06 July 2020

Spaghetti Western movie composer Ennio Morricone dies, aged 91

Oscar-winning Italian composer Ennio Morricone, who created the coyote-howl theme for the iconic Spaghetti Western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," has died aged 91.

He was also known for producing haunting soundtracks for classic Hollywood gangster movies such as “The Untouchables” and the epic “Once Upon A Time In America."

Morricone’s longtime lawyer, Giorgio Assumma, said the Maestro, as he was known, died in a Rome hospital on Monday from complications following a recent fall in which he broke a leg.

During a career that spanned decades and earned him an Oscar for lifetime achievement in 2007, Morricone collaborated with some of Hollywood's and Italy's top directors including on “The Untouchables” by Brian de Palma, “The Hateful Eight” by Quentin Tarantino and “The Battle of Algiers” by Gillo Pontecorvo.

That Tarantino film would also win him the Oscar for best original score in 2016. In accepting that Academy Award, Morricone told the audience at the ceremony: “There is no great music without a great film that inspires it.”

In total, he produced more than 400 original scores for feature films.

His iconic so-called Spaghetti Western movies saw him work closely with the late Italian film director Sergio Leone.

Morricone was known for crafting just a few notes, like those played on a harmonica in Leone’s “Once Upon A Time in America,” which would be instantly associated with that film.

Their partnership included the “Dollars” trilogy starring Clint Eastwood as a quick-shooting, lonesome gunman: “A Fistful of Dollars” in 1964, “For a Few Dollars More” in 1965 and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” a year later.

In 1984 Morricone and Leone worked together again on “Once Upon a Time in America,” a saga of Jewish gangsters in New York that explores themes of friendship, lost love and the passing of time. 

Morricone received his first Oscar nomination for original score with “Days Of Heaven,” a 1978 movie by US director Terence Malick.

Beside “The Hateful Eight,” the others were for “The Mission” (1986), “The Untouchables” (1987), “Bugsy” (1991) and “Malena” (2000).

More recently, Morricone provided the score for “The Hateful Eight,” Tarantino’s 2015 70-mm epic and the first time in decades that he had composed new music for a Western. 

It was also the first time Tarantino had used an original score. In accepting Morricone’s Golden Globe for the music in his place, Tarantino called him his favorite composer.

Morricone’s style was sparse, made of memorable tunes and unusual instruments and arrangements.

The coyote howl, harmonicas and eerie whistling of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” became Morricone’s trademark and one of the most easily recognizable soundtracks in cinema.

Tributes on social media have poured in following his death. 

One user on Twitter wrote: “RIP. Master of film music and westerns. Can’t imagine any of films without his beautiful tracks. Ecstasy of gold performed by Metallica.”

Another said: “He definitely made cinema sound richer whether it was a low budget poliziotteschi, sleazy giallo, spaghetti western, emotional drama or Hollywood epic. I’ll be spinning his gorgeous score for one of my favourite films The Mission today.”

A fan added: “RIP Ennio Morricone. Impossible to express his greatness in words. He could probably do it, in music...”

Biographical material for this report was contributed by former AP correspondent Alessandra Rizzo.

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