Western, Italian Style
Translated from French by Didier Thunus for www.chimai.com
The western, Italian style, has been able to differentiate from its big American brother thanks to a specific style, of which each ingredient is immediately recognizable. The music is certainly one of the most representative elements of this.
As much as one can't speak about the Italian western without mentioning the name of Sergio Leone, one cannot evoke its music without speaking about the striking influence of its leader Ennio Morricone. Morricone's inspired scores played a prominent role in the very identity of the Italian western.
However, nothing predisposed this composer to become a specialist in that field, because the western was originally far from his favorite movie style. Morricone followed traditional studies of composition at the prestigious academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome. His primary ambition was to compose contemporary music, influenced by his master Goffredo Petrassi, but also by the avant-gardist John Cage, of whom he followed lessons in Darmstadt at the end of the fifties. However, he realized very quickly that this activity, as noble as it was, would not suffice to make a proper living. He then made a choice which would turn to be crucial for his career: he decided to become an arranger for music of variety. This activity was in full bloom at the beginning of the sixties. Thus, Morricone worked in an intensive way for the very young national television RAI, but also for the prestigious American discographic company RCA whose new blazing studios produced all the Italian "yéyé" stars of the sixties: Gianni Morandi, Edoardo Vianello, Jimmy Fontana, Gino Paoli, etc…
Morricone was very quickly pointed out for his skillful and innovative style, and soon, everyone called for his arrangements. Nobody else but him could transform with such brilliance the most ordinary melodies into true jewels which captured the ear of the audience on the radio as well as in a theatre. Indeed, RCA was also producing the soundtracks of popular movies and knew very well how to use this amazing advertising platform that the movies represented, to promote its singers à la mode, with songs arranged by Ennio Morricone of course.
Although the variety was not a major musical genre, Ennio Morricone devoted to it all his seriousness and professionalism. He always preserved this same philosophy: it is impossible for him to write one single note without a direction, a logic behind it. Therefore, on the occasion of simple arrangements, he added some inventions which were personal to him. It was his own way of justifying his true statute as a composer, hence differentiating from those who continually produced music without worrying about the duty of creation of an artist.
By this he introduced, within the limits of what the audience, and even more so the producers, were ready to accept, daring harmonies and unusual sonorities. This was his real strength, the art of choosing ear-catching tones, and to mix traditional instruments with unexpected sounds, either drawn from the Italian popular folklore, or among the noises of the everyday life objects diverted from their primary function, like for instance a can, or a typewriter.
The repeated exercise of arranging thousands of pieces from 2 to 3 minutes - each of them having their own small history - the atmosphere to create, and especially the ear-catching sound that will make the audience run to the record shops, all this contributed in making Morricone's style inimitable. This partly explains the extraordinary impact that his scores for the cinema will have on the public a few years later. His way of composing for popular movies will partly be a result of the years that the artist spent arranging more or less all the great popular musical successes of Italy in the beginning of the sixties. Of course, both activities, that of arranger of variety and that of film music composer, are quite different in the way of working and in the imposed constraints. However, Morricone will sometimes include in his partitions for the cinema some of the musical solutions he had developed during the years of intense creative activity when he started as a musical arranger.
At about the same time, he began to work with prestigious collaborators, among whom the chorus I Cantori Moderni di Alessandro Alessandroni (including remarkable voice soloists like Gianna Spagnulo and Edda Dell'Orso) but also guitarist Bruno Battisti d'Amario, trumpet player Michele Lacerenza, harmonica player Franco de Gemini, violonist Dino Asciola, etc… All had an immense talent, and it wasn't a coincidence. It was the post-war period in Italy, and the competition was hard among the many artists who hoped to be brought to light. Besides, the recording techniques were still rudimentary and did not allow correcting the errors of the musicians. Therefore, the musicians had to be excellent performers so that the first take would be the right one, since they knew that Morricone was very demanding (they were musicians who knew how to interpret the exact sound texture that he had imagined, an essential component of his personal style) and that there were ten other musicians waiting to take their job if they weren't good enough.
The match between Morricone and his performers became so perfect when years went by that he composed more and more while having already in mind who would perform his scores. This was important for the tone and the color that he wanted to give to the final result, but also because, knowing the level of virtuosity of his soloists, he knew which limits to impose to the complexity of the pieces to play. This perfect symbiosis between Morricone and his musicians explains why it is impossible to dissociate his melodies from his arrangements. Nothing tops the original recordings of that time. It is impossible today to bring back the magic of the finale of Once Upon A Time In The West for example, because no other singer can recreate the sublime voice of Edda, and even Edda today wouldn't be able to reproduce again the level of perfection she had reached back in 1968. It is a unique moment, a recording of reference that nothing will be able to replace.
