PASSAGES: Italian film composer legend Ennio Morricone 1928-2020

By Georges Biard, CC BY-SA 3.0,

He was truly one of the most prolific film score composers of all time, with an estimated FIVE HUNDRED scores under his belt in his six decade long film music career, and his music influenced countless generations of all types of musicians. Italian film composer Ennio Morricone has died at the age of 91 following complications from a fall.

Morricone didn’t start writing film music until 1958, but once he was there, he didn’t look back, sometimes doing multiple scores a year from his studios in Rome, where he always worked. He was notorious for always wanting to work for his own studio, and would speak only in his native Italian, although he was fluent in English.

He shot to worldwide fame in the 1960s as the composer of the scores for director Sergio Leone‘s “Man With No Name” trilogy of “spaghetti westerns” starring Clint Eastwood; orchestra leader Hugo Montenegro would take Morricone’s “Theme from ‘The Good The Bad and The Ugly’” to the upper reaches of Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1968, where it peaked at #2 for 2 weeks and made the Rome-based composer a household name. Although he started with light Italian comedies to cut his teeth, Morricone’s work would span all genres and earn him countless fans and countless awards, working with filmmakers from around the world on various projects.

He was nominated six times for an Academy Award, finally taking the Oscar in 2016 for his score to Quentin Tarantino‘s “The Hateful Eight“, several years after receiving an honorary Oscar in 2007. He won three of the NINE Golden Globes he was nominated for over the years, and also won six BAFTA awards, every single nomination he received from the British equivalent of the Oscars.

Morricone was known for working in whatever style his filmmakers wanted him to, within reason, which is why you find his music in films as diverse as the Sergio Leone spaghetti western trilogy in the late 1960s, Mario Bava‘s cult classic Danger Diabolik (1968, one of my personal favorite scores by Morricone), Roland Jaffe‘s The Mission (one of Morricone’s most Award-winning scores, 1987, named #23 on the list of the 25 best film scores of all time by the American Film Institute), Brian DePalma‘s The Untouchables (also 1987), and Giuseppe Tomatore‘s Cinema Paradiso (1989), which led to a long term working relationship with his fellow Italian filmmaker, scoring nearly a dozen of his films in throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

It would take a book to go over all of Morricone’s work, but he has always been one of my personal favorite film composers of all time. I always loved how he can so successfully transition from one genre to another. Some great composers, such as John Williams or Danny Elfman, have signature sounds that make it easy to recognize their music for nearly anyone. And although Morricone fans could recognize his film style instantly, he was more of an anomaly, frequently changing styles and making it harder to pick out when he did the score for your film. As noted above, I adore his wonderfully quirky psychedelic score for Bava’s Danger Diabolik, and his score for Cinema Paradiso as well, both of them ranking up there in my book of favorite film scores with most of the works of John Williams, Danny Elfman‘s score from 1989’s Batman, Hans Zimmer‘s Driving Miss Daisy, Howard Shore‘s Lord Of The Rings trilogy, Alex Wurman‘s March Of The Penguins, Thomas Newman‘s Wall-E, Michael Giacchino‘s Speed Racer, and my favorite score of all time, Jerry Goldsmith‘s exquisite Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Morricone is survived by his wife of SIXTY-FOUR years, Maria Travia, and his four children Marco, Alessandra (his collaborator on Cinema Paradiso), Andrea, and Giovanni. His music will stand the test of time, and the film score world will forever be poorer without him in it.