“After five nominations, with great tranquillity and peace of mind, I had given up on it,” admits Ennio Morricone, only the second composer in Oscar history to receive an honorary Academy Award.
The first was Alex North, who had been Oscar-nommed 15 times. But that, if anything, makes this nod to the maestro all the more due.
The 78-year-old Morricone has, of course, won plenty of other prizes, including a Grammy, two Golden Globes and a Venice career Golden Lion. In Italy Morricone is so popular that legions of fans have long been asking him to write a new national anthem.
The son of a trumpet player, Morricone studied trumpet and classical composition at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in his native Rome. In 1956, shortly after graduating, he married Maria Travia, a Sicilian whom he calls “his muse,” just as he was starting to work on film scores as an assistant. This Oscar is dedicated to her.
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“My wife is my first ear,” he says. “In my early days directors sometimes picked themes and motifs that, in retrospect, I have considered to be wrong. Since then I started asking for her advice, and if she doesn’t like something I just get rid of it.”
Like most classically trained composers, Morricone works at his desk, not at the piano.
“I always try to write with clearness and simplicity, but with great attention to tonal research and orchestral arrangements,” he reveals.
“It all starts with the film. My primary goal is to give the audience what the director is unable to express with images and words. Because I am a pro, I am a composer who can do anything: from something trashy, if needed, to a full symphony.”
Morricone, who now appears at concerts worldwide, gave his first U.S. performance at the United Nations on Feb. 2, conducting his symphony “Voci dal silenzio” (Voices From Silence), composed in honor of 9/11 victims.
After writing, by his count, 450 scores he’s almost as active as ever. Last year he penned tracks for a half dozen pics, including the dark “La sconosciuta” (The Unknown) his eighth collaboration with Giuseppe Tornatore, the living director with whom he gets along best.
Currently in the works are “St. Petersburg,” Giuliano Montaldo’s biopic of Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky; and “Tutte le donne della mia vita” (All the Women in my Life), a gastronomic comedy by Simona Izzo.
Of course he’s happy to work with Hollywood helmers, as long as they don’t ask him to travel.
“If they want me,” he says, “they can come to Rome.”