Ennio Morricone: The Spaghetti Western "Maestro"

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

Ennio Morricone. © imago images / Matteo Gribaudi

On 6th July 2020, we lost a scoring legend. Ennio Morricone, the Italian composer who wrote now infamous music for films such as the Dollars Trilogy, Once Upon a Time in the West and The Hateful Eight, now leaves a legacy which goes far beyond his contributions to Hollywood. Influencing many mainstream artists as well, his music has spread far and wide.

Born in Rome in 1928, he played the Trumpet in Jazz bands throughout the 1940s before switching careers and, in 1955, he began ghost writing for film and theatre. Though he would also write music for the likes of Andrea Bocelli, it was in film where he would eventually find success.

He hit the big-time in 1964, when he worked on Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, a 'Spaghetti Western' starring a young Clint Eastwood. Working on all three of Leone's Dollars Trilogy films, the final one, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, spawned arguably Morricone's two most famous pieces. Its theme has become everyone's go-to Western battle music, and features the famous "Wah-Wah-Waaaah" sound, but the highlight of the soundtrack has to be absolutely spectacular 'The Ecstasy of Gold'. A huge, beautiful and powerful piece, it has since been used in countless other films, TV shows, advertisements, video games, and even as Metallica's concert intro music before they walk onstage. Metallica would also later cover it on a Morricone tribute album.

However, they are far from being Morricone's only famous pieces. He continued to work with Sergio Leone and their next film together, Once Upon a Time in the West, brought us the likes of 'Man With a Harmonica', another legendary piece and another one used in concerts, this time by Muse as an introduction to 'Knights of Cydonia'.

Morricone didn't win his first competitive Oscar until 2016, when he won for his score for 'The Hateful Eight'.

He continued to work in film and composed for plenty of genres of outside of the Western, working on the likes of horror movie 'The Thing' (1982), crime film 'The Untouchables' and even the erotic thriller movie 'Disclosure'. Surprisingly, despite the success of his Spaghetti Western soundtracks in the 1960s, he didn't receive his first Oscar nomination until 1979, for his score to Terrance Malick's Days of Heaven, and didn't win one until his sixth nomination, for 2016's Tarantino Western The Hateful Eight. The latter film saw him return to the genre that made his name, so it feels fitting that he would finally win his much-deserved Academy Award for it.

His Hollywood success never went to his head, however. All the way through his career, he worked on hundreds of independent film and TV projects, predominantly in the French and Italian industries. Overall, he composed over 400 scores for film and TV, as well as over 100 classical pieces of his own. He has sold over 70 million records - 10 million of them alone being the score for Once Upon a Time in the West - and his influence can be heard not only in the scores of fellow film composers, but also in the music of Danger Mouse, Dire Straits, Muse, Arctic Monkeys, David Guetta and Radiohead.

Make no mistake, Ennio Morricone's 91 years were not wasted. Bringing the general public practically its entire knowledge of classic Western soundtracks, as well as a genuine claim as one of the most influential music artists of all-time, Morricone's true character is revealed by his continued work in the independent scene. Never getting too big for his Trumpet, he stuck to his roots whilst also lending his talents to Hollywood.

His work will continue to live on; certainly, he defined the Western and that will never be taken from him. The 'Maestro', as he was nicknamed, helped give birth to the film score as we know it, along with other 1960s composers such as John Barry, and that legacy will live for as long as the film industry does. RIP Ennio Morricone.