Ennio Morricone's Lesser-Known Works Illustrate The Depth Of His Genius
Ennio Morricone was one of the greatest composers of film scores to have ever lived. It feels like only John Williams could possibly get close to him, but only just.
The Italian composer started out as a writer of pop songs, but after the Second World War he started to experiment with avant-garde sounds and ideas. Scoring films allowed Morricone to experiment but also make a living from it.
He will be remembered for his scores on the Sergio Leone films A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon A Time In The West. These four scores cemented that sterling reputation for the rest of his life. They are bombastic, touching, avant-garde, and most importantly glorious.
But Ennio Morricone also scored around 500 other films. His work was phenomenally diverse, yet at the same time could only have been made by Morricone.
Here are another five of Ennio Morricone’s scores that deserve some more exploration.
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The Return Of Ringo (1965)
Released a year after ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ ‘The Return Of Ringo’ shares a few things in common with its famous cousin, but at the same time Morricone doesn’t phone in his work. The trademark horns, strings and acoustic guitars are all here, but it is much more restrained. The main melody is played on different instruments throughout the score. Each instrument helps create a different mood yet keeping it all grounded.
‘The Meeting With The Daughter’ is glorious and the final third with the screeching strings, wailing choir, and plodding bassline creates a feeling of disorientation and confusion. ‘The Wedding And The Revenge’ feels like a follow up to ‘The Chase’ from ‘A Fistful of Dollars’. Searing strings lacerate the senses while a plodding piano accentuates the tension perfectly.
Maurizio Graf’s vocals on ‘The Return Of Ringo’ feel like a lost Scott Walker track from ‘Scott II’, whereas ‘Barnaba’s Bamba’ plonky mina melody wouldn’t feel out of place on a future Wes Anderson film. What more could you ask for?
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Svegliate e Uccidd (1966)
‘Svegliate e Uccidd’ is the sound of a confident Morricone. He’s is in the middle of a creative roll that would define his career. ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ and ‘For a Few Dollars More’ have made him a household name and it shows throughout ‘Svegliate e Uccidd’.
The compositions bristle with a confidence hitherto unheard of in his work. ‘Una Stanza Vuota’ is an avant-garde pop gem that sounds little much release before, and sadly since. The recordings also have a richer, deeper, sound. This adds a feeling of grandeur to them, making them feel more weighted, and important, than they probably are. The songs are bloated, but they have one hell of a swagger. The experimental motifs have been toned down, but ‘La Prima Vittima’ is the most experimental track on the album.
Stuttering percussion, guitar stabs, lilting choirs, and ‘Peter Gunn Theme’ sounding piano make it sound more like and experimental jazz track.
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Death Rides A Horse (1967)
The title track opens with a jaunty hypnotic guitar. Morricone then starts to ramp up the avant-garde motifs with flutes being overplayed so they rasp. As the score progresses you start to realise that everything is built on that opening guitar part. As the repetitions build up, the songs take on drone like qualities.
‘Alone in the Night’ feels like one of the most avant-garde thing Morricone released. The main piano work on it is disjointed, but effortlessly creates the mood of someone lost in the woods at night. It’s disorienting and slightly terrifying, but totally compelling.
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The Mission (1986)
By the 1980s Morricone had effectively stopped scoring Westerns and moved on to bigger, more mainstream, productions. When compared to the music is was making 20 years earlier the tonal shift is striking.
One of the films that exemplified this was Roland Joffé 1986 film ‘The Mission’. The trademark guitars and horns have been replaced by oboes and luscious string section. The music is tender with touching motifs throughout. ‘Gabriel's Oboe’ starts off with broody percussions, then switches to one of the most uplifting pieces of music he ever composed. The choral sections feel like the best he ever wrote. They just gently rise and swell throughout, but never actually breaks.
Throughout he reigns in the experimental elements that made his early work such a joyous experience, ‘Carlotta’ comes close as it features the same note being played throughout, but inclusion of the tender string elevates it from a deep drone.
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‘Nostromo’ was an Italian TV adaption of the Joseph Conrad novel. It received mixed reviews at the time and starred Claudio Amendola, Albert Finney, Colin Firth, Brian Dennehy and Claudia Cardinale.
Over the years it has been shown sporadically and has never been released in DVD. The score, on the other hand, is fantastic. I picked this up in a junk shop for a few quid at the height of my Morricone fandom. I took it home and was underwhelmed at first. I wanted the grandiose sound of 'For A Few Dollars' more as this is all rousing orchestral pieces.
Over the years a new appreciation for ‘Nostromo’ has developed. It is one of the most romantic things Morricone ever wrote and the sheer scale of it feel unrivalled in his back catalogue. Saying that ‘Greed’ it full of his classic motifs. Steady drumbeats. Blink and you miss it guitar work and that creeping feeling of dread that only he could achieve.
These aren’t the scores that Morricone will be immediately remembered for, but each one showcases what he was one of the best, if not the best, at what he did.
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Words: Nick Roseblade
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