Ennio Morricone is a musical genius. Almost everything he touches turns to gold. I was a late starter in gaining an appreciation of his work. It wasn't until the mid '80s that he really started to get under my skin, in the best possible way. Initially, it was Incantation who aroused my interest with their haunting and evocative contribution to my own personal favourite film score, the music from The Mission. Set in the rainforests of South America, The Mission, directed by Roland Joffe in 1986 and starring Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons, is a story of the struggle for the body and soul of the native Guarani Indians between misguided Jesuit priests and the conquering Spanish colonialists. However, it turned out that the superb film score was penned by Ennio Morricone (pictured left), the Italian master musician and tracks like Gabriel's Oboe and On Earth As It Is In Heaven were brought to life by the vivid and imaginative instrumentation of Incantation and the excellent orchestration of the London Philharmonic. It later attracted an unsuccessful Oscar nomination - still regarded by many as a travesty of justice that it didn't win the award - for its soundtrack while collecting Golden Globe and BAFTA awards and best score at the Cannes film festival.
Morricone is one of the most successful and influential of modern-day big screen composers with over 400 film scores to his credit. He has enhanced movies with a mixture of distinctive styles for the last thirty years - from the twangy spaghetti western sounds of Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, through mainstream films like 1900, Days of Heaven, Once Upon A Time In America, Frantic, The Untouchables, Bugsy, Hamlet, Cinema Paradiso, Casualties of War and In the Line of Fire up to scores for big-budget Hollywood movies like Wolf and Lolita. The Mission however, was Incantation's first film work and their initial contact with Morricone came out of the blue when the film's production company, Goldcrest Films rang and asked founder members Mike Taylor and Tony Hinnigan to go and meet him. As Taylor recalls, "Tony and myself did all the Indian instrumentation on The Mission as the South American members of the band at the time didn't read music. They were involved only in some percussion work. It took two days - some time with the orchestra, the rest of the time overdubbing. Mr Morricone had me hitting the bombo (large drum) so hard and for so long - my fingers bled!"
Morricone himself, not only composed the score but also arranged the orchestration and conducted the London Philharmonic during the recording which took place in the Wembley studios of CTS in late 1985. "He is typically Italian - mildly eccentric, extremely intense, shouts a lot and is also a genius and an extremely nice man behind all the front!.......obviously working with him was a pleasure and an honour," recalls Taylor in admiration of his collaboration with the Italian maestro. Morricone has a high regard for Taylor's talents as well and incorporated his solo flute in the score for the 1992 Patrick Swayze film set in India, City of Joy.
Morricone has an immense following of music lovers across the globe. Quite rightly, he's regarded as a master of the art of film music and his 400+ film scores are a testament to his genius and longevity. Now 78 years of age, his most recent soundtracks include U-Turn, Bulworth, What Dreams May Come, Phantom of the Opera, The Legend of 1900 as well as Canone Inverso, Mission to Mars, Vatel and Malena (for which he was nominated for an Oscar, his fifth such nomination). Malena is his latest collaboration with director Giuseppe Tornatore (pictured right) that started with Cinema Paradiso and continued with films like Stanno Tutti Bene, A Pure Formality, The Star Maker and The Legend of 1900. So important is Morricone's music to Tornatore's films that the director insists upon having the score written before production begins, so that the actors can listen to the music while they shoot the scenes. Tornatore recalls that he dropped the script off at Morricone's studio late one afternoon, and two days later the workaholic composer had haunting compositions ready for listening. "Some of the themes that are now in the film were composed right in front of me during those first few days," notes Tornatore. "His music was an inspiration to everyone." Morricone recalls, "The music was born of my collaboration with Giuseppe. It reflects how I was inspired by the story of a boy, in love with a beautiful woman and coming of age in a small town in Sicily. After reading the script, I attempted to write music that would aid the film in its slow transformation from comedic and ironic to heavily dramatic."
Anyone who appreciates Morricone's work has their own favourite film scores and I'm no exception. The music from films like The Mission, Once Upon a Time in America, Sacco & Vanzetti and Cinema Paradiso are exceptional in their magnetism and simplicity. I'm well and truly hooked, just like thousands of others.
STOP PRESS..... Morricone admirers in the United Kingdom are ecstatic at the news that the maestro will be coming to London in March 2001 to conduct for the first time. The Barbican Centre will host two concerts on 10 & 11 March, where Morricone will conduct the symphonic orchestra, Roma Sinfonietta and chorus, with over 200 performers on stage. The first part of both concerts will be dedicated to his original orchestral compositions and will premiere two pieces 'Fragment of Eros' and 'Ombra di Lontana Presenza'. The second half will contain many of his best film music compositions including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, Battle of Algiers, Sacco and Vanzetti, Casualties of War and The Mission. This is marvellous news and a first chance for many in the UK to see the great man live on stage [November 2000].
