Ilustraciones: Mayo Bous
Ilustraciones: Mayo Bous

Ennio Morricone has been wrong

16 minutes / Darío Alejandro Alemán

13.07.2020 / Articles


Author of soundtracks, the Americans admit, and his blood boils. No, author of music for movies, he corrects as much as he can, although it is not that he likes this last term very much.

At 90, Ennio Morricone, adored by filmmakers and moviegoers, still tortures himself with the idea that his music is hummed by eager popcorn eaters. A long time ago, he imagined that at this stage of his life he would be a star among 19th-century outdated people dressed in tails, all aristocrats, nostalgic for Verdi. His work, which has transcended, embarrasses him in a way. Perhaps that is why he does not like to talk about it and, finally, he has become cloistered in his house.

As in many of his scores, he has chosen the benefits of silence. He now lives with his wife in Rome and is not heard to raise his voice, except to dismiss the journalists who bet the last interview before his death, or the filmmakers who ask him to rub the lamp once more and unleash your musical genius on the staff. I'm retired, he repeats, but no one seems to want to hear him. It's the same. His voice never mattered. To the world, Ennio Morricone will always be a dumb Italian who learned to speak through his compositions about gangsters, Jesuit monks, opium smokers, bully gunmen, but never about himself. 

Illustration: Mayo Bous


In the lighted hotel lounge, American officers smoked and laughed, drunk with victory, proud of their triumphal entry into Rome. They seemed so engrossed that they barely noticed the fine sounds that a young Italian ripped off his trumpet, even though these were only the support of his father's. It was good music they played, not just background tunes to liven up the night, but the Americans made no effort to appreciate it. Maybe the modern rhythms of America had corroded their good taste - if they ever had it - and the pleasure for the classic, that which the trumpet boy would call many years later "the absolute music".

Someday, the young man thought, he would do more than touch his father to those untamable ears with no chance of salvation. He would compose chamber music, rescue the teachers forgotten by the common people and thus make a place for himself among them, perhaps in the small space that separates Verdi from Puccini. Endorsements for a glorious future were plenty: before the age of 10 he had achieved his first score, he mastered the trumpet like few others, he attended music classes in six months that others took four years to complete. 

You have genius wood, he heard some of his teachers say, but he never believed it true. In any case, he saw himself more as an idealist who, with much effort and dedication, would manage to reinstate as canon the fine forms of classical beauty. Few dreamers of his stature remained in the world or perhaps the problem was that he had not encountered any; Except for that lively little boy from school, a certain Sergio, who felt for books and movies what he felt for music. 

As the evening progressed, Ennio, the boy with the trumpet, became convinced that he would never play for such energetic things as those in front of him. He was wrong, for no one would thank him more for his future work than those rough men on the other side of the Atlantic. 

To some extent, Ennio Morricone will fail himself, but it will be just that involuntary suicide of his aspirations that will make him transcend. 

Illustration: Mayo Bous


Ennio is exalted only when Roma scores a goal, something that does not happen very often. The team's continued defeats have somewhat tarnished the happiness of his retirement, and he now believes he will only see him clinch a title if rival goalkeepers conspire to stray from the net at every offensive play. The Rome of recent years is a depressing fiasco. Luckily he has that other one, the city; one that will never disappoint him because at its core is feeding on the residues of time. There he has returned to live what he has left, hidden in his house, like the old written melodies that he keeps in some corner and nobody will ever hear. 

The accumulated prizes have not made him arrogant; rather, the satisfaction of old age fades when he remembers the reasons. After so many years of elusiveness and indifference, the Americans exalt him and even give him two Oscars of consolation. What little class theirs! He never liked the American ways, not even the ways of making movies. The splendor of Los Angeles blinded him, the simplicity of English offended him. Better was his Rome, old but eternal, that would survive, as always, by flourishing and decaying the world's barbarians. In the wrinkled and myopic Ennio still lives one of those small-town boys with small but universal stories that the Italian directors of yesteryear liked to portray. 

Illustration: Mayo Bous


Blondie, Tuco, and Sentenza pointed their guns at Sad Hill graveyard. They conspired in silence and through their nervous eyes, so that whoever pulled the trigger faster would not survive, but who knew how to read the others' expressions better. The scene was dilating. The adrenaline of the moment consumed the atmosphere. The shots, a ride to infinity, the credits, the people applauding, the lights of the cinema on. In their respective chairs, Ennio and Sergio looked at each other with the same complicity as Blondie and Tuco did. Not again, they seemed to say. 

