Hear 5 Hours of Ennio Morricone’s Scores for Classic Western Films: From Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns to Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight

What goes into the mak­ing of a great film score? And how does a director/composer team like David Lynch and Ange­lo Badala­men­ti, or Ser­gio Leone and Ennio Mor­ri­cone, form such a per­fect part­ner­ship? Sev­er­al days ago, we brought you video of Badale­men­ti in a spir­it­ed, detailed recre­ation of how he and Lynch com­posed the unfor­get­table Twin Peaks’ themes, with­out which, I’d argue, there may have been no Twin Peaks.

Like­wise, with­out the music of Mor­ri­cone behind them, Leone’s spare, styl­ish, hard-boiled-yet-com­ic west­erns may nev­er have spear­head­ed the almost clas­si­cal genre of the “Spaghet­ti West­ern,” known just as often for its music as for its visu­al lan­guage.

What does Mor­ri­cone have to say about this? Pre­cious lit­tle. Or so dis­cov­ered Steely Dan’s Don­ald Fagen when he inter­viewed Mor­ri­cone for Pre­miere mag­a­zine in August of 1989. Fagen is well known for his obses­sive knowl­edge of cul­ture high and low and his hip, the­o­ret­i­cal bent. Mor­ri­cone, we learn, works more intu­itive­ly. But the results are the same. We may equal­ly find our­selves hum­ming the refrain to “Peg” as the theme to The Good, the Bad & the Ugly.

And we may find our­selves plea­sur­ably ana­lyz­ing “Peg”’s iron­ic rede­ploy­ment of soft rock tropes, just as we may approach Morricone’s inim­itable style as crit­i­cal the­o­rists, as Fagen does when he asks the ques­tion below. Like­ly the most lead­ing ques­tion in all of music jour­nal­ism (with the excep­tion of this Bri­an Eno inter­view):

But isn’t it true that the Leone films, with their ele­va­tion of myth­ic struc­tures, their com­ic book visu­al style and extreme irony, are now per­ceived as sig­nal­ing an aes­thet­ic trans­mu­ta­tion by a gen­er­a­tion of artists and film­mak­ers? And isn’t it also true that your music for those films reflect­ed and abet­ted Leone’s vision by draw­ing on the same eerie cat­a­log of gen­res — Hol­ly­wood west­ern, Japan­ese samu­rai, Amer­i­can pop, and Ital­ian Opera? That your scores func­tioned both “inside” the film as a nar­ra­tive voice and “out­side” the film as the com­men­tary of a wink­ing jester? Put it all togeth­er and does­n’t it spell “post­mod­ern,” in the sense that there has been a grotesque encroach­ment of the devices of art and, in fact, an estab­lish­ment of a new nar­ra­tive plane found­ed on the devices them­selves? Isn’t that what’s attract­ing low­er Man­hat­tan?

Mor­ri­cone: [shrugs]

Fagen quick­ly adapts, switch­es to rapid-fire ques­tions to which Mor­ri­cone gives a breezy one-word answer. “Bel­lis­si­mo!” He’s a very busy man. He does­n’t live in the same world as those La Dolce Vita peo­ple, a “small group of peo­ple who got up at 11 P.M. and lived at night.” He wakes up at 5 in the morn­ing. Mor­ri­cone needn’t indulge us with sto­ries or bore us with the­o­ret­i­cal pos­es. His last words to Fagen, “I have always want­ed to com­pose,” tell us what we need to know about him. Every­thing else is in the music.

Hear that music above in a five-hour playlist of some of Mor­ri­cone best-known scores from his sto­ried past—The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, A Fist­ful of Dol­lars, For a Few Dol­lars More, Once Upon a Time in the West, and non-Leone west­ern, The Mer­ce­nary.

And Mor­ri­cone’s still speak­ing through his west­ern scores, as he did just recent­ly in the work of anoth­er chat­ty, obses­sive, heav­i­ly ref­er­en­tial admirer—Quentin Taran­ti­no’s The Hate­ful Eight, also in the playlist above. Bel­lis­si­mo! 

If you need Spo­ti­fy’s free soft­ware, down­load it here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Quentin Taran­ti­no Lists His 20 Favorite Spaghet­ti West­erns, Start­ing with The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

The Clas­si­cal Music in Stan­ley Kubrick’s Films: Lis­ten to a Free, 4 Hour Playlist

A Playlist of 172 Songs from Wes Ander­son Sound­tracks: From Bot­tle Rock­et to The Grand Budapest Hotel

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.