www.chimai.comThis Week's Special 13/12/2002

Patrick Ehresmann

Western, Italian Style

Translated from French by Didier Thunus for www.chimai.com

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The enormous success of the scores written for the dollars trilogy had a rather perverse effect on their composer. He was very quickly submerged by requests for writing only western music. The name of Ennio Morricone was such a guarantee of success that he appeared from then on in good place on the posters, at the same level as that of the actors. He was overwhelmed by this sudden notoriety, and had to refuse a large number of the movies which were proposed to him, since otherwise, he would only have composed for westerns. As a reaction, he sought to move away from this confinement in which the producers wanted to lock him up. This was the chance for new directors like Bertolucci, Bellochio, Petri or Pasolini to benefit from his collaboration for an avant-garde cinema allowing him to write something else than western music. Morricone will suffer long enough from the consequences of this sudden success, giving him to the eyes of the professionals a too restricted label of western music composer.

Nevertheless, he accepted to write a number of other western scores, carefully choosing the movies and especially the directors with whom he was to collaborate. He selected the best ones, ie. those who really had something to say in the Italian western, such as Sergio Corbucci, Sergio Sollima, Duccio Tessari or Giulio Petroni. But in certain cases where he refused to participate, the producers misused his name by pretexting a so-called "musical supervision" of scores written by others in his style.

We will remember from Morricone several remarkable western scores composed after the dollars trilogy. Firstly, those with a direct kinship with the music of Il Buono Il Brutto Il Cattivo, ie. those using a similar approach with sonorities evoking wild nature, cries, tribal percussions and the electric guitar. Some even claim that ideas or themes rejected by Leone are to be found in these scores - assertion difficult to check but quite plausible.

First of all, the score composed the year after for La Resa dei Conti (The Big Gundown, 1967), where the arghilofono, the English horn, timpani, brilliant trumpets and the chorus of I Cantori Moderni are heard. Other beautiful pages were written in this line of work, in particular the sublime but too little known E Per Tetto Un Cielo Di Stelle (And for a Roof a Sky Full of Stars, 1968), Un Esercito di Cinque Uomini (The Five Man Army, 1969), or Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970).

Morricone also sought to move away from the style created for Leone's movies, in particular by privileging the work on the voices of I Cantori Moderni for Sergio Corbucci's movies. The score to Un Dollaro A Testa (Navajo Joe, 1966) must be mentioned, with remarkable almost gospel-like chorus and the powerful voice of Gianna Spagnulo, or Vamos A Matar, Companeros! (1970) whose theme sung by the chorus had a religious connotation reinforced by the presence, once more, of a church organ. Moreover, Morricone made several times a parody of the sacred music in his westerns scores, especially when the films featured religious characters, such as Two Mules for Sister Sara or Che C'entriamo Noi Con La Rivoluzione (What am I doing in the middle of a revolution, 1972). It must also be noted that in the main theme of Vamos A Matar Companeros! Morricone ironically inserted a refrain using again all his typical instruments, from the whistle to the flute, from the voice of Franco Cosacchi singing wha-wha to the harmonica, and from the electric guitar to the trumpet, all were there!

Morricone also exercised, in a slightly different style, to compose themes based on the rhythmic of acoustic guitars, in particular for Faccia A Faccia (Face To Face, 1967) or Da Uomo A Uomo (Death Rides A Horse, 1967).

The clear tendency of the strengthening of the lyrical dimension since 1968 must be noted, starting with the following western of Sergio Leone, C'era Una Volta Il West (Once Upon A Time In The West). Leone himself had wished to move to something else after completing his dollars trilogy, but the American producers had promised him to finance his next movie about gangsters of the thirties, C'era Una Volta In America (Once Upon A Time In America), only provided he agreed to direct a last western. Morricone being very busy during 1968, - this became one of his biggest years of productions, with about 20 movie scores; he by the way completely stopped his activity as an arranger of variety at about the same period - Armando Trovajoli was asked to write some tryouts. Morricone, finding out about it, took the challenge and signed one of his most famous creations.


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©2002 Patrick Ehresmann