A few years earlier, at the exit of the cinema where it was released For a handful of dollars, Sergio had told him laughing that this was a bad movie and they both laughed. A few days later, critics and ordinary viewers praised the film. Some praised the director's fortunate impudence for skipping the old unwritten rule that dictated that between a general shot and a close-up, a medium shot should go. Others, on the other hand, claimed to have discovered in a certain Ennio Morricone the talent to not only change the history of music for the cinema, but the history of music itself.

Realmente, la Trilogía del dólar comenzó el día en que Ennio recibió la llamada de un hombre que decía llamarse Sergio Leone. Después de darle varias vueltas a la conversación y evocar con elocuencia los años en el colegio que ambos habían compartido, Sergio le habló de su interés en hacer una película western y de su necesidad de encontrar quien le compusiera la banda sonora. Lo más probable es que Ennio hubiese vacilado un poco, y hasta que demorase en dar una respuesta definitiva. Al colgar el teléfono quizás se sintió tentado a rechazar la oferta. Musicalizar películas de vaqueros no distaba mucho de derrochar el virtuosismo de su trompeta para los oídos salvajes de los oficiales norteamericanos. Sin embargo, necesitaba dinero, y por ello llevaba algún tiempo traicionando su viejo sueño de componer música de cámara ambientando programas televisivos y escribiendo partituras para cine que otros compositores firmaban. Para cuando Sergio volvió a llamarle, Ennio pasaba por una suerte de crisis profesional que ya no le importaba extender un poco más. Acepto, dijo, sin saber que en ese preciso instante acababa de nacer, oficialmente, el western spaghetti como fenómeno de masas. 

The good, the ugly and the bad kept Sergio in a good mood for months, partly because of the success achieved at the box office and also for having reached the end of his exhausting trilogy. Sometimes he told Ennio anecdotes that from a distance they were funny, but at the time they weren't so funny: the awkwardness of Franco's Spanish militia, for which he had to film the scene of the bridge explosion three times; Lee Van Cleef's alcoholism; Clint Eastwood's self-centered grumbles and the stillness of his facial muscles. Eastwood, Sergio recounted, hated cigars that he had to smoke and more than once refused to record with one in his mouth. Ennio listened to him with amusement, perhaps thinking that his aversion to soundtracks resembled that of the actor for cigars and that both, in the end, always ended up resigning. Meanwhile, critics debated his rugged technique of placing two or three impossible and contrasting sounds on the same harmonic plane, which concentrated all the attention of the piece, although later they were integrated into the atmosphere of a classical orchestration.

After the laughter, Sergio took a moment to confess something to his partner. He had been thinking for some time about making a film version of The Hoods, a Harry Gray novel that had fascinated him. At Paramount they were not very convinced with the project. The western was a mine that needed to be used up and nobody better than him to do it, they told him, but Sergio preferred not to anchor his career to the same genre. He insisted on the proposal until they agreed, albeit on the condition that he direct a final super production of gunmen, for which a fortune had been invested only in the hiring of Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson.

I want you to do this with me, Sergio suddenly blurted out. Ennio, who already thought about leaving the soundtracks aside to devote himself fully to classical music, soon succumbed to the dreamy charms of the Italian director. What is the story about? He asked, to which Sergio had to answer that it would be about a railway, the decline of the western, the violent and inevitable ways of progress, but, above all, the unusual return of a harmonica.

Illustration: Mayo Bous


Ennio perhaps remembers Sergio with the same nostalgia with which a fictitious Noodles, defeated by time, recalled the difficult but joyful 1920s in front of the grave of one of his old friends. No one, not even Tornatore, understood him as Sergio, who had enough humility - and an excessive self-confidence - to erect monumental films based on his melodies. For this reason alone, he forgives the arrogance of having told Kubrick that he was not willing to lend to Ennio, even though the musician longed to work on that crazy project of A Clockwork Orange.

Sergio's life was not as long as his films, but at least he had achieved that gangster movie that he planned for so many years. Perhaps that is why Ennio gave him his most finished work, which endowed each character with character, grew with them over time and adapted to their emotional dramas. The Academy went into a technicality to avoid it. They said that Ennio's name did not appear correctly in the credits, although it is likely that the real reason was the reciprocal contempt that the Italian and the magnates of the film industry sought. In truth, he never cared about that award. Once upon a time in America's music, with its magnificent Deborah's Theme, had more sublime and unexpected purposes, as it was the parting gift that Sergio Leone would have wanted: the best soundtrack of all time.