Very naturally, Morricone started to compose for the cinema, through RCA with whom he had a contract. He started with several scores at the very beginning of the sixties, in particular for director Luciano Salce. But it's in 1964 only that the most determining meeting of his life took place, which will definitively make him embrace the career of film music composer: that with director Sergio Leone.
However, it didn't all start very auspiciously. Sergio Leone never had a musical ear, and Ennio Morricone had no particular interest for the western. When Leone launched his project of a western called Il Magnifico Straniero (The magnificent Stranger - working title of what became the famous Per Un Pugno Di Dollari - A Fistful Of Dollars), he thought of using again composer Angelo Francesco Lavagnino who had already composed the score of his peplum Il Colosso Di Rodi (The Colossus Of Rhodes, 1960).
Since the musical edition of the movie was entrusted to RCA Italiana, Leone's attention was brought to a young composer of RCA with a promising talent: Ennio Morricone. Leone went to his residence, without too much conviction. Morricone recognized him immediately, claiming they had been classmates at the elementary school, in the popular district of Trastevere. Leone thought it was a joke but Morricone immediately brought a picture of the class showing them both almost side by side. This picture became famous, and an enlarged reproduction of it can still be seen today in the famous Roman restaurant Checco er Carettiere whose owner belonged to the same class.
This was all quite pretty, Leone thought, but the fact that they had been at school together was not enough to select Morricone as his next composer. He confessed he hadn't appreciated much Morricone's previous western score for Duello Nel Texas (Gunfight at Red Sands, 1963). Morricone shared the same opinion since it was only a simple work on command where he had been asked to compose in a Dimitri Tiomkin style. That did absolutely not correspond to his own style - on the contrary, he would have preferred to differentiate radically from the American traditional style. He then had Leone listen to an arrangement he had made two years before for a 45 rpm sung by Peter Tevis, an American baritone who had recently moved to Italy. It was a cover version of a traditional folk song immortalized by Woody Guthrie in 1941, Pastures of Plenty.
And there, the meticulous work of Morricone as arranger of variety was finally rewarded. Because what he had done for this obscure 45 rpm, made among thousands of others, for an almost unknown singer, was quite simply extraordinary. On a rather elusive basis of a song - Guthrie's original recording involving only an acoustic guitar and a voice - Morricone had created a new and modern atmosphere. On top of a cavalcade rhythm punctuated with whip slappings and bell sounds, he had dared to add the sound of an electric guitar, the renowned Fender Stratocaster made famous at the time by the English band the Shadows and their immortal Apache.
Leone was immediately enthusiastic. It was exactly the original sound he had sought for his western of a new kind! On the other hand, he did not like the voice of the singer who disturbed the song a little. He asked whether the original tape was available. Morricone dug up the famous tape from the archives of the RCA, which comforted Leone that he had made the good choice. Leone proposed to add a whistler instead. A demo was carried out starting from the 1962 tape on which Alessandro Alessandroni performed his famous whistling. A legend was born.
Still today, Morricone is very proud of this piece which really carries his mark, a new sound never heard before in a western. Its originality lies in the use of a clever mixture of "poor" solo instruments, such as the whistle or the recorder, and of sonorities borrowed from the rock'n'roll such as the electric guitar, where an American composer would probably have used either a big orchestra, or a cowboy ballad with a guitar.
Leone also needed a second musical theme for the duel sequence, the arena of death where the movie comes to an end. He had in mind the famous Deguello, a bolero with the trumpet composed by Tiomkin for Rio Bravo. Morricone agreed to write another theme in the "Deguello" style, even though he didn't consider this music as typically "Morriconian". He re-used a theme written two years before for the TV show in five parts Drammi Marini based on Eugene O'Neill's play, and arranged it with Mexican topping. This theme was used on several occasions in the movie, performed by an English horn. We must point out that the warm color of the English horn will be present in the majority of the western scores that Morricone will write thereafter, so much so that it will become one of his fundamental characteristics. However, for the finale of Per un Pugno di Dollari, this theme was performed by a trumpet. Morricone knew this instrument very well since he had studied it at Santa Cecilia. Consequently, he composed a brilliant piece full with ornaments for trumpet, and the mastery of Michele Lacerenza was needed to render the dramatic intensity. The remainder of the score was developed on the basis of these two main themes to which atmosphere themes were added.
The movie Per Un Pugno di Dollari was a very great success, and so was its music. The two geniuses that Leone and Morricone were had discovered together glory and recognition. Their collaboration became one of the most valuable of all the history of the 7th art. How could such a perfect osmosis be born between these two men who had very few common interests?
In fact, we must acknowledge two merits to Sergio Leone.
