No spaghetti for Ennio Morricone

Why the Italian icon of film music hears the term Spaghetti Western as an "insult".

In all probability, you will be remembered by generations to come as a composer of film scores, rather than a composer of so-called “serious” music. Does that bother you in any way?

It does slightly, but I don’t think it’s quite the case. Those who will want to study Morricone the composer will have to take into consideration both aspects of my work.

But it’s true that your film scores will always be more readily available to the general public.

Absolutely. But musicologists who want to explore my work will obviously have to give equal weighting to both these activities. Naturally, film music is a fundamental musical and creative exploit of our time, of this last century. It’s a part of our daily lives. It’s a medium where all the arts coalesce in an ideal that I often like to define as “Wagnerian”. And so historians will have to study film music in conjunction with all other arts that make up the cinematic medium in order to make sense culturally of this age.

You’ve worked on many “Spaghetti Westerns” or “Italian Westerns” as you prefer to call them...

You know, when I hear the words “Spaghetti Western”, I stop talking. Because it’s an insult to the work of Sergio Leone. Spaghetti is something you eat – the work of Leone is certainly not something you eat.

I have to agree with you there...

So, yes, calling them “Italian Westerns” is more appropriate.

Well, your work here is crucial to the development of the genre, and is characterised first and foremost by your work with the great Sergio Leone. Many believe that your greatest contribution to music lies in this field. Do you agree?

No, not at all. These people don’t know my work at all. Of the 500-plus films I’ve worked on, no more than 30 to 33 are Westerns, so that’s quite a small percentage – only about 7 to 8 per cent of the total, in fact. So these people should go and get their facts straight!

Were you already a fan of Westerns before you composed your scores for Leone, or did you come to like them with time?

Not at all. I wasn’t interested in Westerns at all. In fact, I wasn’t even aware they existed.

You’ve worked with many famous film directors, from Bernardo Bertolucci to Dario Argento, Brian de Palma and Giuseppe Tornatore. Who, among the directors you’ve worked with, stands out as having a particularly keen musical ear?

I’d have to say, for example, that Leone had an excellent grasp of the musical necessities of his films, even though he had no formal music education at all. And I find Tornatore has come a long way in this sense, compared to the first few times we worked together – we’ve been working together for 25 years now. And I am very pleased to say I helped him along in this respect. So, even though Tornatore was no great music expert, in the sense that he never studied music formally, I find him quite quick in his ability to perceive and understand certain things that would appear to be difficult. 

Ennio Morricone conducts his own works with orchestra and choir at the Adelaide Festival on March 2. Read the complete interview in the March issue of Limelight

Copyright © Limelight Magazine. All rights reserved

This article appeared in the March, 2012 issue of Limelight Magazine.

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No spaghetti for Ennio Morricone
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