Answer The Questions! Ennio Morricone

'I always give it everything - total creativity'

Interview,Phil Johnson
Sunday 09 November 2003 01:00

Ennio Morricone, the world's most revered film composer, celebrates his 75th birthday tomorrow in a gala concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Morricone has scored music for more than 400 films, from sword and sandals epics to Sergio Leone's revolutionary series of Spaghetti westerns, and worked with directors including Pier Paulo Pasolini, Brian DePalma and Pedro Almodovar. Five-times nominated, he has yet to win an Oscar.

How did you become a film composer?

Almost by chance. I had just finished my studies at the conservatory in Rome and I needed to work, so I started arranging songs and records and working for TV and radio. After a while Luciano Salce called me for the film Il federale, as I had already worked with him. I composed the music for the film, and that started my career as a composer of film scores. I must say that working for cinema has been a precious experience because it gave me the chance to experiment with my ideas, to listen to them performed by an orchestra and then use them for a precise aim, ie: the film. Generally speaking, I think that a good composer for film must have a complete knowledge of composition and orchestration techniques, but also a wide knowledge of musical styles and languages.

Some composers find writing for the cinema frustrating. what is your view?

Composing film scores means that the composer must adapt his ideas to the film, the director and the audience. This, of course, limits the composer's freedom, but nevertheless the composer can, and must, find his own freedom within these bounds. He must find a simple reason why he chooses every single note and sound. That is the only way of defending one's identity as a composer and creating a personal style.

Do you like to be involved in the film-making process during production or earlier, or are you happy to come in when filming is completed?

The way that I work usually depends on the director and I rarely go when he is filming. There are just a few exceptions. I remember once on Once Upon a Time in America, I went on the set in Rome because Sergio Leone sent for me. I saw the scene in which De Niro was in this place where they smoked opium, and this Chinese woman took him a drink. Leone repeated the scene many times, always telling the woman how to act the scene. She continued to do it in the same way. I thought it was absurd.

Favourite genre: sword and sandals, western, or political thriller?

I don't have a favourite genre. On the contrary, I believe that a film music composer should compose all kinds of music for all films. I have tried to widen my experiences and in all kinds of music, from ethnic to classic, but I have also tried to keep my personal viewpoint and style for every genre.

Of all the films you have worked on, what is your favourite score and why?

I was asked this question many times, but I never replied, because there is no music that I love more than the rest. Every time I have composed music for film I always did it giving everything, total creativity. There are, of course, better scores, but I can't say which ones.

How do you feel about DJs and pop producers sampling your work?

I am honoured and surprised that this happens. Maybe this is due to the fact that, composing film scores, I have always written simple music with simple harmonies and melodies that are easy to play, even with a guitar. I don't always approve the use that some make of my music, but I believe that this is right; I mean that all creative composers and artists must put something personal into their work. So, it is necessary that whoever uses my music uses it with a personal style, even if I don't agree.

Once upon a time in the UK - how does it grab you?

I have worked in the UK many times. Maybe the most important experience was scoring the music for The Mission. Furthermore, I held two concerts at the Barbican in 2001, where I conducted my music (both film music and "pure" music). That was an extraordinary experience. I love the English audience and the English musicians, they are wonderful. To go back to London, at the Royal Albert Hall, on my birthday, is a very strong emotion.

'Ennio Morricone 75th Birthday Concert': Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (020 7589 8212), tomorrow

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