First, his smell to discover new talents and to identify as good as possible which could be their contribution to his work. Thanks to this, he launched the international career of actors like Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volonté or Klaus Kinski, he gave a second breath to the career of Lee Van Cleef, and he discovered so many other technicians and collaborators like the great decorator Carlo Simi. Not having a great sense of music, he instinctively understood the role that Morricone could play for him. Because Morricone was a creator needing to explore new paths rather than repeating what so many others had written before him. It was exactly what Leone was seeking after: original and creative collaborators allowing him to carry out a different cinema.
Whereas the storyline of Per un Pugno di Dollari was directly taken from Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo from Japan, Leone brought to it a very Italian style, as well in the atmosphere of the film as in the personality of the characters. A fundamental characteristic of the Leonian cinema has always been to maintain a certain irony, even in the most dramatic scenes, in total opposition with the usual approach of the American cinema producing either comical westerns or dramatic westerns, but very seldom mixing both kinds. Morricone felt very much at ease in this Mediterranean universe which drew at the same time from the Greek tragedy and the Commedia dell'arte.
Besides, Leone had a great sense of timing in a movie, ie. a sense of rhythm. He was born in that world; his father Vincenzo Leone, better known under the pseudonym of Roberto Roberti, had taken him along very early on the sets of Cinecittà. Later, when Sergio Leone began his career as a director, he already had behind him a long experience of all the professions of the cinema business. For him, the editing had always been the essential step where to establish the rhythm of the story. He was highly aware of the elasticity of time. He was able to alternate very long scenes where nothing happens, punctuated with slow camera movements and where only the wind blowing is heard, with very fast scenes where violence breaks out in a few seconds. This importance given to time by Leone, Morricone was extremely sensitive to it, because music also lives of timing, of rhythm. It needs time to express, to present the themes, to develop them. Thus, the two artists, although coming from two different artistic worlds, could find in the control of time a common ground for expression.
Sergio Leone had a very personal way of working with his collaborators. He told the story the Roman way, with many adjectives. He described each setting with gestures of his own, imitating the noise of spurs, the breath of wind, describing all the details that create a given mood. This method allowed him to indicate with precision the kind of atmosphere he was seeking and helped Ennio Morricone to find the necessary inspiration. The two creators had agreed to adopt the principle of the leitmotiv, ie. to associate a musical theme to each character and to play that theme each time the character made a significant appearance in the movie. Morricone chose for this simple and short sentences, a musical material reduced to cells of a few notes which the audience would easily memorize. For each new theme, Morricone composed several different ones and performed them on a piano in front of the director who retained those he thought corresponded the most to the ambience he was looking for. Leone was very demanding and Morricone had to re-examine his work several times. Only thanks to this level of demand and the keen work of Morricone to satisfy his director, could such a remarkable result be obtained.
For the tune of the man with no name in Per un Pugno di Dollari, played by Clint Eastwood, Morricone chose five notes, or rather took from the arrangement of Pastures of Plenty the five notes played by the soprano recorder, A-G-F-E-D. This short tune was to be heard each time the stranger made an ironic comment or moved his cigarillo from one side of his mouth to the other. It was also integrated in longer musical sections in order to point out the presence of the main character.
For their following movie, Per Qualche Dollaro in Più (For A Few Dollars More, 1965), Morricone took again some of the principles of the previous score, namely a small theme on the flute for Clint Eastwood's character (this time A-D-D-E-D-D), credits whistled with a refrain played by an electric guitar, and a duel theme. But since Morricone was a creator, he introduced some additional elements allowing him give more substance to his style.
He added new sonorities, once again not very conventional for a western. For instance, the rhythmic of the main theme was played by a Maranzzano, the Sicilian Jew's harp, an instrument which had nothing to do with the American folklore. In fact, Morricone liked to introduce unusual sonorities, be it for the fun of it or to take a distance from the traditional western music. The aim was to give the impression that it was western music, without really being it.
For as far as the duel theme is concerned, it presented a number of rather original characteristics. It started with a delicate music, played by the celesta, corresponding to a visual element of the film: the music played by a pocket watch held by the character of Indio (Gian Maria Volonté). When the music would stop, the two duellists would fire. This related to an "interior" music, ie. to a sound element really heard by the protagonists. Gradually, the music "exteriorized", ie. Morricone introduced other instruments to underline the dramatic tension of the scene: first guitar chords played in a violent way by Bruno Battisti d'Amario, and then suddenly, a church organ theme. According to Morricone, the pretext to use an organ came from the fact that the duel scene was taking place in an unused church. This is perhaps the explanation he gave to Leone, but it probably met once again the need for the composer to introduce surprising sounds in his western score.
