Ennio Morricone Books
from Musique Fantastique Notes & Reviews by Randall D. Larson
Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words
By Ennio Morricone in Conversation with Alessandro De Rosa
Translated from the Italian by Maurizio Corbella
Oxford University Press, 2019.
341 pages, hardcover. $23.88
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Translated from the original 2016 Italian edition (Mondadori Libri S.p.A.), this is a thoroughly comprehensive examination of Ennio Morricone’s life and music as told by the composer himself in a series of in-depth conversations with composer De Rosa. He asks challenging and insightful questions, which Morricone answers in great detail. Maurizio’s Corbella’s English translation is superlative, making the volume a compelling read (far from the awkwardness of some of Morricone’s translated interviews) and an essential and intricate portrait of the composer and the man. Morricone speaks of his music, his technique, his relationships with various directors, his thoroughgoing understanding of music history, and his consummate views on creating music and composing for films versus “absolute music.” The book is exhaustively indexed, aiding its value as a research tool, but more over it’s a perceptive and enjoyable voyage through the mind of a true musical genius. He comments in various levels of detail on many of his scores. There is a 12-page insert of black and white and color photographs.
Some interesting samples from the text:
On Film Music as Background: “All too often, no less today than in the past, music is not considered as a language that concurs to shape the content of a film, but as something that plays in the background. Starting from this bias, film composers have themselves underestimated their own contribution, and in so doing they have made directors and producers accustomed to very fast working times, not the least by resorting to myriads of clichés.” (p. 79)
On Music and the Visual Image: I have always sought for new ways to interweave music and the other elements of a film, principally the visual ones, and respond to the demands I‘ve perceived in them… The only certainty I have is that music must be finely written, even when it is intended for a different art, another expressive form. It must be based on internal, formal and structural parameters, solid enough to hold its own independently from the images. At the same time, musical ideas must be attuned to the elements and suggestions of the specific cinematic context.” (p.96)
On Hiring Orchestrators: “I noticed a rather common trend in American cinema that I don’t approve. It would seem that entrusted this orchestration of a soundtrack to third parties is a totally usual praxis there. As it happens, famous composers sign scores when they have actually just written the themes… It was an immense delusion for me to find out about such widespread phenomenon, because I come from a background in which orchestration is an integral part of musical thinking, as much as melody, harmony, and every other musical parameter.” (p. 112)
On STAR WARS: “My criticism [is] not directed to the genre or to STAR WARS in particular, which I enjoyed a lot from the very beginning of the saga, but to the scoring style with which *(especially Hollywood) composers and directors have made us used to. What seems hazardous to me is to associate a march, no matter how well written, to outer space… I attempted a new direction with my score for THE HUMANOID… in which I devised a six-voice double fugue based on tonal harmony… Although that production could not remotely compete with STAR WARS, to me this piece seemed to somewhat mirror the imagin[ation] of the universe, the infinite spaces and the sky, without giving in to clichés.” (p. 113).
On Rejected Scores: “It is immensely painful when a director refuses my music at the recording stage… You get your recording done and someone tells you they don’t like any of it… In my first experiences I was anguished, I still am in a way, by the desire to do my job well, to serve the film and satisfy the director’s expectations and personal taste… but without giving up mine and those of the public. (p. 130, 131).
On Communications: “Also troubling is when directors are too shy to tell you that they are not convinced. To that I must add my own shyness, which inhibits me from asking ‘Do you like it or not?’… Sometimes directors don’t have a clear idea after the first round of listening and need more time. Their role entitles them to imagine a certain kind of music for their film; for this reason they may expect the composer to go in the same direction they have in mind… When directors speak out about their skepticism in time, they give me a chance to understand what new directions to take, though at times I’ve refused to do so.” (p. 131).
On The Future of Music: “The attention to sound is fundamental for me; the counterpoint of timbres is crucial. I don’t conceive of music’s future devoid of intervals – a music merely made of ambient sounds and electronics… We must never forget that we not only have rhythm, harmony, and melody at our disposal, but countless other parameters that have been neglected for centuries, even if rightly so… How can I answer your question if not by saving that we shouldn’t prevent ourselves from being as open and curious to all of the sound resources and possibilities available to us?” (p. 255).