11 MARCH 2001..... I've just returned home from the concert of a lifetime. Morricone and the Rome Symphony Orchestra were simply brilliant. I'm not a big fan of chamber music but the voice of Susanna Rigacci was just wonderful and the first half of the concert passed quickly. Unfortunately, so did the second half but what a fantastic 1½ hours it was. The maestro brought his film scores to life on stage and the voices of Rigacci and Dulce Pontes added extra sparkle to the proceedings. The reception from the Barbican audience was excellent and I actually got to meet the man himself. Interviewed by an Italian tv crew a few hours before the concert, Morricone was in fine form and stopped briefly to sign autographs for a handful of early arrivals outside the Hall. I've posted a few pictures of the moment below (click to enlarge the photos) as well as my own brief review of the concert.
11 March 2001.... A Day to Remember
Ennio Morricone performing live in the UK - I never dreamt it would happen. So you can see why I had to pinch myself that it was true, when I arrived at the Barbican Hall in London a little before mid-day on a Sunday in chilly March. Even more surprising was seeing a gentleman of mature years, wrapped up against the cold weather and the drizzling rain, being interviewed by an Italian tv crew. Could it be? Yes, it was the maestro himself, confirmed by the presence of his personal entourage. Although an aide informed a small group of admiring onlookers that the maestro would not be signing autographs, the great man was more than happy to provide his signature whether it be on an album cover or a ticket stub, once the tv interview was over. He smiled and joked (in Italian) with the lucky few before disappearing inside the Hall to prepare for the matinee concert performance. A rare moment to savour.
The auditorium was full to capacity when the 90 members of the Rome Symphony Orchestra and the Crouch End Chorus took their seats on stage. The Hall hushed and awaited the maestro's arrival for the first half of the concert. Two concert works, chamber music to you and me, would give the audience an insight into the other side of Morricone's repertoire, with the second half of the performance devoted to his more internationally famous film scores. His arrival was greeted enthusiastically by the audience and the concert began with Ombra di Lontana Presenza ('Shadow of a Far Away Presence'), a tribute to the late Italian violist Dino Asciolia, with Fausto Anzelmo prominent on viola. The second and more interesting piece of the first half was Frammenti di Eros ('Fragment of Eros'). For this, Morricone was joined by soprano Susanna Rigacci, who I thought sang wonderfully well, prominently accompanied by the string and horn sections of the orchestra. The two pieces had lasted forty minutes and led into the interval, with the crowd, a mixture of all ages, shapes and sizes, expectant.
Skipping onto the stage, Morricone took his bow and accompanied by Susanna Rigacci again, launched into a medley of three pieces dedicated to Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns. This was the beginning of the second half of the afternoon's performance and the most eagerly anticipated. It would last 1½ hours. Rigacci was quite superb and fifteen minutes later, we'd heard The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West and A Fistful of Dynamite. And that's what it sounded like to me, absolute dynamite. A few minutes later, the maestro returned after a short break, accompanied by Portuguese singing sensation Dulce Pontes (pictured right) and began with The Battle of Algiers in a sequence of tunes from films about political protest and war. Pontes took centre stage with a ballad from Sacco & Vanzetti (one of my personal favourites) and that was followed by pieces from Investigation of a Citizen Under Suspicion, Sostiene Pereira (and the incredible Pontes' performance of 'A Brisa do Coracao'), The Working Classes Go to Heaven, Casualties of War and a rousing Queimada. Pontes sang brilliantly, captivating the audience with both her voice and her obvious enthusiasm for the pieces, matched only by Morricone's command of the orchestra.
The third part of the second period was dedicated to films characterised as 'tragic, lyric, epic' with Desert of the Tartars and Richard III preceding Petro Picone's oboe-led medley from The Mission. With the audience on their feet and begging for more, Morricone took his leave from the stage only to return moments later to lead the orchestra in a rousing encore of two pieces from Cinema Paradiso. Flight schedules back to Italy, denied the adoring crowd any more of this remarkable man and his music, but I and everyone else left happy and contented that we'd witnessed a true genius at work.
UPDATE.....Ennio Morricone & Dulce Pontes collaborated on a new CD called 'Focus : Ennio Morricone & Dulce Pontes,' released in October 2003 on the Universal label. Included amongst the tracks are The Mission, Once Upon A Time In The West, Cinema Paradiso, Chi Mai, Sacco & Vanzetti, Moses, La Luz Prodigiosa and Amaria Rodriguez. Their first major collaboration was in 1995, when Pontes released the beautiful 'A Brisa do Coracao' as a single from the film Sostiene Pereira. It's a brilliant CD and well worth getting hold of a copy.
