Grazie, Maestro Ennio
"Morricone’s music is now part of heaven’s gift."
Before the break of dawn on July 7, loads of poignant goodbyes and Grazie, Maestros were all over media worldwide. Scores of prominent musicians, movie producers, and directors, even known actors used their social media accounts to bid farewell to a music legend. It was as if the whole world was at a standstill as people from all walks of life were in grief at the passing of that icon - the world-famous Italian composer Ennio Morricone. Considered a musical genius to peers and audiences alike, The Maestro - as he has come to be regarded - died the night before in a Rome hospital at the age of 91.
Recognized as one of the best composers of the past century and elevated by his peers to the ranks of such greats as Bach and Mozart, his lawyer announced that Morricone died “with full lucidity and great dignity...with the dignity of his faith..” days after being treated for a broken femur he suffered days earlier. Ever the disciplined genius, The Maestro, wrote his own obituary which began with: “I, Ennio Morricone am dead. Thus I announce it, to all my friends who have always been close to me and also to those who are a little far away, whom I greet with great affection,” and ended with these touching words to his wife: “I renew to you the extraordinary love that has held us together, and I am sorry to abandon you. To you the most painful farewell.” Such words of endearment he showered to a woman whose affectionate support enabled him to create the music the world now tears over. And, being the ever grateful person that he was, he must have meant to convey the same to the millions out there who were undeniably touched by his music.
Morricone’s creative career from the time he set out on his own spanned 500 film scores cutting across all genres: from his friend and playmate Director Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns which catapulted Clint Eastwood to Hollywood stardom; to Roland Joffe’s high minded film “The Mission” which boasts of the now-acclaimed “Gabriel’s Oboe” lingering through the entire film; to the nostalgic romance of lost innocence and the movies in small town Italy in “Cinema Paradiso”; to the struggles, friendships and betrayals of gang leaders in New York in “Once Upon a Time in America”; to the daring exploits of dedicated lawmen in “The Untouchables,” among others. His music had such an impact on the movies he scored that the compositions he created defined in most part the taste of generations of music and film lovers in the 20th century. That said, it would be presumptuous for an avid music lover like myself to even offer a review of his works. It is therefore best to let his peers and noted observers of the scene color our appreciation of Morricone’s genius. I collected a few of these vignettes of accolades from various sources if only to highlight the point that indeed he was The Maestro.
From a renowned composer who was interviewed just after The Maestro’s death came this lament of joy: “Though Morricone didn’t receive all the public accolades he richly deserved, among his composing peers, he was recognized as The Maestro. Given the tremendous pool of talent, they set aside all their egos and competitiveness, to recognize greatness among them. Only your peers truly understand the difficulty of composition and therefore theirs is the greatest praise. In a November 14, 2012 Variety Magazine poll of 40 active composers billed as “Pros score all time classics” they were asked to name their top three original movie scores of all time in order of preference - Ennio Morricone’s original music for Roland Joffe’s 1986 film
“The Mission” landed on top.”
“Paying tribute to The Maestro, film composer Hans Zimmer sighed: “...devastated … Ennio was an icon and icons just don’t go away, icons are forever … his music was always outstanding, and done with great emotional fortitude and great intellectual thought”. On the other hand, soundtrack composer AR Rahman said: “Only a composer like Ennio Morricone could bring the beauty, culture, and the lingering romance of Italy to your senses in the pre-virtual reality and pre-internet era... All we can do is celebrate the master’s work and learn!”
Notably, the British film director Edgar Wright in paying tribute said: “He could make an average movie into a must-see, a good movie into art, and a great movie into legend. He hasn’t been off my stereo my entire life. What a legacy of work he leaves behind. RIP.” Joining other cinema figures, multi-titled actor and sometime singer Antonio Banderas, who starred in the 1990 Pedro Almodóvar film Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! that Morricone scored, said on Twitter: “With great sadness, we say goodbye to a big master of cinema. His music will keep playing in our memories.”
In a separate discourse, award-winning film composers Alexandre Desplat and Danny Eleman on July 9, reflecting on the “impact and legacy of The Maestro” a commissioned piece for Time Magazine had very interesting, incisive notes: To Elman, “...one knows Morricone’s music even without knowing it.” He was, in his words, a “..true, undeniable musical genius...He was more than a musical hero. He was an icon. What really set him apart were his absolutely unique sensibilities...”
Elaborating, Elman emphatically noted: “His (Morricone) imprint on cinema music’s culture was so strong that entire genres were defined by him. His 1960s compositions for Sergio Leone’s westerns, like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” entered the popular culture so deeply that almost everyone knows their sound, even without being aware of it. And countering that highly idiosyncratic music were scores so lushly romantic, like that of Once Upon a Time in America, they redefined what truly emotional and purely evocative film music could aim for. His was the high mark. His work goes beyond the movies he composed for and will be deeply embedded in the art of film music for as long as there is film. He will be missed, but his music will not be forgotten.”
On the other hand, Elman’s fellow film composer Alexandre Desplat emphasized: “Morricone invented his own (musical) language..” He elaborated thus: “..A chime, a crying harmonica, a voice, a whistle, a long melody unfolding on a single low tone…For the music in Western movies, there is a before and an after: aside from a few, like “Rio Bravo” (Dimitri Tiomkin) and “The Magnificent Seven” (Elmer Bernstein), Ennio Morricone erased from memory every previous score. His voice was so strong that any composer who would try to imitate him would fall under its spell. His genius was to invent his own language of film music. It was a language of his time, the 1960s and ‘70s, but built on a strong classical background. His scores, shamelessly melodic, used an unknown and sophisticated combination of instruments and sounds to create something absolutely unique that would immediately open your imagination beyond the movie. In a time when directors did not fear composers with a strong voice, Morricone wrote scores like operas or symphonies, with passion, scope, bravura and intelligence. The way he could capture emotions, humor, suspense, and nostalgia showed his extraordinary sense of narrative, which fascinated filmmakers like Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci, or Sergio Leone—and made him one of the finest Italian composers of the 20th century. A chime, a crying harmonica, a voice, a whistle, a long melody unfolding on a single low tone… We will always hear the vibrations of Ennio’s music and feel it in our hearts.”
With this outpouring of accolades and. this is just a short compilation, need one say more except to join the multitudes out there enjoying, sharing and thanking The Maestro for his creations.
Grazie, Maestro. Your music is now part of heaven’s gift.
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