polo (1982) (which won two Primetime Emmys), The Secret of the Sahara (1987), I Promessi Sposi and Nostromo (1996).
He wrote the score for the Mafia television series La piovra seasons 2 to 10 from 1985 to 2001, including the themes "Droga e sangue" ("Drugs and Blood"), "La Morale", and "L'Immorale". Morricone worked as the conductor of seasons 3 to 5 of the series. He also worked as the music supervisor for the television project La bibbia ("The Bible").
In the late 1990s, he collaborated with his son Andrea on the Ultimo crime dramas, resulting in Ultimo (1998), Ultimo 2 – La sfida (1999), Ultimo 3 – L'infiltrato (2004) and Ultimo 4 – L'occhio del falco (2013).
In the 2000s, Morricone continued to compose music for successful television series such as Il Cuore nel Pozzo (2005), Karol: A Man Who Became Pope (2005), La provinciale (2006), Giovanni Falcone (2007), Pane e libertà (2009) and Come Un Delfino 1–2 (2011–2013).
With an estimated 13 million viewers, Karol: A Man Who Became Pope became an incredible success. Morricone wrote additional music for the sequel, Karol: The Pope, The Man (2006), which portrayed Karol's life as Pope from his papal inauguration to his death. Both scores were originally released respectively in 2005 and 2006. One year later, a double disc album with both scores is released.
In 2003, Morricone scored another epic, for Japanese television, called Musashi and was the Taiga drama about Miyamoto Musashi, Japan's legendary warrior. A part of his "applied music" is now applied to Italian television films.
Morricone provided the string arrangements on Morrissey's "Dear God Please Help Me" from the album Ringleader of the Tormentors in 2006.
Since 2004, Morricone wrote music for almost exclusively Italian television movies and mini-series, especially for directors such as Giuseppe Tornatore, Alberto Negrin, Giuliano Montaldo, and Franza Di Rosa.
In 2008, the composer recorded music for a Lancia commercial, featuring Richard Gere and directed by Harald Zwart (known for directing The Pink Panther 2).
Tarantino originally wanted Morricone to compose the soundtrack for his film, Inglourious Basterds. However, Morricone refused because of the sped-up production schedule of the film. Tarantino did use several Morricone tracks from previous films in the soundtrack. Morricone instead wrote the music for Baaria - La porta del vento by Tornatore. It was the second time Morricone's turned down the director, he also turned down an offer to write some music for Pulp Fiction in 1994.
In spring and summer 2010, Morricone worked with Hayley Westenra for a collaboration on her album Paradiso. The album features new songs written by Morricone, as well as some of his best-known film compositions of the last 50 years. Hayley recorded the album with Morricone's orchestra in Rome during the summer of 2010.
Since 1995, he composed the music for several advertising campaigns of Dolce & Gabbana. The commercials were directed by Giuseppe Tornatore.
In 2013, Morricone collaborated with Italian singer-songwriter Laura Pausini on a new version of her hit single "La solitudine" for her 20 years anniversary greatest hits album 20 – The Greatest Hits.
Morricone composed the music for The Best Offer (2013) by Giuseppe Tornatore.
In 2014, Ennio Morricone became an honorary chairman of the First International Open Competition in author's music video "Mediamusic." The final of the competition was scheduled on 1 March 2015 in Moscow.
He wrote the score for Christian Carion's En mai, fais ce qu'il te plait (2015) and the most recent movie by Tornatore: The Correspondence (2016), featuring Jeremy Irons and Olga Kurylenko.
In July 2015, Quentin Tarantino announced after the screening of footage of his movie The Hateful Eight at the San Diego Comic-Con International that Morricone would score the film, the first Western that Morricone has scored since 1981. The score was critically acclaimed and won several awards including the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score and the Academy Award for Best Original Score.