Ennio Morricone, Prolific Composer of Film Scores, Dies at 91

Ennio Morricone, the classical composer and conductor who scored director Sergio Leone’s so-called Spaghetti Westerns and about 500 other movies before winning an Oscar in 2016, has died. He was 91.

Morricone passed away at a private hospital in Rome last night, from complications after a fall, Ansa news agency reported, citing the composer’s family lawyer and friend, Giorgio Assumma.

“We will always remember with deep gratitude the artistic genius of Master Ennio Morricone,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wrote on Facebook. “He made us dream, feel, think, by writing memorable musical notes which will remain indelible in the historic of music and cinema.”

Morricone’s work with Leone, a former elementary school classmate in Rome, made him an international star in the 1960s. The two collaborated on “A Fistful of Dollars,” which introduced his signature whistling music, along with “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “Once Upon a Time in the West.”

As Morricone’s career progressed, he wrote scores for movies produced in English, French and German as well as his native Italian. He also scored television shows and composed chamber and orchestral works and arranged music for plays, radio programs and records.

“Whoever says I write too much music doesn’t understand that there is a deep necessity,” Time magazine quoted him as saying in a 1987 story. “When a composer writes little, he starts being afraid.”

Morricone would rise at 5 a.m. to start working, blended classical music with rock, jazz, folk and blues in his scores. In addition to his signature use of whistling, he incorporated animal and bird noises, footsteps, gunshots, whip cracks and other sounds.

Oscar Win

Nominated for the Academy Award six times, he finally won the honor in 2016 for his score to “The Hateful Eight,” directed by Quentin Tarantino. He also received an honorary Oscar in 2007 that commemorated his contributions to film music.

Ennio Morricone was born Nov. 10, 1928, in Rome. He was the oldest of five children of Mario Morricone, a jazz trumpet player, and Libera Ridolfi, a housewife.

As a child, he learned the trumpet and other instruments from his father. He wrote his first composition when he was six years old and at 15 played trumpet in a local band in place of his father.

Morricone attended a Christian Brothers school, where he met Leone, before entering the Santa Cecilia Conservatory to further his musical education. He was awarded degrees in the trumpet and composition, and took classes in conducting before leaving the conservatory in 1954.

He started to compose classical music, and his initial works included a cantata, a sextet and a concerto.

In 1955, he left for a stint in the military, where he transcribed music for bands. He returned and married Maria Travia, who had written lyrics for some of his songs, the following year. The couple had four children.

First Film

Morricone initially supported himself as a trumpeter, as his father had done. He then started writing and arranging film music on behalf of others who received the credit. He also did arrangements on his own for radio, television and theatrical shows, and later for recordings.

His first film credit for a score was “The Fascist,” a 1961 movie directed by Luciano Salce. Leone then re-entered his life by hiring him to write the score for “A Fistful of Dollars,” released in 1964 and brought to the U.S. three years later.

The movie kicked off the so-called “Dollars” trilogy, which also included “For a Few Dollars More” in 1965 and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” the following year. The iconic title song of the latter movie reached No. 2 on Billboard magazine’s singles chart in a version performed by Hugo Montenegro.

Morricone’s score for “Once Upon a Time in the West,” released in 1968, was “arguably the richest in movie history,” according to Time magazine, which included the film on its 2005 list of the 100 greatest movies. He also worked on “Once Upon a Time in America,” released in 1984, the last picture directed by Leone, who died in 1989 at age 67.

Oscar Nomination

Italian films were his specialty until 1977, when he began writing scores for English-language productions. He earned his first Academy Award nomination for the music from 1978’s “Days of Heaven.”

His other Oscar-nominated scores were for “The Mission,” “The Untouchables,” which also earned him a Grammy Award, “Bugsy” and “Malena.”

Other directors Morricone worked with included Bernardo Bertolucci, Brian De Palma, Roman Polanski and Oliver Stone.

When he wasn’t writing film music, Morricone played trombone with a Rome-based avant-garde group. He conducted orchestras in Brazil, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Spain and the U.K. as well as Italy and wrote more than 100 classical pieces.

“We All Love Ennio Morricone,” a tribute album from 2007, showed the breadth of musicians he influenced. Bruce Springsteen did a version of the “Once Upon a Time in the West” theme song and won a Grammy for his recording. Other performers included Renee Fleming, Celine Dion and Metallica.

Morricone and his wife had three sons, Marco, Andrea and Giovanni, and a daughter, Alessandra. Andrea is also a composer and has scored films such as “Capturing the Friedmans.” Giovanni is a movie director and producer.

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