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The KPAC Blog features classical music news, reviews, and analysis from South Texas and around the world.

Sixty Years Of Morricone's Music

Ennio Morricone, 60 years in the biz.

With a whistle and a guitar, Ennio Morricone changed film and music history. Sergio Leone, a director with only one feature to his credit and a couple of gigs polishing up other pictures, called upon the composer to score his new-fangled Western, “A Fistful of Dollars,” loosely based on the Akira Kurosawa film “Yojimbo,” which itself was based on an American noir by Dashiell Hammett. The money for a full orchestra wasn’t there, so Morricone improvised, scoring the tale of an outlaw who brings justice to a frontier town with a modest string section, Spanish-influenced flamenco trumpet, an electric guitar, and a grunting, chanting choir whose “We Can Fight!” cries were as down-and-dirty as the film’s visual style, filled with sweeping vistas intercut with close-ups of sweaty faces. Morricone's music was so influential that the default "Western" sound is no longer "The Magnificent Seven," but the twang of an electric guitar.

Later on, Morricone would have the luxury of a full orchestra and then some at his disposal, and has enjoyed a successful career over the course of his six-decades, scoring more than 500 films. Morricone has been rewarded with multiple Grammy and Oscar nominations, including one Oscar win for “The Hateful Eight,” and an honorary Oscar in 2007, only the second composer to receive such an award. His melodies can be wistfully nostalgic, befitting films such as those of frequent collaborator Giuseppe Tornatore, or they can be mournful, as in his score for Sam Fuller’s “White Dog,” or gleefully over the top, as in the disco harpsichord with choir tune he wrote for “Exorcist II: The Heretic.”

Morricone tribute and compilation albums are a dime a dozen, and there’s usually two problems with each. First of all, there’s almost no way one lowly compact disc can manage to contain all of the maestro’s best melodies, and secondly, most of them stink—even the ones that involve Morricone himself. I don’t know what possesses Morricone to schmaltz up his own work, but in the library at Texas Public Radio, I can pull at least four or five Morricone albums off the shelf where the grit has been washed away, leaving nothing but a syrupy mess. Mi dispiace, maestro.

But I’m happy to report that “Morricone60,” new on Decca Records, hews close to the original arrangements on most of the tracks. It’s also a good overview; its 23 tracks include the Spaghetti Westerns, as well as the best-known themes from “The Mission,” “Cinema Paradiso,” and a few surprises, such as “Chi Mai,” and “La Califfa,” an early ‘70s musical cousin to “The Mission.” There are also two cues from Morricone’s Oscar-winning score to Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” but sadly none from the Saint-Saens inspired “Days of Heaven” or the sensual “Malèna,” both nominated for Oscars as well.

Still, if you’re looking for a very good compilation album, “Morricone60” is easy to recommend. It’s got the hits and then some, and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra does a great job, not softening the edges of the electric elements in Morricone’s music. Morricone himself is at the helm of the ensemble. Bravo, maestro!