With Ennio Morricone, who died yesterday (July 6th, 2020), disappeared one of the composers who wrote, the sound track to my life. In my younger years, before I turned to musicology, I was for some time in the popular music business, precisely when Morricone was beginning to work with regisseur Sergio Leone. I remember how arrangers at the time quickly realized he was an emerging force to be reckoned with.
Despite my familiarity with much of the music he wrote, Morricone remains for me a mystery. The range, the spectrum of his expressive means is quite impressive. And yet he consistently used simple chords, and managed to be original even though it is apparent how much he absorbed from the easy-listening orchestras from the 1950s through the 1980s. I am thinking of Mantovani, Ray Conniff, Percy Faith, etc. One good example of this heritage is quite apparent in his tasteful rendition of “Amapola”, reminiscent of Mantovani, and yet so very much Morricone.
To me, another intriguing aspect of Morricone’s expressive palette is that, although he was for so long active in popular music, he hardly ever felt used jazz idioms. Many remarkable Italian composers of film music, on the contrary, did: for instance, Armando Trovajoli, Piero Piccioni – even Nino Rota. Morricone’s music ignored jazz altogether, and is Italian through and through. I find it intriguing to consider to what extent the great musical Italian tradition, that once expressed itself in Opera, found in Morricone such a powerful voice in film music.