Cult Movie: There was so much more to Ennio Morricone than his iconic scores for Leone's 'Dollars trilogy'

Ennio Morricone passed away this week at the age of 91
Ralph McLean

Ennio Morricone RIP

BACK in 2008 I had the pleasure of hosting Ennio Morricone's performance at Belfast Festival. Introducing 'Il Maestro' onto the stage of the Waterfront Hall that night was one of the greatest thrills of my life.

As the composer led the orchestra through a selection of some of the greatest movie scores ever written, I sat off in the wings with movie historian Mike Catto commentating on the performance for BBC Radio Ulster.

Every time Morricone came off stage between pieces he would stand beside us looking quizzically at Mike and I with our little lip microphones pressed to our mouths waxing lyrical about the music we'd just heard. As he stood there, resplendent in his black tails and with his sheaf of manuscripts draped over his arm, I nodded enthusiastically towards him. As he didn't speak a word of English he just looked bewildered at our presence and strolled back out to centre stage. Surreal barely covers it really.

I grew up with Morricone's music. Dragged in by the weird and wonderful Western soundtracks he penned for his old school friend Sergio Leone, with their game-changing guttural twangs and whip-cracking percussion, and thrilled by the sheer variety of his work that could see him score everything from epic love stories to seedy B-movie beauties, I set off on a lifelong love affair with the man and his remarkable adventures in sound. To this day the sight of an unheard Morricone soundtrack looking back at me from the vinyl rails in a record shop still fills me with untold excitement.

His passing in his beloved Rome this week at the age of 91 was greeted with much well-deserved critical praise and love from all quarters. However, much of that love mostly referenced those so-called Spaghetti Western soundscapes at the expense of his wider body of work. That's a shame, because the real beauty of Morricone's art is in its incredible versatility.

The 'Dollars trilogy' that began with A Fistful Of Dollars in 1964 and took in the following year's For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in 1966 may have made his name, and that of their cigar-chomping, poncho wearing star Clint Eastwood, but the inventiveness they display are only the tip of the composer's artistic iceberg.

Morricone's work graced films by the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci, Terance Malick, John Carpenter and Pier Paolo Pasonlini. He may have won his first official Oscar for his soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino's 2015 offering The Hateful Eight, but that tells you more about the cluelessness of the academy than it does about the quality of the composer.

If pushed for his greatest work, I might go for his deeply emotional score for The Mission (1986). The main theme from that film moved me profoundly when I first heard it as an impressionable youth and drew a tear from me when I stood by the side of that Belfast stage watching him conduct it in 2008.

Now that's the sign of a truly great artist, isn't it?

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