www.chimai.comThis Week's Special 27/11/2004

INTERVIEW WITH ENNIO MORRICONE

Translated to English by Patrick Bouster from a French translation of the original Italian words.
Notes by the last translator.

Broadcast by the radio channel France-Musiques in 3 parts on Sundays October 20, 27 and November 3, 2002, at 12:00 PM. The discussions about the films mentioned were illustrated by film and music excerpts.

The questions are by Marc-David Calvet.



Part 1: The Mission and the Giuseppe Tornatore films

[On the question of the 4CD box compilation Io, Ennio Morricone]

It is the first time that a disc presents all the aspects from the work of a composer, in all his styles, even if some productions are only evoked, because it is impossible indeed in 4 hours and 30 minutes to show the whole life of a composer.
There are a lot of things, very representative of my occupation, and I believe it is a unique situation. The 4 CDs make up, musically and morally, a summary of the life of a composer.


You usually say: "I am first of all a music composer, and only after, a film composer." What did you mean by this?

A lot of people believe that I began with the cinema, and then started to write "absolute music"; it is not true. I began with writing "absolute music", and then I worked for the cinema because some directors called to me. I made experiences of arrangements for the radio, the television, the theatre... Therefore, I became known and was called for the cinema.


For the film The Mission, Roland Joffé wanted eclectic music...

The film story is true: it happened in the 18th century, in a period, musically, of a renewal of the instrumental music. This music is brought by a priest, playing oboe, in South America. He brings not only the instrumental music, with his oboe, but the rules of the Trento's council (1), dating from the end of the 16th century. It established some rules to put some order in the liturgical music, for which Palestrina (2) is the main responsible.
Here are the two roots of the occidental music, put in the film The Mission: the liturgical music rules and the instrumental music. A third element added is the ethnic music, from the Guaranis.


Concretely, on the special point of the natives' music of the Guaranis, did you have some contacts with ethnologists, who know precisely this music?

I know the music history, the music of this period, in South America, and in occidental countries. I could therefore put together the three elements.
There is a musical piece while the cardinal Altamirano is visiting the natives: Ave Maria Guarani...
(Very very beautiful!)
...which has nothing to do with the Guarani's music. It shows already the intrusion of the occidental liturgical music, by the Jesuits, after the Trento's council, transplanted in South America and badly sung. Because Indians could not sing like European people.
We looked for singers from diverse origins, who didn't sing well, who had voice problems, who did some "strange" sounds. There were therefore occidental and ethnic elements, united in this performance. We had to do some efforts to have this result. The director's idea was to take different people, with the help of several embassies, who did not know the music. I added another idea: to dispose the choir in an unusual manner. Classically, the groups of singers of a choir (soprano, tenor, ...) are put together, in order, for each singer, to hear his group. I chose to disperse the singers to break this order. I gave the signal to begin and it was a... I don't want to say the word![laughs]


You worked with Giuseppe Tornatore, and I'd like to select especially two films, for their most musically completed form: La leggenda del pianista sull'oceano and Nuovo Cinema Paradiso. How was the collaboration between this director, Gilda Buttà and you?

Gilda Buttà performed all the piano pieces immediately when they were written, but not the jazz pieces. The Jelly Roll Morton pieces were of bad sound quality in the old discs: they have been newly treated with the computer.


At the beginning of the film, the arrival of the boat "The Virginia" is one of the greatesr moments. I thought of your famous statement about film music: the music goes from the interior, and little by little, goes to the exterior.(3)

No, in these main titles, there is not, at all, this evolution. This part goes from the exterior of the film and finishes at the exterior. There is a "dissolution" in the antique dealer shop, where he sells his trumpet.


Thank you, Ennio Morricone. We did not have the time, unfortunately, to evoke the other film by Tornatore, Cinema Paradiso. But we will comment, in a second part, the Sergio Leone's films.


Notes :
(1) Ecumenical council, which restored discipline in the Christian church, and took place between 1545 and 1563.
(2) Giovanni Pierluigi, Da... (circa 1525-1594 ), master of the polyphonic and religious music. Numerous works : masses, motets, ...
(3) The sound of these main titles is heard at this moment, supported by the track The legend of the pianist on the ocean. But in this French version, the trumpet plays several notes, putting more modulations, different from the original version found in the CD and the Italian DVD.