This organ theme straightforwardly parodied the first notes of Bach's Toccata, the model composer for Morricone. It was a remarkable way of attracting the attention of the spectators, to bring them "outside" of the scene. This made them capture the feelings of the two duellists whose thoughts were also, to some extent, outside of the scene, concentrated on the feeling of hatred and the desire of revenge. The effect was reinforced by Leone's large shots on the protagonists' eyes and the hands coming closer and closer to the revolvers. Then, the music gradually returned to the musical watch theme to let the scene go back to the reality of the moment until the two protagonists drew and shot. This same theme will be used again in a more conventional way by a trumpet during the final duel of the movie, to satisfy the wish of the director to have his "Deguello" theme.
Morricone introduced two other significant elements which contributed to define his final western style. First, a theme of epic cavalcade, Il Vizio d'Uccidere (The Vice of Killing), with for the first time the voice of Edda dell'Orso, who had just joined the Cantori Moderni. And then, a softer variation of the duel theme, Bye Bye Colonel, this time played by an English horn accompanied by chords and a chorus. This is a typically Morriconian piece, which will generate thousands of others thereafter.
However, it's only with their third collaboration, Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo (The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, 1966) that the final western style of Morricone was complete. This score can be regarded as the accomplishment of the musical development initiated two years earlier with Per un Pugno di Dollari. It can even be Morricone's absolute masterpiece, thanks to its richness and complexity.
Sergio Leone had by then become a respected director who was given the means of his ambitions. Equipped with a generous budget, he undertook an epic saga, with the American Civil War as background, with large sets and hundreds of comedians. The screenplay was co-written with the famous Age and Scarpelli, authors of Mario Monicelli's La Grande Guerra (The Great War). The basis idea was the same in both films: inserting a small history in a larger one, to depict burlesque situations in a dramatic context. In that perspective, Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo was doubtless Leone's most Italian movie. The typical mixture is present again, of irony, of cheating and disillusion of the picaresque characters.
For this vast project, Leone asked from Morricone a more important contribution. He wanted a complex score drawing at the same time from humour, lyricism, tragedy and baroque. Hard to be more contradictory! And yet, Morricone succeeded brilliantly, composing a score joining together all these characteristics at the same time, and even much more, going beyond the hopes of the director. Morricone knew it was the most ambitious subject he had to face, the final exam to be allowed in the yard of the big composers of film music. Scheduled just before to compose the music of John Huston's impressive The Bible, he had been unfortunately set aside for some dark disagreements about rights between RCA and the film production. Therefore, this time, Morricone didn't want to miss his chance. He wrote almost two hours and a half of music, with sumptuous main themes and a multitude of secondary ones.
The main theme re-used a logic adopted previously, namely a short musical cell interpreted by a flute for Clint Eastwood's character, identified here as "the good". However, the two other characters from the title had as much importance, if not more, since Leone didn't hide his affection for the character of Tuco played by Eli Wallach, certainly the most picaresque one from all his movies. Leone explained to Morricone that these three characters were actually one. The good wasn't really better than the two others. All three were motivated by the same goal, to get the dollars, by all means. They were three facets of one same character who was in turn good, bad or ugly according to the circumstances. Therefore, Morricone decided to use for the three characters the same musical theme, this time limited to two notes - A-D-A-D-Aaaaa - but giving it a different tone for each of them.
The good preserved his recorder naturally. For the character of the bad played by Lee Van Cleef, whose black costume revealed dark intentions, Morricone chose an instrument from the serious register, the arghilofono - the low-key version of the ocarina, a wind instrument in terra cotta from the region of the Abruzzi. Once more, the composer introduced a folk instrument having a priori nothing to do with the western tradition and which however functioned very well in the context of the Leonian universe. As for Tuco the ugly, his picaresque character, almost animal, he was underlined by human voices imitating the cry of a coyote.
The musical tune was in fact a half-sentence, a question asked for which the answer came in the form another half-sentence, F-G-D. For one of them, Leone insisted that it used the whistle sound he liked so much. It became the response to the arghilofono for the theme of the Bad.
Morricone on the other hand preferred to privilege the effects of the voice and used them for the half-sentences associated with the Good and the Ugly. In the case of the Ugly, the first half-sentence was played by Gianna Spagnulo and Enzo Gioieni, called by Morricone the "astonished voices", because this passage was often heard when Tuco's character had a nasty surprise. The answer or second half-sentence was given by the falsetto voice of Franco Cosacchi, doubled by the harmonica of Franco de Gemini.
This combination was of a disarming simplicity and yet, it had an astounding cinematographic efficiency. The impact of the opening scene of the movie says enough. Three gangsters enter a ghost saloon in a city lost in the middle of the desert, shots are heard, and Tuco suddenly jumps through the window, completely hirsute, a gun in a hand and a chicken leg in the other. Frozen frame, "urlo" of the coyote, while the bottom of the screen shows the letters "the Ugly".