Morricone's major scores of 2001 were Ripley's Game, an Italian and British co-production from director Lilana Cavani and starring John Malkovich and the animated film Aida degli Alberi. Much of his work since then has been for Italian movies and television, for example Senso 45, Perlasca, Padre Pio and Il Papa Buono and Musashi, for Japanese tv. The list is endless and he shows no sign of slowing down with 2005 scores like the brilliant Fateless and Cefalonia being hailed as vintage Morricone, whilst Karol and Leningrad are expected anytime soon.
On Monday 10 November 2003 Morricone made a surprise return to London to play a 75th Birthday Gala Concert at The Royal Albert Hall. He chose London to celebrate his birthday and British fans turned out in their droves to mark the occasion. Suffice to say that the event was unforgettable and even managed to bring a few tears to my wife's eyes, which is no mean feat! Click here for a review of the concert. The Maestro's third visit to London was a two-concert return in December 2006, details of which are below.
To read more Morricone... The best of the websites dedicated to Morricone has got to be Michael Caletka's which also has an excellent discussion board where you can disect the maestro's work with other enthusiasts. I would also recommend Didier Thunus' Chimai.com website which is a bit special as well. Another fan with a website worth looking at is Pat Cleary, whilst you would be doing yourself a big favour by investing a few euro's in MSV, the Ennio Morricone Society newsletter, produced at least two times a year by Martin van Wouw. Contact Martin at email@example.com. And of course, you can visit the official Ennio Morricone website here.
To read more about Morricone's latest epic score... click on Fateless
MORRICONE weaves his magic
1st December 2006 - London Hammersmith Apollo
The Maestro has done it again - in only his third visit to these shores to perform on stage with his very own backing band, well actually the Rome Sinfonietta Orchestra, he had the 3,000 Hammersmith Apollo punters on their feet time and again, demanding more of his baton-whirling as he brought to life some of his best-loved film scores from a seemingly endless career in producing memorable music. At 78, Ennio Morricone won't go on forever, so each of his appearances should be savoured and enjoyed as if they're his last, and Friday night at The Apollo - one of two concerts in the Don't Look Back series - was another sublime offering. I've now seen The Maestro in action on all three of his visits to London - the previous concerts were at The Barbican and Royal Albert Hall - and I wouldn't have missed them for all the tea in China.
Without the services of the sensational Dulce Pontes for this trip, Morricone revamped his normal play-list to include at least half a dozen pieces I've not heard played live before, starting with Novecento. For me, Pontes is an integral part of the Morricone performance, she adds another dimension, but her absence meant a different approach from the Maestro and increased the workload for both the Sinfonietta and the Crouch End Festival Chorus, both of whom stepped up to the mark. And of course, as ever, soprano Susanna Rigacci (pictured above, right) weaved her magic during the Sergio Leone section, whilst Gilda Butta (pictured left) did likewise on the piano. Other outstanding individual performances were given by Marco Serino on violin, Monica Berni's flute and Carlo Romano on oboe. Morricone feels comfortable with this orchestra and they feel comfortable with him, and it shows, with both at the absolute pinnacle of their game.
A nice surprise was the opening cue from one of tv's most popular entertainers, Jonathan Ross, who was effervescent in his introduction of the Maestro and had a front row seat for the two-hour performance. However, it was the adoration from the audience that prompted Morricone to leave the stage and then return for three encores, stiffly and coyly accepting the plaudits and appreciation from both the house and orchestra alike, but suggesting its the music that is the centrepiece, not the man himself. I must also mention Andrew & Andrea Allen from North Yorkshire who sat next to me - Andrew has been a devotee of Morricone since 1968 and was overjoyed to be seeing the Maestro in action for the first time. Both he and I went home very happy and contented people.
Programme: Novecento; Estate 1908: Autunno 1922: Romanzo; Tre Adagi; Deborah's Theme (Once Upon A Time in America); Addio Monti (I Promessi Sposi); L'amour Suspendu (Vatel); Scattered Sheets; H2S; Il Clan Dei Siciliani; Metti Una Sera A Cena; Come Madalena; The Modernity of Myth in Sergio Leone's Cinema; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly; Once Upon A Time in The West; Giu La Testa; The Ecstasy of Gold ( TGTBATU); Social Cinema; Elegy for Brown (Casualties of War); Here's To You (Sacco & Vanzetti); Mission; Gabriel's Oboe; Falls; On Earth As It Is In Heaven; Encores: The Ecstasy of Gold (TGTBATU); Elegy for Brown (Casualties of War); Abolicao (Quiemada).
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Background music loop is Musicbox by Ennio Morricone