Making cinema's music paradiso
Sydney Morning Herald
February 25, 2012 - 12:09AM
Ennio Morricone ... "I actually prefer the scores and the works I've done with, let's say, less fortunate films."
Ennio Morricone wants to be known for more than spaghetti westerns, writes Adam Fulton.
When this writer was three and throwing a tantrum, his mother tells him, his parents would rush to the stereo to play The Good, The Bad and The Ugly because it would instantly quieten him.
"Quick, put the music on!" mother would exclaim. To friends' amazement, it apparently always worked.
The theme's composer, Ennio Morricone, says he is delighted to hear of his work having such emotional impact. "But it's not something that is an absolute necessity; meaning that what I feel is a duty towards the music I have to compose and towards the job.
"I almost don't even pay attention to this aspect of the emotion, even if I am very happy about it. Because my real concern is on the film itself and the music itself . . . What I care about is that the music must actually work."
The approach has likely guided Morricone as he composed about 500 film scores over nearly six decades, including the fistful of Sergio Leone's films such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly that spawned the spaghetti western genre and launched Clint Eastwood's career. Along the way, the composer has taken a place at the peak of cinematic music's Mount Everest, alongside the likes of James Horner (Braveheart, Titanic), John Williams (Jaws, Indiana Jones) and the late John Barry (James Bond films, Out of Africa).
Morricone, 83, is making his first Australian visit for concerts at the Perth and Adelaide Festivals, where he will conduct orchestral performances of some of his most memorable composition, including for The Mission – Oscar-nominated for best score – and Cinema Paradiso.
Morricone dislikes the term spaghetti western – so named for being Italian-made – because "it's not something that you eat", he says. But worse is that many listeners remember him primarily for that work when he has done so much since.
"If the fact that people just remember the Leone films leads the audience to leave behind all the rest of the films I've scored, that I'm really sorry about," Morricone says through a translator from his Italian villa. "I've just moved through so many different genres and different stories and different plots and different ideas, the fact that people just get stuck on the Leonie films made me tell them that they should get informed on other things as well."
Morricone met Eastwood properly only in 2007, at a reception before the actor presented him with an honorary Oscar for his lifelong contribution to film scoring. "Actually I did not meet him in the '60s when we were doing the Leone films," the maestro says. "I met him once during a TV show, very briefly, some time later, after the success of the films. And then I met him in 2007."
What did they discuss?
"What he did was very kind to me and I thanked him for that. Because I was at the Italian Cultural Institute [of Los Angeles] at that time and he had not been invited. Nevertheless he actually came and it was really very nice of him . . . What I can say now is that he has really become a great director."
The composer has long brushed aside questions about which of his works are his favourites or finest, saying they are "all my children". But, tellingly, he adds: "What I should say is that I actually prefer the scores and the works I've done with, let's say, less fortunate films – the ones that were not really that successful."
That success is seen only in retrospect. "I never know when a film is minor because through the stages I go through I never have the chance to understand whether a film is a very good one or a minor film. I can only understand it when the film is over – actually edited and finished.
"When I sometimes understand that a film is, for example, a minor film, then in that case I enjoy experimenting [with] different things and new things. Which may happen to be also for very successful blockbuster films."
In scoring, Morricone says, he often needs to know the story or see the script to be clear on its "moral implications".
The composer played trumpet as a child but realised as a teenager at an Italian conservatory that he wanted to be a film composer. Married for nearly 60 years and with adult children, he says in his expressive Italian that he continues to compose avidly.
"I still feel the pleasure of having an idea and composing, not only for films but also for absolute music. I write and compose almost every day." He has nearly always conducted only his own music. For his Australian concerts, "I chose a program that I actually like and I know the audience will appreciate a lot".
He remains busy with the baton, last year conducting concerts in Russia, Chile and South Korea. "I don't know when I'll stop playing in public," he says. "I really do it now very happily . . . so I really don't know. I haven't thought about that yet."
Ennio Morricone is at Perth Festival tomorrow and Adelaide Festival on March 2.