Sunday 18 February 2018

Morricone's mission

Aedn Gormley

Can you name your favourite film soundtrack by Ennio Morricone? The Mission? Cinema Paradiso? The Good, the Bad and the Ugly? Once Upon a Time in America? Hard isn't it? Well, you have hundreds of scores to choose from.

For the first time in his career, Maestro Morricone will land in Dublin with the Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra next weekend. Irish audiences will get a chance to enjoy his wonderful film compositions with the original orchestrations. Morricone will conduct his most famous soundtracks that span his 50-year career in the surrounds of The Royal Hospital, Kilmainham.

I have seen him in concert once before. I attended Morricone's concert in Belfast's Waterfront Hall in 2008, which took place just days before his 80th birthday. He is now 84 and he continues to tour.

With his peerless versatility and productivity, it is no exaggeration to say that Ennio Morricone has been one of the most famous and influential film composers since the 1960s. He has collaborated with an impressive list of directors that includes Bernardo Bertolucci, Giuseppe Tornatore, John Boorman and Brian de Palma but it was his work on Sergio Leone's 1960s' Westerns that made his name.

In A Fistfull of Dollars (1964) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), we first heard Morricone's unusual use of instruments. He used gunshots, cracking whips, voices, Sicilian folk instruments, trumpets and the new Fender electric guitar.

Morricone's music stood out in those early Westerns. He had created a whole new sound that both accompanied the action as well as those tense moments when Sergio Leone gave us close-ups with the characters eyeing each other up.

The director knew he was on to a good thing and was very conscious of the impact Morricone's music was having. For both Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America, Leone asked Morricone to compose and record the main themes ahead of filming. The director would then play them during shooting so the actors could sense the mood and literally move to the score's rhythms.

The Mission remains one of Morricone's personal favourites. He has said that it "represents me nearly completely". His approach again was unique and his choices perfectly matched the South American jungle setting. 'Gabriel's Oboe' was 'the hit' of the soundtrack but he also included very effective hymn-like choruses, ethnic chanting, drums and panpipes.

Few viewers are able to resist the charms of Cinema Paradiso, the coming-of-age tale that captured the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1989. Morricone's score was filled with fantastic melodies that pulled at the heartstrings and captured the gentle-natured, nostalgic feel of the film masterfully.

I have only mentioned a handful of his soundtracks but all of his compositions provide music that perfectly complements the story on screen. Morricone's scores also stand alone very well away from the visual image, which is why his concerts are so appealing.

I also quite like the fact that Morricone never felt the need to move to Hollywood or to learn English. Rome has been his home since he was born in 1928.

So next weekend, there will be little or no banter on stage from Morricone, but it will be an unforgettable musical experience with a master of film music at the helm.

See Ennio Morricone in concert with The Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra at The Royal Hospital, Kilmainham (July 27/28). See

Aedín Gormley presents Movies and Musicals (Sat 1-4pm) and Sunday Matinée (Sun 1-4pm) on RTÉ lyric fm.

Irish Independent

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