November 2009

Tête-à-Tête: Ennio Morricone

Plus, One eskimO, Langhorne Slim, Jo Hamilton and more

Ennio Morricone, turn it up Photo by Rafael Marchante/Reuters/Corbis

Even if you don’t know him by name, you’ve definitely heard Ennio Morricone’s scores. As a composer for more than 500 movies and TV shows, he is behind the music of some classics, including the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns that made Clint Eastwood a star (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). His signature sound has graced such memorable films as The Mission, The Untouchables and Cinema Paradiso.

Although nominated five times for an Academy Award, the composer has surprisingly never won. (He got an honorary award in 2007.) Going strong at almost 81, he recently completed work on Baarìa, a film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore that premiered at the Venice Film Festival. These days, he is touring with an orchestra, performing works from his sound­tracks. I reached him at his home in Italy before a rare performance at the Hollywood Bowl.

Nic Harcourt: Your father was a trumpeter, and it became your first instrument as well. Was he a big influence?
Ennio Morricone: Certainly my father’s influence was decisive. When I was young, I played with him in the hotels and ballrooms of Rome—at first for the occupying German forces and afterward for the American troops. I also played trumpet in some of my own soundtracks. But from the beginning, my interest was mainly on composition.

  • One eskimO, One eskimO
  • Langhorne Slim, Be Set Free
  • Chasing Kings, The Current State of Our Future
  • Jo Hamilton, Gown
  • Helado Negro, Awe Owe

One eskimO
One eskimO

Kudos to Shangri-La Records for picking up this London indie four-piece ensemble and its self-titled debut album. “Kandi” is a beautiful, aspirational track about betrayal and lost love.

For Fans Of Damien Rice, Paolo Nutini

Langhorne Slim
“Say Yes”
Be Set Free

Mr. Slim, regarded primarily as a folkie, has built a fine reputation performing nationally. From his most recent album—produced by Chris Funk of the Decemberists—comes this lovely tune, an upbeat song for dark times.

For Fans Of Early Beck, Bright Eyes

Chasing Kings
“The Current State of Our Future”

A friend handed me this EP she picked up at a recent show. It’s perfect evidence that the indie scene is thriving and that there’s a great slice of what’s happening out there right on our doorstep.

For Fans Of Coldplay, Franz Ferdinand

Jo Hamilton
“Exist (Beyond My Wildest Dreams)”

Hamilton, who hails from Scotland and grew up in places as diverse as Sri Lanka and Cambodia, delivers a stunning debut that offers hints of Peter Gabriel and Björk. It’ll surely make a top-10 list or two by year’s end.

For Fans Of Kate Bush

Helado Negro
Awe Owe

Ecuadorian frontman Roberto Carlos Lange grew up in South Florida, then had a stint in New York, and his music reflects the beats, sounds and colors of various Latin cultures. This track slices them up to create a sexy groove synthesis.

For Fans Of Mexican Institute of Sound

You have had a formal music education. What drew you to cinema?
When I had just finished my composition studies, I had in mind to work as a composer of classical music, and I would never have thought to work in the cinema business. The choice was made for eco­nomic reasons.

How did you meet Sergio Leone?
He asked me to write the score for A Fistful of Dollars. Our first meeting was at my place, and when he made a certain expression with his mouth, I suddenly realized he was one of my elementary-school mates. We then spent most of the meeting recalling our youths in Rome. My collaboration with Sergio has been very important—we had our first success together. I believe throughout the span of our collaboration, our individual work improved steadily.

You used unusual sounds in those early films—whip cracks, gunshots, the jaw harp. Why?
I’ve always been interested in sounds—those produced by instruments and by nature. My experiences in cinema have let me broaden this interest. I remember the howling of the coyote in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. That translates the world of animals into concrete music principles. I also enjoy peculiar instruments such as the pan flute and the ocarina.

What’s your favorite of all your movies?
I don’t answer this question—because for me, they are all like sons.

When you perform for an audience with a live orchestra, how do you choose the pieces?
The selections obviously include many of the most famous titles but also some of the compositions I love the most. And the choice also depends on the skill of the orchestra.

You really don’t need to work at this point, so what motivates you?
My passion is for music composition. Without it, I couldn’t live.

Is there anything professionally that you’d still like to accomplish?
I would say I’ve done so many things in my private and working life that I don’t even have time to wish for more.