By Ennio Morricone
(Translator not credited)
Musica e Oltre srl., 2019
Hardcover, 128 pages. £30.00
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This book makes a nice and more informal companion to In His Own Words (above). Take a walk with Ennio Morricone through this a first person account of key childhood memories, anecdotes from his career and reflections on music and family life. Through seven short-ish chapters, the maestro takes the reader through his childhood (“I believe I was born to be a musician.”), how he learned to compose music (“I was fixated on studying under [Goffredo] Petrassi. I refused to attend at all unless I was put under his tutelage and from September to Christmas I did not go to composition classes. Finally they relented and added me into Petrassi’s class.”), his early career in writing music and arranging songs for the record industry (“I never told Petrassi about this as I was sure he would judge it a waste of time and a corruption of my learning process. However, when he did find out he was not cross at all but simply reassured me he was confident I could make up for the time I was wasting on it at a later stage.”), the Cinema Years (“I need trust to work well with a film director. It is essential if I am to work with a director more than once. I am fortunate in having had a number of trusting and, therefore, successful professional partnerships in this area of my work.”), his ongoing passion for absolute music (“Absolute music, or pure concert music, is my great passion. Composing absolute music is private and a personal endeavor just as it is a personal experience for the one listening.”), the family life he shared with his wife and four children (“The joys and frustrations of a large family are wonderful but I reject totally the idea that composers put their very private suffering or happiness into their music. Music is a talent not an expression of personal feelings.”), and a final glimpse into the present and future (“I like to keep moving forward in life. In my Oscar ceremony acceptance speech I said that receiving the honor from the Academy was a point to progress from, a starting point and not a destination. I do not like to look back. A constant search for self-awareness avoids passivity.”) A pair of appendices provide summary discographies of both film music recordings and absolute music releases (citing only first releases). The volume is full of photos, black & white and color. While not as thoroughly comprehensive as the De Rosa book, it’s nonetheless a compelling, informal, and compact autobiography of the composer’s life and experiences, and is a welcome addition to any proper library of film music studies or composer bios.
Composing for the Cinema: The Theory and Praxis of Music in Film
Ennio Morricone & Sergio Miceli
Translated from Italian by Gillian B. Anderson.
295 pages, Scarecrow Press, 2013.
Published by The Scarecrow Press in 2013, Composing for the Cinema: The Theory and Praxis of Music in Film is co-written by Ennio Morricone and Sergio Miceli, translated from Italian by Gillian B. Anderson. Based on a series of lectures presented by celebrated composer Morricone and musicologist Miceli on the composition and analysis of film music, which has been transposed and adapted into this 300-page book, it’s not an easy book. Its thickly worded paragraphs are extremely academic and professorial, even with Anderson’s translation into relatively simpler conversational English. Without any images or music samples, it’s not as practical a how-to manual in the way that On The Track, by Rayburn Wright and the late Fred Karlin, is – but it’s worth wading through to not only get a glimpse at Morricone’s intelligent focus on musical form but also to grasp some of the theoretical principals about making music for cinema that can then be applied through the benefit of further hands-on study.
There is much of value here indeed, preparatory to the practical part of putting pencil to paper (or finger to keyboard, as the case may be). “The composer has to make a structural analysis,” Morricone explains in Chapter 3, Production Procedures, using himself as the example. “He has to analyze the editing and cutting of the montage, the motion picture camera, and the manner in which the film is shot and runs, but above all he had to analyze the psychological makeup of the protagonists. I think not about their obvious character, but also about their thoughts, about their reflections, about their human or inhuman depth, according to the people with whom they associate. From there I arrive at compositional choices.” (p. 53). What follows in succeeding chapters, which run in detail through topics such as Audiovisual Analysis, Production Procedures, Premix and Final Mix, Compositional Elements, and an intriguing Appendix on “Writing for the Cinema: Aspects and Problems of a Compositional Activity of Our Time,” is a mix of narratives attributed to both authors and sections in which Miceli interviews Morricone for further detail and clarification (the final chapter is, in fact, an extended collection of interview Q&As that serves to conclude their analysis and ensure no loose strings are left untied in their comprehensive dissertation).
Morricone often makes examples from his own film music experiences to emphasize matters, which also allows us to glean a bit about how some choices were made (or happened) in some of Morricone’s most popular works. One example: Discussing how the interactive collaboration between director and composer can often enhance meaning in both visual and musical elements in a film, Morricone cites the famous moment in Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST where we first hear “Jill’s Theme” as she disembarks the train, walks through the station, and emerges into the town beyond. “When Leone told me about the film, he said absolutely nothing about the fact that there would be a close-up of a clock on the station building,” Morricone states, having in this case created the music before the scene was shot. “For that scene I composed a piece that used vibraphone and celeste. By his placement of the visuals with the music, Leone made that casual choice become like the sound of a clock. This was very far from my original intentions…” He describes the classic dolly shot that rises above the station’s roof line to reveal the town beyond, and Jill walking out of the station below and down the street. “For that point I had written a musical bridge, with a crescendo that I carried over to the reappearance of the theme. I did not know that Leone would transform that musical bridge into a cinematographic bridge. The woman enters the station, disappears, and next is seen reframed at the exit, at the opposite side. This is the work of the director. I only wrote the music, but the revision of this episode verified how much more effective the music could become with this type of treatment by the director.” (p.59-60).
The book is also a fascinating opportunity to learn about Morricone himself, how he thinks and how he approaches the art and science of applying music to film, and how his own unique interpretation and focus in the process has been used to achieve so much in the way of his music’s application and relationship to cinema.