Legendary Composer Ennio Morricone Dies Aged 91

Ennio Morricone

by Ben Travis |
Updated on

Ennio Morricone, the legendary Italian composer behind some of the most instantly recognisable film scores of all time, has passed away in Rome at the age of 91 following complications from a recent fall. He is best known for his genre-defining music for Westerns, particularly the films of Sergio Leone – but across his lifetime, Morricone contributed to several other all-time-great movies, elevating them with his own masterful work.

Morricone's career was incredibly prolific, and he had over 500 credits to his name, beginning with his work for 1961 Italian World War II film The Fascist. His first major work was his first Sergio Leone collaboration, 1964’s A Fistful Of Dollars – his theme for which established all the central tenets of his oeuvre, from its famous whistling refrain, to its rhythmic guitar strumming, and wide-open choral arrangements.

When Leone and Clint Eastwood re-teamed in 1965’s For A Few Dollars More, so too did Morricone return, creating another theme which shared much DNA with its predecessor. But his most beloved Leone score was to come in 1966 epic The Good, The Bad And The Ugly – a film whose main theme has endured not just as the epitome of Spaghetti Western scores, but as the very sound of the Western genre itself. Its primal whistling melody, with that ‘wahh-wahh-wahh’ call-and-response, stakes a reasonable claim as the most famous film music of all time.

If the central theme of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is Morricone at his most iconic, his theme ‘The Ecstasy Of Gold’ from the same soundtrack is considered by many to be his greatest work – a soaring, spine-tingling piece that proves his audio contributions were as deeply cinematic as any image. It’s music that encapsulates the promise, the romanticism, the scale, the scope, the mystery of the open plains.

Beyond the ‘Man With No Name’ trilogy, Morricone later re-teamed with Sergio Leone one last time for the director's 1968 epic Once Upon A Time In The West.

While much of Morricone’s career was spent scoring Italian films, there was much variety to his work particularly as he moved into Hollywood movies. In 1978, he provided the charming, bouncy score for classic farce comedy La Cage Aux Folles (the French film that was the basis for The Birdcage). One year later, he scored Terrence Malick’s Days Of Heaven – for which he received his first of several Oscar nominations. Though Morricone is most associated with stirring strings and analogue arrangements, one of his most appreciated works is the complete opposite – his paranoid, pulsating synth score for John Carpenter’s The Thing, as chilly and chilling as the film itself.

In 1987, Morricone provided the stirring, wide-screen score for Brian De Palma’s Al Capone crime story The Untouchables, which gave him his third Oscar nomination. (He also received Academy recognition for his work on 1987’s The Mission, 1992’s Bugsy, and 2001’s Malèna, though none of them were winners on the night.) And in 1988, he once again tapped into the DNA of cinema itself to conjure the lush, romantic score for Cinema Paradiso.

Morricone continued to be prolific through the ‘90s and ‘00s, and while he was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 2007 (handed over by Clint Eastwood, no less), he later went on to win Best Original Score for a late-career classic. If Quentin Tarantino had often used Morricone’s music in his movies – pilfering bits of classic scores for Kill Bill, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained – in 2016 he got the composer to provide a full original score for The Hateful Eight, bringing Morricone back to the Western genre one last time. In keeping with the film’s dark, ominous tone, it’s a sinister work of creeping, encroaching evil – and yet another instantly recognisable melody from a true master.

Morricone’s final movie score came in 2016’s Correspondence, from Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore. He was due to provide a score for Kim Burdon’s upcoming animation The Canterville Ghost, though with the project in pre-production it’s unknown whether Morricone completed any of his work on the film. Morricone’s work really did make an indelible mark on cinema – and gave film fans and popular culture at large some of the most resonant movie music ever created. Our thoughts are with his friends, family, and loved ones.

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