Ennio Morricone: Interview

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A veteran of at least 350 film soundtracks, 77-year-old composer Ennio Morricone first came to international prominence in the ‘60s with his music for the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone. In a subsequent career of extraordinary stylistic diversity, he has forged significant creative partnerships with directors including Giuseppe Tornatore, Brian De Palma, Dario Argento and Roland Joffé – whose ’The Mission‘ is one of five titles for which Morricone has been an Academy Award nominee. In recent years, he has also conducted his scores on the international concert stage, and appears with the Gyor Philharmonic Orchestra and Crouch End Choir at the Hammersmith Apollo on July 19 as part of this year‘s ’Don‘t Look Back‘ series of concerts

  • Will the programme for July’s London concert include some of your classical compositions as well as your film work?

    That’s a good question, because the previous two concerts I did in London in 2001 and 2003 each featured some of what I call my ‘absolute’ music in the first half. This time, it’s going to be all film music, since the idea of the festival was to recreate the sort of performance seen on the DVD recorded at the Arena di Verona. We’ve had great audiences in London, and English choirs are fantastic!

    So what will we be hearing?

    Let me see… ‘The Legend of 1900’, ‘Once Upon a Time in America’, ‘The Mission’, ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, ‘A Fistful of Dynamite’ and quite a few others.

    Are there advantages to listeners not having seen all the films whose scores you’re performing?

    I think it’s better that the audience doesn’t know the films, so they can enjoy the music on its own terms. But this means that the music has to stand up by itself.

    A lot of the music you’re performing now comes from the late ’60s and early ’70s, when you were turning out 15 or 20 scores a year, an extraordinary level of creativity.

    When you compare it to the great classical composers, I still didn’t write that much. Rossini wrote ‘The Barber of Seville’ in 15 days, so beside that my efforts look pretty meagre. Actually, I refused a lot of assignments at that time, because if I’d kept on just doing the same type of films I’d have been suicidal.

    What’s more important, technical accomplishment or an emotional response to the material?

    I’d say they were equal. You need that initial response, but you have to have the technical skills to take it further. If a project comes to you all of a sudden, your technique helps you save yourself. The fact that you might have more time on a different occasion and believe that your work is emboldened by your emotional response isn’t enough – emotion can lead to uncertain outcomes when it outweighs your professionalism.

    How would you describe your ideal collaboration with a director?

    It has to be a matter of mutual trust, so it’s easier to find a connection. If the director trusts the composer, they do find these points of union more easily.

    And have some filmmakers come closer than others?

    Nearly all of them. Sometimes it’s tougher, sometimes it’s easier, but even though it’s easier that doesn’t necessarily make the result better.

    Are there any filmmakers who have a particularly musical sensibility?

    Giuseppe Tornatore [‘Cinema Paradiso’] is a very musical person, and he’s really improved a lot in understanding about music. He has a genuine response to certain chords and musical structures that have moved him.

    Did Sergio Leone encourage you to push the envelope in the classic scores you created for him?

    I have to say that he didn’t really tell me anything, because he didn’t have the musical imagination necessary to give me any directions. What he did have was the fundamental quality for a director of understanding what was right for his films, and we got along really well because he realised that my music worked for him.

    You’ve recently scaled down your film score work to take on live performances; is that direct public acclaim more satisfying for you?

    I just like it. I like to feel and understand people’s contentment with what I’ve done.

    And any unfulfilled ambitions?

    Yes, to compose music.

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