Consequently, the audience kept engraved in memory the association of the character and his musical theme. The magic of the Leone-Morricone marriage could be summarized in that moment where image and music were as one. This movie would not be same without the music; it would miss something in the atmosphere and in the identity of the characters. Morricone gave preference to the music that revealed the deep soul of the characters at the expense of one that would only have underlined the events pictured on screen. He really gave an additional dimension to the movie. Moreover, Leone declared that Morricone was his best dialogist since the characters didn't speak much, and the music often replaced the dialogues. Leone had a great admiration for the cinema of Chaplin who was able to transmit all the emotions at the time of the silent movies. The music had played a great role in the absence of dialogues, and Chaplin's artistic approach has without a doubt influenced the steps of Leone for his own films.
Leone allowed himself more time and more means for the preparation of Il Buono Il Brutto Il Cattivo. Therefore, he could for the first time use a new process he had not been able to apply to the preceding films, due to the lack of time. He asked Morricone to record the main musical themes BEFORE shooting the scenes, so that they could be played on the set and could contribute to create the ambience in which the characters were to evolve. This process would be systematically applied to all the following movies, and would allow a perfect synchronization between the movements of the characters, those of the camera and the rhythm of the music. Disturbing at the beginning for some of the actors, this working method ended up convincing them all, Clint Eastwood being the first one to appreciate it much. In the end, a coherent body was obtained, which could almost be called a cinematographic ballet.
The credits of Il Buono Il Brutto Il Cattivo used again the usual construction of the previous credits. On the very simple basis of an almost tribal rhythm - using the tempo of Per Qualche Dollaro In Più paced by the timpani instead of the Jew's Harp - Morricone brought in one by one the various musical sentences introducing in turn the characters of the good, the bad and the ugly. The refrain was again played by Bruno Battisti d'Amario's electric guitar. However, Morricone added in the middle of the piece a particularly interesting musical bridge: a dialogue between the two trumpet players Michele Lacerenza and Francesco Catania, in a way reminding the cavalry trumpets in order to evoke the military context of the movie. The velocity of the succession of notes during this segment required an extraordinary dexterity from the trumpet players. It is clear that when Ennio Morricone asks for this piece to be played in concert today, the trumpet soloists seldom succeed in reproducing the quality of the original version. More generally, the exceptionnal contribution of the soloists of that period must be highlighted. Not less than 14 names were mentioned on the original discographic edition.
The composer added to this rich score other pieces quite as outstanding. In order of importance, the fabulous theme Estasi dell'Oro (The Ecstasy of Gold) must be mentioned, accompanying Tuco's frantic race among the graves looking for the one hiding the treasure. It is to some extent an evolution of the earlier theme Il Vizio d'Uccidere, with again the introduction by the English horn followed by Edda dell'Orso's enchanting voice. Morricone developed this piece in a crescendo, with a progressive accumulation of all the instruments of the orchestra together with the acceleration of the images, to end up in a musical explosion illustrating Tuco's "ecstasy" when finally discovering the expected grave.
This scene will remain an unforgettable moment of cinema so much the match between image and sound is perfect. After the first take, Leone was really enthusiastic with the spontaneousness and the tone of the performers. Only, certain synchros did not exactly fit with the editing of the filmed sequence. Leone did not want to redo the take, so much he liked the original one, but unfortunately, not enough film samples were available to redo the editing and to lengthen some frames for such or such shot so that it would fit the music. Well, he chose to leave the scene like it was, with its imperfections, and this is the scene that entered history. Morricone is still today very proud of this piece. Indeed, he didn't hesitate to insert it in his concert suite "Modernitá del mito nel cinema di Sergio Leone" even though it was not a main title theme.
The film had to have its trumpet Bolero, called "triello", since, according to Leone, it was more a triel than a duel between the three protagonists. The style here too was very classical, with an increasingly dramatic tension ensured by notes from Battisti d'Amario's guitar, followed by an apotheosis with a trumpet joined by a chorus. The scene of the three protagonists facing each other also became a piece of anthology. The succession of the shots was so elaborate that it is still nowadays studied in cinema schools of Hollywood!
Of this musical partition, we will also retain:
- A very beautiful piece with the English horn for the scenes evoking misfortunes of the war, with "calls" of military trumpets in echo,
- A march whistled by captive soldiers referring to the famous march of the bridge on the river Kwai,
- A complex orchestral piece for the desert scene with the judicious introduction of dissonances illustrating the dramatic situation in which the character of the good is forced to walk under a burning sun,
- Many other secondary themes, such as the marvellous sad guitar theme of Father Ramirez, or the unsettling theme of the one-armed bandit who tries to shoot Tuco taking a bath.
All this contributed in making the score to Il Buono Il Brutto Il Cattivo one of the richest ever written by Ennio Morricone.
