One of the greatest composers in the history of film, Ennio Morricone, has passed away peacefully in Rome at the age of 91. During his long and illustrious career he composed more than 500 scores for film and television, including Sergio Leone’s iconic spaghetti westerns.

Morricone was born in Rome in 1928. His father, Mario, was a musician who actively encouraged the young Ennio’s interest in music.

Incredibly, Ennio and his most famous collaborator Sergio Leone, were classmates together at John the Baptist elementary school in Rome, though they lost contact for many years.

The young Ennio began learning the trumpet and composing music at the tender age of six and by the age of 12 he was enrolled at the prestigious Saint-Cecilia conservatory in Rome, one of the oldest musical institutions in the world.

After graduating he began writing scores for theatre and radio. He was hired as an arranger by the record label RCA in Italy and worked with some of Italy’s best-known pop stars of the 1950s and 1960s. Having worked anonymously on several films his first credit came on Luciano Salce’s film Il Federale in 1961.

Morricone’s historic partnership with director Sergio Leone began in 1964 when he was invited to score the first of the so-called spaghetti westerns, A Fistful of Dollars. Their unique creative partnership produced a new style of western, where men of dubious character rode like banished knights across a barren landscape, endlessly searching for something unknown while Morricone’s music built relentlessly toward the final fatal duel.

Morricone’s music was as important to the success of the spaghetti westerns as The Man With No Name.

Morricone’s western scores were utterly unique and unlike anything that been heard in cinema before. His use of non-traditional instruments as well as sounds like gunshots, church bells, whip-cracks and haunting vocals helped to conjure up another world comprised entirely of dust, danger and death.

Morricone and Leone would work together on several westerns including For a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), Once Upon a Time in The West (1968) and A Fistful of Dynamite (1971), before both going on to explore new territory.  

The worldwide success of the spaghetti westerns brought Morricone international acclaim and led to a slew of offers from Hollywood. He would go on to work on dozens of Hollywood films including The Mission and The Untouchables, both of which earned him an Academy Award nomination. Despite his success in the U.S., Morricone refused to move to Hollywood or even to learn to speak English; preferring to remain in his native Italy. ‘All my friends are here, as well as plenty of directors who love me and appreciate my work,’ he said. ‘Rome is my home.’

Morricone re-united with Leone in 1984 when the pair worked together on the gangster epic ‘Once Upon a Time in America’. Morricone would later describe this score as his best work.

Leone described his creative relationship with Morricone by saying, “The music is indispensable, because my films could practically be silent movies, the dialogue counts for relatively little, and so the music underlines actions and feelings more than the dialogue.”

Leone and Morricone who met as schoolboys in Rome formed a legendary cinematic partnership.

In 2007 Morricone was awarded an Honorary Oscar, presented to him by Clint Eastwood, for his “magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music.”

Morricone continued to work prolifically well into his seventies and eighties, remaining in big demand by young directors anxious to work with “Il Maestro”. In 2016 he finally “won” an Academy Award for his score for Quentin Tarantino’s film The Hateful Eight.

In his later years he frequently toured, performing highlights from his immense catalogue, and was still conducting his orchestra in 2019. He sold more than 70 million albums worldwide, and as well as his two Academy awards, he won four Grammy awards and six Baftas.

Morricone on tour with his orchestra.

Morricone’s musical legacy will live on through his timeless compositions and the many generations of musicians and directors who he continues to challenge and inspire.