Oscar winner Ennio Morricone, composer of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “The Mission” and among the most prolific and admired composers in film history, has died. He was 91.
Morricone died early Monday in a Rome clinic, where he was taken shortly after suffering a fall that caused a hip fracture, his lawyer Giorgio Asumma told Italian news agency ANSA.
Shortly after Morricone’s death was confirmed, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte tweeted: “We will always remember, with infinite gratitude, the artistic genius of the Maestro #EnnioMorricone. It made us dream, feel excited, reflect, writing memorable notes that will remain indelible in the history of music and cinema.”
The Italian maestro’s estimated 500 scores for films and television, composed over more than 50 years, are believed to constitute a record in Western cinema for sheer quantity of music.
At least a dozen of them became film-score classics, from the so-called spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s, including “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “Once Upon a Time in the West” to the widely acclaimed “The Mission” and “Cinema Paradiso” of the 1980s.
He was nominated six times for Oscars — for “Days of Heaven,” “The Mission,” “The Untouchables,” “Bugsy,” “Malena” and “The Hateful Eight,” winning for the last of these — and in 2006 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences presented him with an honorary Oscar for “his magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music.” He was only the second composer in Oscar history to receive an honorary award for his body of work.
He contributed the original score to Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” in 2015 after having made some earlier comments about being unhappy with the way his music, originally composed for other movies, had been used in earlier Tarantino films.
Their collaboration on “Hateful Eight” took place rapidly, with Morricone working from Tarantino’s screenplay, rather than scoring specific scenes, similarly to his technique on most of his films for director Sergio Leone including “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “Once Upon a Time in the West.”
Although he preferred to work in Rome — and famously refused to speak any language other than Italian — he worked with a wide range of filmmakers on both sides of the Atlantic, including Gillo Pontecorvo (“The Battle of Algiers”), Bernardo Bertolucci (“1900”), Terence Malick (“Days of Heaven”), William Friedkin (“Rampage”), Roman Polanski (“Frantic”), Brian De Palma (“The Untouchables”), Barry Levinson (“Disclosure”), Mike Nichols (“Wolf”) and Giuseppe Tornatore (“Cinema Paradiso”).
He was classically trained and insisted upon personally orchestrating every note of his scores, unlike many of his contemporaries. The sound he achieved was often unique and innovative, as in the Western scores that featured whistling, bells, electric guitars, wordless soprano vocals and full choirs.
Morricone was so busy in the 1960s and 1970s that he often didn’t conduct his own music. From 1965-73, he wrote nearly 150 scores, more than many composers create in a lifetime. Many were for films never released in the U.S., which led to a small but passionate cult of record buyers who didn’t see the films but doted on the music.
While he is often remembered for his often wildly romantic themes (notably for such 1970s European films as “Metti, una sera a cena” and “Maddalena”), he also excelled at crime dramas (“Revolver”) and enjoyed indulging his passion for dissonance and improvisatory music, especially in the Italian “giallo” thriller films of the 1970s (such as Dario Argento’s “The Bird With the Crystal Plumage”).
Morricone had enjoyed a top-10 hit with the theme for “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” but it was “The Mission” that brought him worldwide acclaim in 1986. His alternately primitive and sophisticated, choral and orchestral music for Roland Joffe’s epic set in 18th century South America won BAFTA and Golden Globe awards but lost the Oscar to “Round Midnight,” a jazz score that wasn’t entirely original.
The loss — which outraged Oscar observers and disappointed Morricone in his best-ever shot at Oscar glory — resulted in modification to Academy rules and, eventually, the honorary Oscar as a 20-years-late consolation prize.
But in general, Morricone devoted more time In later years to classical composition, writing more than 50 works for chamber groups, symphony orchestra, solo voice and choral ensembles. Appearing in concert at the United Nations in early 2007, he conducted his “Voci Dal Silencio,” a cantata in memory of those killed in 9/11 and other terrorist attacks.
He launched a film-scoring career with “Il Federale” in 1961. The Leone films of the 1960s — notably the Clint Eastwood “Man With No Name” trilogy that started with “Fistful of Dollars” in 1964 — ensured his future in movies, although in later years he would regularly remind interviewers that he had worked in every genre, not just Westerns. Director Quentin Tarantino used obscure Morricone tracks in several of his films, including “Kill Bill,” “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained,” and Morricone composed an original song for “Django Unchained,” “Ancora Qui.”
Morricone was born in Rome. He took up the trumpet at an early age and studied music at Italy’s famed Santa Cecilia conservatory under composer Goffredo Petrassi. Although he initially preferred writing for the concert hall, he began to arrange and conduct for pop singers in the late 1950s as a means of earning a living. His pop song “Se Telefonando” was one of Italy’s big hits of 1966.
Artists in every genre of music-making have paid tribute to the maestro, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma in a bestselling 2004 classical album and the all-star 2007 tribute “We All Love Ennio Morricone” that featured Celine Dion, Bruce Springsteen and Metallica.
His albums have sold, it is estimated, more than 50 million units worldwide.
In addition to his honorary Oscar, he received 10 of Italy’s David di Donatello awards (mostly for notable Italian films including “Canone Inverso” and “Baaria”); two more Golden Globes for “The Legend of 1900” and “Hateful Eight”; a Grammy and another BAFTA for “The Untouchables” plus a Grammy Trustee award in 2014; ASCAP’s Golden Soundtrack Award, and the career achievement award of the Film Music Society.
In recent years he had conducted concerts of his own music around the world, including a notable American debut at New York’s Radio City Music Hall in 2007. Although he was scheduled to conduct at the Hollywood Bowl in 2009, the event was cancelled and he only returned to L.A. to collect his final Oscar in 2016.
Morricone is survived by wife Maria Travia and their four children.