The enormous success of the scores written for the dollars trilogy had a rather perverse effect on their composer. He was very quickly submerged by requests for writing only western music. The name of Ennio Morricone was such a guarantee of success that he appeared from then on in good place on the posters, at the same level as that of the actors. He was overwhelmed by this sudden notoriety, and had to refuse a large number of the movies which were proposed to him, since otherwise, he would only have composed for westerns. As a reaction, he sought to move away from this confinement in which the producers wanted to lock him up. This was the chance for new directors like Bertolucci, Bellochio, Petri or Pasolini to benefit from his collaboration for an avant-garde cinema allowing him to write something else than western music. Morricone will suffer long enough from the consequences of this sudden success, giving him to the eyes of the professionals a too restricted label of western music composer.
Nevertheless, he accepted to write a number of other western scores, carefully choosing the movies and especially the directors with whom he was to collaborate. He selected the best ones, ie. those who really had something to say in the Italian western, such as Sergio Corbucci, Sergio Sollima, Duccio Tessari or Giulio Petroni. But in certain cases where he refused to participate, the producers misused his name by pretexting a so-called "musical supervision" of scores written by others in his style.
We will remember from Morricone several remarkable western scores composed after the dollars trilogy. Firstly, those with a direct kinship with the music of Il Buono Il Brutto Il Cattivo, ie. those using a similar approach with sonorities evoking wild nature, cries, tribal percussions and the electric guitar. Some even claim that ideas or themes rejected by Leone are to be found in these scores - assertion difficult to check but quite plausible.
First of all, the score composed the year after for La Resa dei Conti (The Big Gundown, 1967), where the arghilofono, the English horn, timpani, brilliant trumpets and the chorus of I Cantori Moderni are heard. Other beautiful pages were written in this line of work, in particular the sublime but too little known E Per Tetto Un Cielo Di Stelle (And for a Roof a Sky Full of Stars, 1968), Un Esercito di Cinque Uomini (The Five Man Army, 1969), or Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970).
Morricone also sought to move away from the style created for Leone's movies, in particular by privileging the work on the voices of I Cantori Moderni for Sergio Corbucci's movies. The score to Un Dollaro A Testa (Navajo Joe, 1966) must be mentioned, with remarkable almost gospel-like chorus and the powerful voice of Gianna Spagnulo, or Vamos A Matar, Companeros! (1970) whose theme sung by the chorus had a religious connotation reinforced by the presence, once more, of a church organ. Moreover, Morricone made several times a parody of the sacred music in his westerns scores, especially when the films featured religious characters, such as Two Mules for Sister Sara or Che C'entriamo Noi Con La Rivoluzione (What am I doing in the middle of a revolution, 1972). It must also be noted that in the main theme of Vamos A Matar Companeros! Morricone ironically inserted a refrain using again all his typical instruments, from the whistle to the flute, from the voice of Franco Cosacchi singing wha-wha to the harmonica, and from the electric guitar to the trumpet, all were there!
Morricone also exercised, in a slightly different style, to compose themes based on the rhythmic of acoustic guitars, in particular for Faccia A Faccia (Face To Face, 1967) or Da Uomo A Uomo (Death Rides A Horse, 1967).
The clear tendency of the strengthening of the lyrical dimension since 1968 must be noted, starting with the following western of Sergio Leone, C'era Una Volta Il West (Once Upon A Time In The West). Leone himself had wished to move to something else after completing his dollars trilogy, but the American producers had promised him to finance his next movie about gangsters of the thirties, C'era Una Volta In America (Once Upon A Time In America), only provided he agreed to direct a last western. Morricone being very busy during 1968, - this became one of his biggest years of productions, with about 20 movie scores; he by the way completely stopped his activity as an arranger of variety at about the same period - Armando Trovajoli was asked to write some tryouts. Morricone, finding out about it, took the challenge and signed one of his most famous creations.
Morricone used again some of the ingredients used for the previous Leone westerns, and in particular the idea to associate a musical theme to each character. The most outstanding theme was that associated with the character of Harmonica played by Charles Bronson. There was an "interior" element since this character really played the harmonica on screen. One can't really say he was actually playing a precise theme, he rather produced a haunting complaint on the basis of 3 notes, E, C and D#. Besides, when Franco De Gemini, the musician who really played this harmonica, showed up in the recording room, he was surprised to not have a written score to play. Morricone asked him simply to improvise on these 3 notes by giving him indications about the type of each scene: threatening, sad, etc…
On the harmony of those 3 notes, Morricone developed a fabulous theme, L'Uomo dell'Armonica (The Man With The Harmonica), with a melody first played by Bruno Battisti d'Amario's electric guitar, then by the chorus of I Cantori Moderni and the chords of the orchestra. This theme was composed for the scene of the final duel between Harmonica and Frank, played by Henry Fonda. It is in fact common to both characters linked by an event of the past: out of revenge, Harmonica challenges Frank who had formerly assassinated his brother. This same theme was incidentally presented in two preceding scenes for the one or the other of the main protagonists, once for Frank during the massacre of the McBain family, and once for Harmonica in the posada lost in the middle of the desert. The melody will be heard again with other arrangements thoughout the movie, once played by the English horn, once by a harmonic horn and once by the trumpet in a "Deguello" style for the piece Come Una Sentenza (Like A Sentence) accompanying the majestic scene where Fonda arrives on horseback for the final confrontation.
