At 91 years old, the great film soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone has died.
Morricone’s work elevated spaghetti Westerns into art. His soundtrack for The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly is one of the most enduring and endearing pieces of work for a reason. His status among aural aficionados was given a slight comic tribute in the chick-flick, The Holiday, when Jack Black’s character embarrasses himself trying to explain the sublime power of Morricone’s soundtrack for The Mission, which is really astonishing. It shows Morricone as a true composer. All the courageous idealism of a Jesuit missionary is in the fantasia “Gabriel’s Oboe.” The beauty and transcendent terror of God’s judgement is somehow packed into the “Ave Maria” he composes for the Guarani to sing to the cardinal who will betray them to slavers.
Morricone began his musical career as a trumpeter in jazz bands in the 1940s and later became a studio arranger for RCA in the 1950s. His work on Westerns from 1960–1975 is what made him a star — most famously, his collaborations with Sergio Leone. Once Upon a Time in the West is a masterpiece. Here it is played like one by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra.
Morricone had long-term relationships with directors like Brian De Palma and Roland Joffre. Quentin Tarantino, a devotee in the Leone cult, had Morricone do the lovely soundtrack for The Hateful Eight. Overall, Morricone composed for over 400 films and television series.
The sounds Morricone created are as essential to the language of cinema as any of Steven Spielberg’s track-in shots , Spike Lee’s montages, or Hitchcock’s “pure cinema” style of visual storytelling.