Oscar-Winning Composer Ennio Morricone Reflects on His Long Career

Ennio Morricone First Time in Variety
Caroline Andrieu for Variety

Ennio Morricone, winner of this year’s original-score Oscar for “The Hateful Eight,” is among the most prolific film composers ever, with nearly 500 scores for movies and TV, including such classics as “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966) and “The Mission” (1986). He received an honorary Oscar in 2007 before winning in competition at age 87 for the Quentin Tarantino mystery. His first mention in Variety came when he was 33, for scoring 1962 Italian comedy “La Voglia Matta” (That Certain Urge).

In your early days, you were often scoring more than 20 films a year, while your peers were averaging four or five.

In the past, if somebody approached me, I said yes. Now, with the passing of time, I am a bit more selective. I tend to work with directors I already know. I also want to have time to write my concert music.

How did you become a film composer?

When I was young, I started working as an orchestrator and arranger for pop songs, for radio, for television, for the recording industry, for the stage. All of a sudden, a filmmaker asked me to compose music for a movie, and that was the beginning of my film career.

Did you find that early training in the pop-music field helpful when you started to do movies?

Absolutely. Everything I have done in my life — as an arranger, an orchestrator, a composer — was extremely useful. Everything I did left a mark on my career.

Your breakthrough came just a few years later with Sergio Leone. Were you aware that you were breaking with Western-scoring tradition by using whistling, electric guitars, voices and choirs?

No. I didn’t realize that I was bringing about a kind of musical revolution in the Western music genre. People told me that later on.

Do you think the potential of music in films has been fully realized?

I cannot foresee the future. But I think serious composers can still work to achieve something that has not been done as yet. The main obstacle for innovation is the audience actually understanding the value of music. Film culture has grown up and developed with the audience. The same cannot be said of music in cinema.

Do you have an overall philosophy of film scoring?

First of all, I listen to the director quite closely. When it is possible, I watch the movie, and then I start to think about the kind of music that will serve the movie. At the same time it must be consistent with my own personality and my own style.

Can you define that style in words?

I cannot do that. Maybe this is up to music critics. What I can say is that I have my own personal style, and a deep knowledge of music composition and of the history of music. I am quite sure of my own skills, my own musical culture. I can rely on all of that to compose.

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