For the picaresque character of Cheyenne played by Jason Robards, Morricone proposed several themes, all very beautiful, but which didn't suit what Leone was looking for. However, Morricone stood up for a specific theme and asked Leone to wait for it to be recorded with the orchestra to better realize. In vain - it did not correspond to the romantic character of robber Cheyenne had to be. Then, in his picturesque way of describing the characters, Leone asked Morricone to think of the wandering dog from Lady And The Tramp. Morricone sat at the piano and the right theme came out immediately. The definitive version was performed by Alessandroni's banjo and whistle.
But this score benefited from something more which took it slightly away from the pure line of the wild western style which Morricone had developed at the beginning: the romantic theme of C'era Una Volta Il West in an unforgettable performance by Edda dell'Orso, associated to the female character of Jill played by Claudia Cardinale. This logic followed Leone's approach, who also added a good amount of romanticism in his movie, due to the importance of the female character, and also giving a rather nostalgic tone to the old disappearing West, carrying with him a certain kind of men like there will no longer exist anymore.
Leone significantly used Morricone's music on the set, so much so that Henry Fonda asked for the music to be systematically played to help him to find the right tone. Leone also took into account the tempo of the music to adjust the movements of the camera. One of the most outstanding examples of this was the scene where Jill arrives at the Flagstone station. Morricone had already recorded Jill's theme, which began in a soft way with an introduction on the harpsichord and celesta. Leone had this passage synchronized with the shot where Jill looked at her watch (perhaps a wink to the watch of Per Qualche Dollaro In Più?) before entering the station. In this piece, Morricone had inserted a sort of crescendo musical bridge with the whole orchestra announcing the return of the theme. Leone had the brilliant idea to shoot the scene in one single sequence, synchronizing the rise of the camera (on a "dolly" crane) revealing the town of Flagstone with Morricone's musical crescendo.
It must be noted that the majority of the themes present in discographic edition are not heard exactly as they are in the scenes of movie. They are in fact the original themes as they were written by Morricone before shooting, and which were then modified in length (shortened, lengthened, slowed down or accelerated) to be synchronized with the scenes after editing.
Subsequent to this lyrical vein initiated by C'era Una Volta Il West, other scores followed, like for example Guns of San Sebastian, for which Henri Verneuil insisted towards the producers of the MGM to have Morricone and no-one else, otherwise he would refuse to make the movie! There was also the remarkable score for Il Grande Silenzio (The Great Silence, 1968), without doubt Corbucci's most beautiful western. This western was different as well by his environment of cold and snow, which strongly contrasted with the usual Mexican border sets of the Spaghetti westerns, as by the downright pessimistic tone of the story, since the hero was assassinated at the end. Morricone wrote a very original score mixing sad romantic pages with unsettling moods using among the most abstract tones such as for example the Indian sitar.
The second part of the Leonian trilogy of the 'Once Upon A Time', Giù la Testa (Duck You Sucker - A Fistful of Dynamite, 1971) took advantage of an approach slightly similar to that of C'era Una Volta Il West, with a lyrical theme for the flashback scenes, again sung by Edda Dell'Orso. There were also themes of a more traditional form for a Leonian movie, like a ballad whistled by Alessandro Alessandroni - Dopo l'Esplosione, or the sad melody on the guitar, Messico e Irlanda. But for the rest, it wasn't really a western anymore and consequently, the other elements such as for example the electric guitar disappeared completely.
The most remarkable piece was doubtless the one used over the credits, Invenzione Per John. This long piece was not used in its entirety (more than 9 minutes) in the movie. It was a complex assembly of various musical modules which intertwined to create a sort of unreal atmosphere associated with the almost magical appearance of the character of Sean, played by James Coburn, who emerges on his motorbike from a cloud of dust after a strong explosion. This piece explored various sound frames, for which the contribution of the Cantori Moderni was really remarkable. Moreover, at the same time, Morricone tried out several of these long pieces with a floating atmosphere for other cinematographic genres, such as in Addio Fratello Crudele ('T Is A Pity She's A Whore, 1971).
The other noteworthy piece of this score was Marcia Degli Accattoni (March of the Beggars), lively march composed for the family of Juan the gangster, played by Rod Steiger. It corresponded to Juan and his band's light-hearted attitude before they got taken away by the tragic storm of the revolution. Morricone chose for this piece rather comical sonorities of frog voices associated with the use of the arghilofono and of the bassoon.
