(b Rome, 10 Nov 1928). Italian composer. A favourite pupil of Petrassi, he also deputized secretly for his trumpeter father in a light music orchestra. He thus developed two distinct sides to his musical personality: one of these led him to embrace serialism (e.g. in Distanze and Musica per 11 violini, 1958) and the experimental work of the improvisation group Nuova Consonanza (from 1965); the other gained him a leading role, principally as an arranger, in all types of mass-media popular music, including songs for radio, radio and television plays, and the first successful television variety shows. In the early days of the record industry his innovative contribution played a decisive part in the success of the first Italian singer-songwriters (‘cantautori’), including Gianni Morandi and Gino Paoli.
After many minor cinematic collaborations, Morricone achieved wider recognition with Sergio Leone’s series of four Westerns, beginning with Per un pugno di dollari (1964). There followed important collaborations with directors such as Bernardo Bertolucci (from 1964), Pier Paolo Pasolini (from 1966) and Elio Petri (from 1968), and particularly successful films with Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (Allonsanfàn, 1974; Il prato, 1979), Valerio Zurlini (Il deserto dei tartari, 1976), Roland Joffe (The Mission, 1986) and Brian De Palma (Casualties of War, 1989). Despite inevitable self-repetitions over a total of more than 400 film scores, his work provides many examples of a highly original fusion of classical and popular idioms: this is noticeable already, albeit in somewhat crude form, in Leone’s series of Westerns, where the music for the opening titles juxtaposes three distinct types of music: a synthetic folk idiom, using the jew’s harp, acoustic guitar and harmonica to accompany human whistling; a contemporary, urban rock sound, featuring the electric guitar; and an unabashedly sentimental choral-orchestral style. With Giù la testa (1971) Morricone entered an experimental phase in which he developed a technique based on melodic, rhythmic or harmonic ‘modules’ (usually of 4, 8 or 16 beats in length), each differently characterized and often featuring a particular instrument. These are juxtaposed and combined to create very different stylistic atmospheres. The most impressive application of the modular technique is found in The Mission, where the single modules, more extended and clearly defined than before, interact dialectically, assuming very clear symbolic functions.
Morricone’s non-film works form a large and increasingly widely performed part of his output. Many of them use his technique of ‘micro-cells’, a pseudo-serial approach often incorporating modal and tonal allusions, which, with its extreme reduction of compositional materials, has much in common with his film-music techniques. His most fruitful season of concert-music composition began with the Second Concerto for flute, cello and orchestra (1985, from which the Cadenza for flute and tape of 1988 is derived) and continued with Riflessi (1989–90), three pieces for cello which represent perhaps the highpoint of his chamber music output, attaining a high degree of lyrical tension.
Morricone is an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and a Commendatore dell’Ordine ‘Al Merito della Repubblica Italiana’. Among other honours, he has received four Academy Award nominations, a Grammy and a Leone d’oro. In 2000 he was awarded the Laurea Honoris Causa by the University of Cagliari. Between 1991 and 1996 he taught film music (sharing a post with Sergio Miceli) at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana, Siena.