Illustration: Mayo Bous


Clint Eastwood had not finished mentioning the name of the honorary Oscar winner when Hollywood stardom applauded with pleasure. From one corner of the stage the award-winning came out taking short steps. Then he took the golden statuette in his hands, held it up, offered thanks in English. He tried to control himself, but the emotion for that late but inevitable act of justice was stronger. However, he had an ace up his sleeve to remind everyone that he, Ennio Morricone, was a man with memory, classy, European to the core and, above all else, a proud Italian. The rest of the speech was spoken in his native language, knowing that Eastwood - who did not hide his discomfort in surprise - could translate it.

In spite of everything, Ennio acted within the formal limits of the gala. First he thanked those who proposed it, then to the cinema, for being a “small part of his story”, and finally, almost tearfully, to María, his wife. Maria's sacrifices to support the home and support her children, she said, made her as responsible for her work as he was. These, perhaps, were the most sincere words of the night. 

But who was Ennio Morricone in 2007? How many merits had he accumulated over the years so that the Academy was finally forced to prostrate at his feet?

First, Tornatore. Ennio worked on all his productions, and over time made him fill the space that Sergio Leone had left in his life. Cinema Paradiso, the masterpiece of both, is a cult of the seventh art. The soundtrack also, although from the silent confession of its author about the conflicts that its relationship with the cinema contained. In his composition, Ennio casts aside the prominence of timbral variations and plays with the spirit of music, which transits in the film the wide spectrum that separates the picaresque and childish from the intimate and self-reflective environments. In the last minutes of the footage, where the classic kissing sequence can be seen, the dramatic tune manages to define the aura of the plot, as if at that rhythm thoughts danced in the deepest moment of introspection.

In Roland Joffé's The Mission, Ennio achieves with the Gabriel’s Oboe a delicacy capable of hypnotizing curious natives of the film and viewers alike. The soundtrack not only conveys the peace of the virgin forests of Paraguay and the noble motives of the protagonists, but also manages to crumble until achieving the epic that consumes the act of sacrifice of the outcome.

Perhaps the most conventional of Ennio Morricone's works is the music of El intocables by Eliot Ness, by director Brian de Palma. However, today it is inconceivable an Al Capone without the cartoony melody of the black cinema that accompanies his scenes, or the Ness team without the sound setting that perfectly portrays the loneliness of these men immersed in a city of vices and death.

The wood of genius that his teachers once warned about him was in 2007 a consolidated prophecy, although Ennio refused to acknowledge it. Genuine geniuses live, or prefer to live, regardless of their inherent genius, perceptible to all but themselves. Sometimes they embody purity in such a way that they tend to despise their work for the inevitable margin of human error. Ennius, indeed, despised her to some extent for lesser and more childish reasons. Maybe he tried to make it rustic with all intention, to get rid of the ballast of the cinema and the commercial, but that only managed to make it perfect. 

Illustration: Mayo Bous


It is possible that Ennio remembers that time that Flavio Mogherini asked him for a variation of Chaikovski for one of his films and he replied bluntly: I don't do a shit. Although the anecdote is well known in the world of cinema, until very recently directors were desperately looking for it. He would never be able to understand why so much insistence if everyone was already aware of his irrevocable decision to retire, in addition to his bad character. Working with him, he admits, was not an easy thing, because he liked doing things at his own pace and without imposition. It is also true that he always hunted for time to dedicate himself to “absolute music”, but that did not stop him from paying attention to his compositions for the cinema. It was a matter of respect for himself and especially for music. 

A recent fall has destroyed his femur, prostrating him on one of the beds of the Campus Biomédico clinic in Rome. Although he hates the inactivity that the blow has caused him, he feels that the rest of the last year has served him well. In addition to enjoying soccer and his family, Ennio was finally able to have fun with all the remembrance or criticism published about him. The reading made him discover things that he had never considered, reconciling him with the regrets of his career. Of Ennio they say that it was the link between the elitist old guard and contemporary music; destroying the barriers of the classical, he extended the borders of art; that their soundtracks not only gained autonomy from the films, but they became independent and then, over time, submitted them; that the virtuous disguises his careful search for beauty, but geniuses like him find it by chance in every corner, as if beauty were the one who chased them. Ennio had understood music like no one else, but he was never able to understand himself. 

Now, from the clinic, he notices that the final stages of his life are approaching. It seems not to fear them. After all, every great piece needs a good closure. Then grab paper and pencil. "I, Ennio Morricone, have died," he writes confidently, as if anticipating his own death. Again he has been wrong. 

Darío Alejandro Alemán

Contralmirante de un bote solitario que teme a los aviones, periodista accidentado, fumador de cuanto combustione, bebedor de mercurio, enamorado de los mitos y también de todo aquello que termine en un “Basado en hechos reales”.

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    Qué hermoso texto… Me emociona que un joven cubano pueda hacer un homenaje así a este grande de la música de todos los tiempos. Gracias

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