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Right Up There With Mozart and Beethoven
by Jon Schuller

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I've often wondered how the great masters were able to write so much music all by hand and keep every single instrument separate from all the others. In a time when the actual music for the musicians had to be written painstakingly with a quill pen, it must have been quite an accomplishment to finish a symphony and then rehearse it. I don't know if the printing press helped at the time but still, writing 100s of works is still impressive even today. There is no lack of talented people in our modern world and now music is composed on I-pads, laptops and with all the equipment neatly in front of you. The invention of motion pictures opened up an entirely new world for composers and musicians and, as films became more sophisticated, they demanded original scores tailor-made for each movie. Someone like Charlie Chaplin, whose genius became obvious early on in his career, did practically everything for his films, including the music. Just watch City Lights or Modern Times and you'll marvel at his musical gifts. I have featured several famous composers, who've gained fame through films, in previous columns. Their music, like the works of Beethoven and Mozart, are eternal and when we hear it we are instantly taken back to the films it came from and maybe other memories as well. I want to feature another incredibly prolific composer in today's column, a gentleman still writing today; his record is almost unbelievable. May I introduce Ennio Morricone.

Born in Rome, Italy in 1928, Mr. Morricone has done it all as a composer, orchestrator, conductor trumpet player and
studio arranger, composing musical works for over 500 movies and television programs. He's written classical compositions and worked with some of the world's most well-known performers, arranging 100s of songs and instrumental pieces. His fame is world-wide and, of course, it was a series of movies the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone that catapulted him to this status. His musical abilities did not in any way limit his visions of what the director wanted to portray on-screen. Morricone understood the ambivalence that the western genre tried to achieve. Leone's originality was only heightened and made clearer as that original music heralded each movie. Once more, I challenge anyone to say they don't recognize the opening notes of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

He began getting the attention of Hollywood and some famous directors and movie-makers, like John Carpenter, Brian De Palma, Barry Levinson, Mike Nichols and Oliver Stone. Movies like The Untouchables, In the Line of Fire, Bulworth, Disclosure and The Mission were among his many credits. He has continued writing well into the 21st Century, with notable films like Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds, and Django Unchained. The list of his award nominations and wins is far too long to list here; but not quite as long as the list of his movie contributions spanning more than 60 years.

In the late 1950s Morricone began writing and arranging for many Italian and international musical stars. By 1963 he'd gotten attention from his co-writing of a song that was sung by Paul Anka in 1964. Stars from all over the
world began knocking on his musical doors for compositions and arrangements as his musical genius became well-known. Many hits by artists like Sting and Andrea Bocelli had Morricone's name attached. In 1964 he also began a long-time collaboration with a group of artists known as Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza. From all over Europe these men produced albums of avant-garde and experimental music, once again forming bonds for other artists to notice and imitate. Many of the works Morricone made famous for Sergio Leone contained dissonant sounds among the music, reflecting the new works he'd helped to produce.

He wrote for comedies as well as more serious films. He was so adept at pinpointing what the director was looking to accomplish on-screen that the demand for his music and artistry was unparalleled. But his fame and fortune went up like skyrockets when the new genre of Spaghetti Westerns came to international attention. Last month I wrote an entire column dedicated to these landmark films which catapulted Clint Eastwood and many others to lasting fame. Sergio Leone wanted no one else to write the music but Ennio Morricone because of Morricone's reputation for bold innovation, yet with qualities found in the timeless classics of the great masters. In the 50 years since the first one, A Fistful of Dollars, was released the entire trilogy has made millions of dollars from still being shown around the world. The music is timeless and so original. Once Upon a Time in the West premiered in 1968 and the score sold over 10 million copies. Once Upon a Time in
America came out in 1984 and that, too, featured a Morricone score.

He's written for dramas and scary films over the years. The Exorcist (1973) featured his music. The Thing was remade in 1982, among many other mystery movies he was invited to score. He scored films from Brian De Palma and Barry Levinson, two directors well-known for award-winning thrillers. Films like The Untouchables, Mission to Mars, Bugsy and Disclosure are among the many movies that all won citations and nominations for great direction, acting and music. Well into the 1990s, more music from Morricone backgrounded films like Bulworth, Hamlet, State of Grace, In the Line of Fire and What Dreams May Come with Robin Williams.

We can hear many of his original works reused for more modern television and film productions. The lists of his more recent works in the last 15 years are extensive and as impressive as anything that preceded them. I hope this column will spur you to your own research into this most amazing and creative musical genius who is still writing today as another year begins.

He is constantly invited to conduct, not only his own works, in-person, but great classical pieces with the best orchestras around the world. Morricone's wide-ranging talents are nothing short of astounding in my humble opinion. I am already on the hunt for more cd anthologies of his works. To be able to listen to a modern man who has composed so much music anytime I wish is such a pleasure. Yes, as far as I'm concerned, his body of work has no trouble standing tall against the great masters like Beethoven and Mozart.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Have You Been Spying On Me Lately? For How Long?

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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