Il Maestro

Il Maestro

It's been 40 years since Ennio Morricone received his first Oscar nomination, in 1979, for the soundtrack to the movie Days of Heaven. The night before the Oscars, let's take another look at Nick Mason's interview with Ennio Morricone, who won the Oscar in 2016 for his soundtrack to the film “The Hateful Eight”

Nick Mason & Jason Barlow

There simply isn’t enough space to list all the music written and produced by the great Ennio Morricone. His film and television scores alone number 500 works, and each one of these will inevitably contain innumerable sections soundtracking certain scenes and evoking different moods. There’s also the work he’s done within contemporary music, pop songs, a FIFA World Cup anthem, arrangements and jazz pieces. He might just be the most prolific writer in the history of music.


Nick Mason: We should start by saying that Pink Floyd actually wrote three film soundtracks…

Ennio Morricone: [smiles] There are many musicians and songwriters who do scores for films, sometimes by accident. The work of a film composer like myself is to write music that is for the film. It’s something totally different. That said, I don’t want to diminish the importance of the music you composed for the films you worked on, because if you were asked, then the director wanted your personality to accompany the movie. 

NM: Did you have any problems with directors during the creative process?

EM: I had some difficult moments with almost all the directors I worked with. This is more or less what happens if you are a film composer! After meeting with the director, you propose your ideas, after a long meditation on the script. The director may say, ‘yes’, but he will have some counter proposals. Sometimes I was completely shocked and scandalised by these, because they were like nothing that I could have imagined. But what I had to do, and this was a good exercise for me to understand how things worked, I always tried to find something in the director’s proposals that could really belong to me, that I could exploit to bring my personality to the fore.

Morricone in conversation with Nick Mason <em>Photo: Alex Lake</em>
Morricone in conversation with Nick Mason Photo: Alex Lake

THE OFFICIAL FERRARI MAGAZINE: Bernardo Bertolucci once said that your music almost becomes visible. How do you achieve that?

EM: Those are Bertolucci’s words, so I don’t know if I achieve that. But what I do know is that everybody hears and feels different things. The music just supports and reinforces the feelings that the director wants to convey. Music in film is not alone, music is always in tandem with the images.

NM: I think it’s stronger than that. If you separate the two elements, they have less value. But the combination is so powerful.

EM: If you listen to the music I write for films, you can appreciate that it has its own autonomy, it’s independent and has its own personality.
But when you hear it in the context of the film, there is a kind of mutual exchange. The music gives something to the images, and the images give something back to the music. What is important, however, is that my music has its own strength as a stand-alone creation.

Morricone conducting the Orchestra Roma Sinfonietta <em>Photo: Getty Images</em>
Morricone conducting the Orchestra Roma Sinfonietta Photo: Getty Images

TOFM: You also write at your desk, rather than composing on the piano…

EM: This is not unusual. Many great composers work this way. If a composer has to play the piano in order to understand the effect of the music, or what the music will be like, then this is rather amateurish. A real composer will know exactly what the effect will be even if he is just writing it on paper. If you need to hear it to understand how it will be, well… This isn’t just me. All composers work this way – I am not a phenomenon in this regard.

NM: More and more people use computers these days, so the music is notated as it is played. Have you tried that?

EM: No. Music must be written in the classical way, with a pencil on paper! With a computer, you can only see a small part of the whole score. For me, writing on a big page helps me to think in a widescreen way, to write in a big way before dividing the different parts. A lot of space gives me a lot of ideas. So I could never use a computer.

Morricone on stage at London's O2 Arena
<em>Photo: Getty Images</em>
Morricone on stage at London's O2 Arena Photo: Getty Images

TOFM: Have you ever heard a Ferrari V12 in full flow? There’s a harmonic quality to a six and 12-cylinder engine.

EM: I can’t tell the difference, I’m afraid! [makes huge roaring sound] The rhythm is the repetition of something. There can be a timbre to the sound of an engine, but I don’t think there’s a rhythm, as such.


NM: Would you ever direct a film?

EM: Actually, someone did ask me that once. But no, I would never do it.