Part 2 : the role of the music in the film, and C'era una voltà il West

With this superb introduction, A l'aube du 5e jour (1), we start again with Ennio Morricone, who will tell us how he sees the role, in general, of the music for the cinema. We will speak about Sergio Leone and the importance of the music in the cult-film C'era una voltà il West.

You said that what is important in a film, is that the spectator doesn't perceive when the music enters and leaves.


For this technical aspect... I must tell you my thought about it, and I will start from the principles which gave me this conviction.
The music for a film is the unique element which is exterior to the film, save the cases where it comes from a television, a theatre, a disc... a source music in a sequence. I speak about the music which represents the interiority of the film, of the characters, in the sense of the story. This music is a sort of abuse from the director and the composer, but it suits well. As the director has decided in a certain way, the music must be audible. If the spectator doesn't have the time to listen to the beginning of the music, it is wrong. At the same time a non-realistic element (the music) emerges and the sounds of the reality end little by little. It is the best way to begin to understand what film music is, wanted by the director and written by the composer, author of the music. There are several reasons why it is the best solution: the human brain and ear, the non-expert ear, are not able to listen to more than two different elements. If we work with the old-fashioned mixing, the dialogues, the sound effects, the noise from the action and the music at the same time, it is not possible to figure it all out.


We are now in the first sequences of Giù la testa by Sergio Leone. On a hot road in Mexico, Juan Miranda, a bandit, meets a tall man seated on an old motor-bike, Sean Mallaury, an Irish revolutionary, a dynamite expert. A shot in the bike and all the story begins between these two men. Above all, the music comes from far away and uses a jeering tone.

And there, the reason is the audience: I cannot use a piece immediately, without transition, because the spectators need time to accept and integrate the reason why the music is heard. This preparation time is absolutely necessary. The music begins "here" but is heard later. It is the same principle for the end of the music: to disappear progressively to let the time for the other element to enter in the sequence.
If the music has no "temporal space" to express itself, the isolation of the music in the other sounds is not possible. The music is the only abstract element. To be abstract, the music must be isolated from the reality. If not, we have a horrible mix, not audible. We miss the volume, the timing of the listening: the energy, the space, the time (I call it E.S.T., in Italian : Energia, Spazio, Tempo). Without that, the miracle of the application of the music to a film doesn't exist.


We find this principle - the "music rising" - in the sequence in which Claudia Cardinale arrives at the station where she believes to be waited, in C'era una volta il West. Nobody at the date, and little by little on his face, the joy of the arrival gives place to the disappointment. And the music brings to this sequence a melancholic climate, which soon invades the large spaces of the Far West, giving to the movie his dimension of legend.
It happens sometimes - but you will say why - that the music comes immediately, like a slap. While the young boy observes the murder of his family, he runs, and suddenly, we hear the guitars: it is something else.


Here we had to obtain a mechanical effect and the loudness of the music was analogue to the action's violence. And this is an exception. All the sounds have disappeared, only is heard the music and in a harsh way when Frank (Henry Fonda) appears. There is a dramatic reason for this effect, because of what happened: before this boy, there were the murders of the father, the sister... Therefore, the violence of the music "attack", alone, was as the sequence was built.
But if you pay attention, there is, here too, a preparation. The sound of the harmonica prepared - and not only - the "attack". The audience already understood the meaning of this harmonica, terrifying. It already possesses a sense of death and tragedy. With this instrument, we characterized, along the film - even without seeing it, only the music - Frank's character.


Ten minutes before, this premonitory harmonica is heard in the sequence following the main titles: Henry Fonda and his 3 tough guys are in front of Charles Bronson after the train left the station. Let's hear this sequence...

I'd like to remind you of the most amazing editing point, according to me, of the history of cinema. After the family's massacre only remains the young boy, who will be shot, but the death of whom is modestly eluded. Only the shot from Frank's revolver and in the same sound we tilt over into a whistling of a train running fast.


How did you work with Sergio Leone ?

He told the film to me and even the images...


Did he speak with "very Roman" adjectives?

Of course. He was talking very simply. He did not give himself an intellectual appearance. And he knew that he was not making an intellectual film, even if there were deeper meanings. He narrated and I thought about this at home. And later, I had him listen to some musical pieces. Generally, he enjoyed what I wrote for him, at the first time or at another listening, afterwards. But the most curious thing with Sergio, is that he also wanted to listen the musical themes other directors had left out! And he took them "eyes shut". I had him listen to these themes, and his colleagues understood nothing! [laughs]. He wanted to choose some music among the "wasted ones" from others. It has became a sort of game.


