Ennio Morricone: What I've Learned

'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly' composer in his own words

I wake early. I do some physical exercise in the house. Then, around 7am, I go out to buy the newspapers. I read the newspapers. I wait for my wife to wake up and then we have breakfast. I start work around 8.30am. And that’s my day, that’s my routine.

Recently, there was an analysis of the 100 best music scores of the last century. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly [1966] was second best. The first was by John Williams, an American. It was an American poll.

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“Music composed, arranged and conducted by Ennio Morricone.” This is an idea I coined because I wanted people to understand I was in charge of everything. The composition, conducting the orchestra and all the organisation and arrangement. Now, many other composers use the same kind of statement.

Dino De Laurentiis asked me to move to Hollywood. I said, “No.” I wanted to stay in Rome.

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The secret to a long and happy marriage? Always be true to one another, be sincere and always tell the truth. There was also the fact that Maria and I have had four kids.

In Django Unchained [2012], there’s that sequence where a dog attacks and eats a man. That was too much. I sent a message to Quentin Tarantino and told him that was too strong.

My father played the trumpet. He was an excellent musician. There was always music in the house. I often played beside him as second trumpet in the same orchestras. Sometimes we recorded the music for films together. That was a good way of learning.

Sergio Leone discussed with me the possibility of making a film on the Siege of Leningrad. But he never asked me to write music for that film, the same as he didn’t ask me to write music for any of his preceding films. There was a reason. It was because he knew he was going to die. He had a serious congenital problem with his heart, and he didn’t want to undergo surgery. He refused it. That’s the reason he never asked me to start the music, because he knew he wasn’t going to make it.

My family suffered because of work commitments. I was either in the studio recording or I was closed off writing music. So, I wasn’t able to dedicate as much time to them as I should. My wife was bringing up the children on her own. So I decided: spend more time with your family. And that’s what I did.

It’s difficult to do a good job if you are not well organised. Some people will say, “I’m free, I improvise.” Maybe they go to bed late at night. Maybe they wake up late in the morning. For me that would be impossible.

It’s much better when you’re friends with a director. There must be mutual respect and trust between director and composer but if there is friendship, then the work is much better. It means you can be brave enough to propose strange and interesting things.

When I was 12, I entered the Santa Cecilia Conservatory [in Rome] and started studying composition. After a few months, I went directly to the third year. In my mind, I was supposed to be in the third year from the start. Then I went to [acclaimed composer Goffredo] Petrassi’s class. And that was a fundamental part of my training: I learned a lot about scholar Romana, a way of approaching music composition that was based on the knowledge of what had been done before by the great Roman composers.

Brian De Palma never smiles. But he is a great director: very good at choosing stories, he pays a lot of attention to the screenplay and he’s very accurate.

A difficult period for work came after World War II. My father was never out of a job but I worked with him. I also played on my own and contributed to the family income.

It was unusual for a promising young musician to go into making so-called pop music, and music for television. But I was invited, so I started doing both, even while I was studying with Petrassi. Maestro Petrassi was not so happy.
Film composers must be at the service of the film. You cannot go against the film.

I used a typewriter in one of my scores [1966 Italian crime drama Wake Up and Die] but I was not the first one to do that; somebody had done it before. The real novelty was mixing my music with sounds from real life. That was a novelty I enjoyed.

My greatest luxury is time at home.

In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’s main title theme, there’s a different sound for the three main characters. The ‘Ugly’ [representing Mexican bandit Tuco Ramirez] is the actual sound of a coyote, turned into a music piece.

It was a real friendship with Sergio Leone. Our families were friends, the wives were friends, the children were friends.

I began to think I’d never win an Oscar [after being nominated in 1979, 1987, 1988, 1992 and 1991; Clint Eastwood finally presented him with an Honorary Academy Award in 2007]. But it was not such a big concern. I never had awards and accolades in mind. But they are very good for the films, and good promotion for the industry.

At a certain point in my life, Maria became a very important partner for my music composition, because I started having her listen to the music before I gave it to the director. Sometimes, the film-makers weren’t making the most appropriate choices, so I decided to have my wife choose. She was excellent at it, with a wonderful ear.

Inspiration comes from my background, from my experience, from the studies I did, the deep knowledge of the history of music, the history of music composition, the fact I have composed music scores for different kinds of films, even the less famous and less important films, where I had the opportunity to do more experimental things. Also from the fact I worked in television, radio and cinema. I really love this city: I’ve always lived here in Rome. But Rome doesn’t inspire me.

What do you think?

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