Ennio Morricone, who died Monday at the age of 91, wrote more than 400 original film scores, many of which have entered the classic movie-music pantheon. While trying to narrow them down to the 10 best is an impossible task, here, in chronological order, are an essential 10:
- “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966)
This was the most popular of the maestro’s Western scores, for the last of Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” trilogy. With an indelible, coyote-inspired main theme and now-famous “Ecstasy of Gold” cue, a cover version went to No. 2 on the U.S. pop charts.
- “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968)
An off-key harmonica is not only central to the score but also to the plot of Sergio Leone’s operatic masterpiece, about the coming of the railroad to a tiny Western town. It’s especially notable for his use of wordless soprano in the lush title theme and Fender Stratocaster for Henry Fonda’s villain.
- “1900” (1976)
The maestro composed an expansive, symphonic masterwork for Bernardo Bertolucci’s five-hour epic of Marxism and fascism in Italy starring Robert De Niro, Donald Sutherland and Gerard Depardieu. His classically styled theme for co-star Dominique Sanda ranks among his most haunting pieces for piano.
- “Days of Heaven” (1978)
Morricone’s first Oscar-nominated score was a gentle, wistful reverie for Terrence Malick’s poetic story of love and greed on a turn-of-the-century Midwestern farm.
- “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984)
This was Morricone’s final work for director Leone, dramatizing a four-hour exploration of organized crime in the 1920s, ’30s and ’60s. Brooding and melancholy, flavored with panpipes and mandolin, it wasn’t even in the running for an Oscar because the studio failed to enter it for consideration.
- “The Mission” (1986)
Often heralded as Morricone’s masterpiece, this was his complex, widely praised orchestral and choral work for Roland Joffe’s film about Catholic priests in 18th-century South America (played by Jeremy Irons, Robert De Niro and Liam Neeson). Its failure to win the Oscar arguably became the Acad’s biggest musical disgrace, eventually rectified when it awarded the composer an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. This nine-minute suite features the maestro conducting it live in concert.
- “The Untouchables” (1987)
First of Morricone’s three films for director Brian De Palma, this Oscar-nominated score is filled with staccato rhythms (reminiscent of the composer’s 1970s Italian crime-drama music), heroic fanfares for the G-men, and period touches for the Prohibition-era setting.
- “Cinema Paradiso” (1988)
This was Morricone’s first score for director Giuseppe Tornatore, for the director’s love letter to movies and moviemaking. It also marked a rare collaboration, this time with his son Andrea Morricone (who composed the love theme): warm, nostalgic and moving music for chamber ensemble.
- “Malena” (2000)
The composer’s evocative, yearning melodies – and his musical sense of humor – enhanced and enlivened Tornatore’s sympathetic portrait of a lonely widow (Monica Belluci) in wartime Sicily. It was last Oscar nomination prior to his eventual Oscar-winning work on Quentin Tarantino’s “Hateful Eight.”
- “The Hateful Eight” (2015)
Director Quentin Tarantino licensed various Morricone tracks, and even commissioned a song (“Ancora Qui” for “Django Unchained”) for his films before finally asking the maestro to write an original score for this 2015 western, starring Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson. Although Morricone had received an honorary Academy Award for his body of work, “Hateful Eight” marked his first and only competitive Oscar. This video features Morricone conducting the main theme in London’s Abbey Road.