What we think of as “film music” today is a creation of only a few inventive and original composers, one fewer of whom walks the Earth as of yesterday. Though Ennio Morricone will be remembered first for his association with spaghetti western master Sergio Leone, his career in film scores spanned half a century and encompassed work for some of the most acclaimed directors of that period: his countrymen like Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, Pier Paolo Pasolini, but also such commanding Hollywood filmmakers as John Huston, Terrence Malick, and Quentin Tarantino. Morricone didn’t just write music to add to their films; he became a collaborator, without whose work their films would be difficult to imagine.
The result, in pictures from L’Avventura to Salò to Days of Heaven to The Untouchables to The Hateful Eight, is a union of the arts that transcends individual cultures. It doesn’t matter what country you come from, what generation you belong to, whether you enjoy Westerns or indeed cinema itself: you know the theme music Morricone wrote for Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly the moment you hear it.
Whether or not you’ve seen the movie, you’ll appreciate the especially rich performance by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra at the top of the post, part of a 2018 concert called The Morricone Duel, a celebration of “a wide range of western movies and mafia movies reflecting different perspectives on an Italian-American movie and film music style.”
The Morricone Duel’s Youtube playlist includes the Danish National Symphony Orchestra’s renditions of pieces from other Morricone-Leone collaborations like A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Once Upon a Time in America. Though the evening also included pieces from The Untouchables and Henri Verneuil’s The Sicilian Clan, many in the audience must have thrilled most when the musicians launched into the overture from The Hateful Eight. They could hardy be more ardent Morricone fans than Tarantino himself, who used pieces from Morricone’s existing Spaghetti-western soundtracks in Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds before making a western of his own, which wouldn’t have been complete without original Morricone music. The Hateful Eight turned out to be Morricone’s penultimate film score, but his influence will resonate through generations of cinema to come — and outlast, no doubt, the western and gangster genres themselves.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.