This theme was used several times at the beginning of the movie, but it is its longest version, heard during the scene of the attack of the Mesa Verde bank, which was selected for the discographic edition. Morricone had some fun inserting some ironical touches, in particular a quotation of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
At the beginning of the seventies, the Spaghetti western evolved substantially to a more comical cinema, sometimes even straightforwardly uproarious. This was mainly due to the incredible success of the Trinita series of E.B. (Enzo Barboni) Clucher, which dethroned in Italy the number of tickets sold by Leone's movies! Morricone, for the sake of fidelity towards several directors, also took part to some of these western comedies, such as for example the two movies of the Providence series. He took it on the humorous side, not hesitating to parody the very musical style he had created.
The last two really interesting western scores of Morricone were for Il Mio Nome E Nessuno (My Name Is Nobody, 1973) and Un Genio, Due Compari, Un Pollo (The Genius, 1975), two westerns whose producer was Sergio Leone. It was to some extent the swan song of the Italian western, partly nostalgic - with many allusions to scenes of previous Leone movies - and partly comical. Morricone composed for these two films interesting scores, also combining irony and nostalgia.
It is a pity somehow that his ultimate western score was composed for a rather grotesque movie, Occhio Alla penna (Buddy Goes West, 1981). He created for this last movie a proper but hardly inspired work, using again the rhythmic guitar of Da Uomo A Uomo and the pages of flute from Il Mio Nome E Nessuno.
Many other composers were swallowed up by the seam of Italian western music. Many sought to imitate, voluntarily or by the will of the producers, the style of Morricone. But only a few of them succeeded in sorting out something valuable.
We must first of all point out the name of Bruno Nicolai, close collaborator of Morricone as he conducted his orchestra until 1974, and graduated just like him at the Accademia Santa Cecilia. Brilliant melodist, Nicolai remained unfortunately in the shadow of Morricone and was too often only able to score second rate movies. Yet, he left us some superb western scores, whose style was sometimes difficult to distinguish from that of Morricone. We will mention in particular:
- Corri, uomo, corri (Run, Man, Run!, 1968), the last part, and the only one not scored by Morricone, of Sollima's trilogy, which proves that in the absence of Morricone, the filmmakers would turn to his conductor Nicolai.
- Buon funerale amigos, paga Sartana (Have a Good Funeral, My Friends, Sartana Will Pay, 1970), whose score was partly reused in Il Mio Nome E Shangai Joe (My Name Is Shanghai Joe, 1973).
- Indio Black (Addios Sabata, 1970).
Alessandro Alessandroni, another regular collaborator of Morricone, also produced several compositions for the cinema, among which some western scores. We will mention his music for El Puro, in a typically Morriconian vein regarding the choice of the instruments.
We must also mention Luis Enriquez Bacalov, who produced a number of western scores, some for quite important movies like Django (1966) or Quien sabe (A Bullet For The General, 1966). While having a very different style from Morricone's, he will also use some of the mandatory components of the genre, in particular the electric guitar and the trumpet.
Finally, we must underline the significant part played by Francesco De Masi who was able to move away from Morricone by creating a style of his own. De Masi started to write his first western scores slightly before Morricone, and did therefore not need the influence of the latter to develop a personal approach to the genre. His music had an easily recognizable distinctive sound, structured on a basis of guitar rhythmic, with an accentuated bass guitar, flights of violins and sustained brass. He also regularly set at work his colleagues De Gemini and Alessandroni as well as the chorus I Cantori Moderni. Besides, another of the distinctive signs of his western music was the repeated use of songs always performed by the low voice of Ettore "Raoul" Lovecchio, a member of I Cantori Moderni. Among the most significant titles of his work, we will mention Sette Winchester Per un Massacro (Seven Winchesters For A Massacre, 1966) and especially the two scores for Enzo G Castellari, Vado... l'Amazzo E Torno (Go Kill and Come Back, 1967) and Ammazzali Tutti E Torna Solo (Kill Them All and Come Back Alone, 1968) featuring the remarkable song Come Mai.
The majority of the Italian composers of that period ventured with the western genre with more or less success. Among the most prestigious names, we can mention those of Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, Piero Umiliani, Carlo Savina, Carlo Rustichelli, Gianni Ferrio or Piero Piccioni. Even Armando Trovajoli, rather specialized in the Italian comedy, composed one single score for the western genre, namely I Lunghi Giorni Della Vendetta (Long Days of Vengeance, 1966). But we cannot really say, in comparison with the other names mentioned above, that these reputed composers really left an indelible trace of their passage in the world of the western. It was especially Nino Rota's name that shone by its absence. We must believe he did not wish to take on a genre where he did not feel at ease.