Meeting Morricone: ‘It was essential that I change my style for every film’

Remember the showdown in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly?" Well Ennio Morricone, one of the world's greatest living composers, wants you to tear your eyes away from the film's gunslingers and listen instead.

Meeting Morricone: 'It was essential that I change my style for every film'
Italian composer Ennio Morricone pictured during the interview. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

“In the cinema you cannot actively listen to the music – there's dialogue, noises, special effects, it all distracts the audience,” he told AFP as he prepared for the next stages of a world tour celebrating 60 years in the business.

“Music has to be listened to and the concerts allow the audience to listen to my music, and my music alone,” the 88-year old Italian said in an interview in his large Rome apartment.

Morricone's long-running collaboration with Spaghetti Western film director Sergio Leone saw him pen prize-winning soundtracks for everything from the “Dollars Trilogy” to “Once Upon a Time in the West”.

READ ALSO: Around Sicily in ten iconic Italian films

Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The former trumpet player has composed over 500 scores for film and television – including Roland Joffe's “The Mission” and Quentin Tarantino's “The Hateful Eight” – and over 100 classical works.

He cites Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nonno and Aldo Clementi as composers who have influenced him – along with Goffredo Petrassi, who his dubs “my master” – but also has a fondness for Stravinsky and Bach.

'New film, new style'

But he shakes his head at the idea of being compared to prolific composers of the past like Mozart or Rossini and said he does not mind knowing that he is most famous for the film soundtracks, deemed to be catchier.

“I was able to compose music freely, and in such different forms, not only because I could rely on technology, but also because it was essential that I change my style for every film. Every movie required it,” he said.

The composer, who played in jazz bands in the 1940s before he started ghost writing for film and theatre, is considered a fine conductor too – though it is a title he rejects.

“I was asked to direct my music. The problem is that I am not a real conductor, I do not direct the music of other composers,” he said.

READ ALSO: How music is keeping one southern Italian dialect alive

Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Morricone, who has worked with some of the most acclaimed Hollywood and arthouse filmmakers – from Roman Polanski to Bernardo Bertolucci and Pedro Almodovar – says his success lies in evoking thought patterns.

“I tried to create a way to write music with a lot of pauses, made up of almost monosyllables, or three syllables put together, and then a pause, a bit like a thought that comes and goes and repeats itself in a different way,” he said.

He says there is no secret recipe that he follows – “absolutely not” – other than being true to himself.

“I have always wanted to change, but at the end I remain myself”.

By Kelly Velasquez

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Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.