Ennio Morricone, composer, died on July 6th, aged 91
The theme may have been written well over half a century ago, but in less than three minutes you hear everything that came to matter most to him in a lifetime of composing. There is the two-note howl at the Moon—once heard, never forgotten. Musically, it is that rare fusion of heart and mind and as recognisable, in its way, as the opening notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Then there are the classic musical motifs, like those Richard Wagner scattered through the “Ring” cycle, that mark out the good man, the bad and the ugly.
And then there is the freewheeling range of sounds with which he chose to make that music: the whistling, the yodelling, the gunfire and the squeaky ocarina, an ancient Italian wind instrument that looks like a sweet potato and is better known to a younger generation as the soundtrack of a Nintendo video game. The range and audacity of his music surprised those who might have assumed that a working-class Catholic upbringing, not a mile from the Vatican, would have produced someone conventional rather than creative.
But the Roman enclave of Trastevere, where he was born just after Benito Mussolini came to power, was an unusual place. A historical outsider-land on the far side of the Tiber, it has tall spindly houses that, for centuries, have been home to artisanal guilds, small businesses, ancient synagogues and enterprising Jewish and Catholic families.