Notes:
(1) : Lontano, main and famous theme from Gott mit uns




Part 3: the Sergio Leone movies


Sergio Leone said in an interview about what he evoked as the "overture" (1) of C'era una volta il West. He suggested you'd write music for it, but then changed his mind. You would have said, about this sequence: "it is without any doubt my best film music".

The music was not written, it was still on discussion before working (2). For the [first] twenty minutes, the question was to use real sounds, and make these sounds become music. Because, in this reality, we would put the harmonica, which had a human meaning, with other sounds of the water, the mill, the wind... After 20 minutes, the harmonica enters, and has already a human sound, at the contrary of the other sounds.
This idea, for this sequence comes from an experience I told him. I can tell it to you, provided you will not cut it.


No, no [laughs] I promise.

Because people wouldn't understand.
I came with the group Nuova Consonanza at the Luigi Cherubini (3) Conservatory of Firenze. We had to play the second part, at 9:00 PM. And at 9:45 PM, it was not yet begun. People were talking and were not concerned by the delay. Several minutes before, a man with a piccolo arrived - people did not pay attention to him. Then, he climbed on a ladder and then on a balcony; he took his ladder and began to make it creak. It was Egisto (*). People were completely indifferent to that! But at 10:10 PM, the persons of the public wondered what was going on and began to understand what was happening in the hall, and the silence came progressively. The ladder creaking sound continued in a great silence and became much more important for the audience than it was really. After some time, this man took his ladder and disappeared. End of the first part of the concert.
I told this episode to Sergio. He deducted that the sounds of the mill, the fly, [imitating these sounds] the telegraph...,could sustain a wait sequence, a dramatic one, even of 20 minutes long. He had already this thought in his mind. If I told this story to somebody else, he wouldn't have cared about it. Sergio Leone understood that the fact to isolate a sound from his real context gets reinforced in the silence.


Let's speak now about the cemetary sequence from Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo. It is taught in cinema's schools.

I had the intuition it would be an important piece because it is a fundamental example of the interaction between image and music.


About this final sequence, Sergio Leone evokes a "ballet", a "choreography".

Yes, because there is one actor only, in a circular cemetery, who moves with the music and nothing else. After having shot this sequence, Sergio Leone thought it was like a ballet.


You put ahead some instruments like the English horn, for example.

The theme of this composition, of circa 3'20 or 3'30 long, is one of the most simple I ever wrote. It uses two fifth intervals, which I adore, and I often have in mind. Because it is a pure interval, almost neutral. It gives me some sort of suspension when I work with it.
The entering of the English horn after the piano, with these 2 fifth intervals: la mi do mi, la mi si sol [singing these notes] mi si sol, do re mi, sol do re mi...(4). The theme is achieved. 8 bars of this motive and I had to do 3'20.
The motive proceeds little by little, sounding accumulation. And at the end, the piano's "attack" comes, disturbing the theme [singing the piano part], with also the horn, the trumpet playing, inserted above the fifth's theme.
I allowed myself only a bridge, when the character (Tuco) stops, desperate. I had the impression that someone who is searching money in graves of a cemetery deserves that a mysterious spirit laughs at him. I stopped the rhythm at this moment, the theme stops. He is searching where to go, he doesn't know, and the bridge finishes when he starts to run again.
It was an important part in the film. For me too, it was an important musical experience. For these 3'20, Leone asked me a synchronization from the "breaks" of the action, to indicate what happens. But my question was not the break but the synchronization without hearing a break! The unique break is the one I told before: while Tuco stops, the music stops too, and takes again, in the final.


Notes:
(1): the prologue
(2): Altough Sergio Leone exposed the contrary in the book Noel Simsolo - Conversations avec Sergio Leone (Stock cinema, 1987, France): "Before the shooting, Morricone composed a music to illustrate this overture. I deleted it at the mixing, in order to keep only the noises. While Ennio watched this sequence, he listened with attention to the sounds, the silence, the wind's breath... Then he turned to me and said: "This is the nicest music I ever wrote."
(3): 1760-1842, conductor and composer
(*): Macchi, the film and contemporaneous composer (1928-1992)
(4): if there is no mistake in the transcription!