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Oscar-winning composer Ennio Morricone dies aged 91

World News | Published:

He was behind the instantly-recognisable score for The Good, The Bad And The Ugly as well as several other classic films, including The Mission.

Italian composer Ennio Morricone, who created the memorable coyote-howl theme for the Spaghetti Western The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, has died aged 91.

His lawyer Giorgio Assumma said the Maestro, as he was known, died in a Rome hospital early on Monday of complications after he broke his leg in a fall.

Outside the hospital, Mr Assumma read a farewell message from Morricone.

“I am Ennio Morricone, and I am dead,” began the message. In the greeting, the composer went on to explain that the only reason he was saying goodbye this way and had requested a private funeral was: “I don’t want to bother anyone.”

During a career that spanned decades and earned him a lifetime achievement Oscar in 2007, before he took the best original score award for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight in 2016, Morricone collaborated with some of the most renowned directors in the world.

Ennio Morricone
Morricone, left, accepts an honorary Oscar for his contributions to the art of film music as director Clint Eastwood looks on at the 79th Academy Awards (AP)

It is perhaps his work with Italian film-maker Sergio Leone – who was a school-mate of Morricone’s – that is the most instantly recognisable. The Dollars trilogy of so-called Spaghetti Westerns from the 1960s were massively influential and made Clint Eastwood an international movie star.

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

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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.

He was credited with reinventing music for Western movies through his partnership with Leone. In A Fistful Of Dollars (1964), For A Few Dollars More (1965) and the epic The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966), Eastwood starred as the gunman The Man With No Name, before going on to forge his own stellar career in front of and behind the camera.

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.

The movie starring Robert De Niro and James Woods is considered by some to be Leone’s masterpiece, thanks in part to Morricone’s evocative score, including a lush section played on violins.

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“Inspiration does not exist,” Morricone said in a 2004 interview with The Associated Press.

“What exists is an idea, a minimal idea that the composer develops at the desk, and that small idea becomes something important.”

Italy Obit Morricone
Ennio Morricone with the award for best original score for The Hateful Eight at the Oscars (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

More recently, Morricone provided the score for The Hateful Eight, Tarantino’s 2015 epic. It marked 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 award for the music in his place, Tarantino called him his favourite composer.

“When I say ‘favourite composer’, I don’t mean movie composer. … I’m talking about Mozart, I’m talking about Beethoven, I’m talking about Schubert,” the director said.

Minutes before handing Morricone the Oscar for lifetime achievement in 2007, Eastwood recalled hearing for the first time the score for A Fistful Of Dollars, and thinking: “What actor wouldn’t want to ride into town with that kind of music playing behind him?”

Italy’s head of state, President Sergio Mattarella, in a condolence message to the composer’s family, wrote: “Both a refined and popular musician, he left a deep footprint on the musical history of the second half of the 1900s.”

Born in Rome on November 10 1928, Morricone was the oldest of the five children. His father was a trumpet player.

After studying trumpet and composition at the Conservatory of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in the Italian capital, he started working as a trumpet player and then as an arranger for record companies.

In 1961 he wrote his first score for a movie, a bittersweet comedy set in the final moments of Fascism called Il Federale (known in English as The Fascist).

That decade also saw Morricone cooperate with Gillo Pontecorvo, first on The Battle Of Algiers, the black-and-white classic depicting the Algerian uprising against the French, and later on Queimada, a tale of colonialism starring Marlon Brando.

Morricone received his first Oscar nomination for best original score for his work on Terence Malick’s 1978 movie Days Of Heaven.

Beside The Hateful Eight, his other Oscar nominations were for The Mission (1986), The Untouchables (1987), Bugsy (1991) and Malena (2000).

Shortly before receiving his lifetime Oscar, Morricone joked that he would have been happy without the coveted statuette, saying: “I would have remained in the company of illustrious non-winners.”

But he also made no secret that he thought The Mission, with its memorably sweet theme of Gabriel’s Oboe, deserved the Academy Award. That year, he lost to Herbie Hancock’s Round Midnight.

When he finally won the Academy Award for best original score for The Hateful Eight in 2016, he said: “There is no great music without a great film that inspires it.”

Another renowned maestro, Riccardo Muti, cited his “friendship and admiration″ for Morricone.

Muti on Monday recalled that when he directed the composer’s piece Voci dal Silenzio (Voices from the Silence), the work elicited “true emotion” from the audience, both in Chicago, where Muti directs the symphony orchestra, as well as during a performance in Ravenna, Italy.

Muti called Morricone an “extraordinary” composer both for films and in classical music.

Asked by Italian state TV a few years ago if there was one director he would have liked to have worked with, Morricone said Stanley Kubrick had asked him to work on A Clockwork Orange.

But that collaboration did not happen because of a commitment to Leone, Morricone recalled.

Morricone is survived by his wife Maria Travia, whom he cited when accepting his 2016 Oscar. Married in 1956, the couple had four children, Marco, Alessandra, Andrea and Giovanni.

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