That's not a joke headline, like "Generalissimo Francisco Franco Is Still Dead." It's simply a fact I like to think about.
For 20 years now, I've been telling people that Ennio Morricone is my favorite living composer. In recent years, this remark has always been followed by the apprehensive thought: How long can I keep saying that? I hope it's for many long years indeed, but let's face it. The maestro has entered his 80s. As I post-date this blog, I trust it will still be accurate by the time it sees print. (I ward off the evil eye as I type.) I have the same sense of apprehension about Doris Day, but let's not talk about that now.
My favorite dead composer is Henry Purcell, and that doesn't seem likely to change soon.
When Morricone passes, there will be obituary celebrations aplenty, but I shall take this opportunity to celebrate the fact that he's still among us.
This man has entered the soundtrack stratosphere--that realm where even people who are clueless about film music have a vague recognition that such a person exists--thanks to the Sergio Leone films (where the music was composed in advance of the film) and to THE MISSION, which is now as much a fixture in trailers (and classical music stations) as Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana."
Of course I love that stuff, but he's important to me because the Virgin compilation ENNIO MORRICONE FILM MUSIC VOL. 1 is the first CD I ever bought, at a certain store in Davis, California, probably in the fall of 1988. The next week I bought VOL. 2.
I loved everything, everything, the way it scored my dorm room with sinister intent and longing during the most mundane conversations. My favorite selections included "Peur sur la ville," and the way a woman I learned was Edda Dell'Orso wafted the word "Israel" through "Moses the Lawgiver" (distant memories of the TV miniseries, which got away with showing a babe suckling at the breast because it was pious), and most of all, the French chorus singing "The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti" capped by a rousing trumpet solo. You more commonly find the Joan Baez version, which is in rather clumsy English ("Here's to you Nicholas and Bart, rest forever here in our hearts") and has no trumpet flourish; it ain't the same.
The Morricone revival thrives in the new millennium with anthologies waving his bankable name, and other musicians paying tribute to him, and much of his previously obscure output flooding out on expensive imports from several labels, all making it clear how raw, modernist, experimental and dissonant he can be as well as popular, seductive, beautiful and absorbingly bizarre in vocal and sound effects. I can't keep up and don't bother to try. I prefer to feel satisfaction rather than despair.
Equally important is the "trickle-down" effect, or more appropriately a "spiralling-out" effect. People the maestro worked with--Dell'Orso, Alessandroni, Bruno Nicolai--are also feeling the revival fever, and so are the many fine composers who toiled in the same genre fields at the same time. Those labels are continually searching for "other" Morricones and thus bring into the limelight such figures are Lavagnino, Piccioni, Umiliani, Cipriani, Rustichelli, and others I apologize for temporarily forgetting. These figures also have fans who might sometimes resent the shadow of Morricone over the Italian film industry, but his outsize fame has, after all, probably done more to bring his colleagues out of the shadows than keep them in. With all due respect to Nino Rota's achievement with Fellini and THE GODFATHER, many people wouldn't be interested in the Italian soundtrack if not for Morricone's "crossover."
As we now seem to enter an era of decadent DVD box sets (how else to explain THE MARCO FERRERI COLLECTION or MURNAU AND BORZAGE AT FOX?), I dream of a box called MORRICONE: MOVIES AND MUSIC, or something to that effect, gathering ten or a dozen miscellaneous films (out of hundreds!) in pristine, properly letterboxed prints, united only by Morricone's soundtrack work. If you're taking notes, producers, I think it might include LEONOR, END OF THE GAME, VERUSCHKA, THE FIFTH DAY OF PEACE, FEAR OVER THE CITY, MADDALENA, THE SUNDAY WOMAN and SLALOM. For starters. Be sure to include an optional music-only track. Hey, put me down for a pre-order right now.
And as I write these words, this giant still walks the earth and still seems productive. That makes me happy. Here's to you, Ennio. [exit on trumpet]