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Screening Room Special: Ennio Morricone

  • Story Highlights
  • Ennio Morricone has written scores for over 400 movies and TV shows
  • The composer, most famous for his work on Sergio Leone's Westerns
  • Morricone advises budding composers, 'Be versatile.'
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Few composers have been more prolific than Ennio Morricone. Famous for his work on Italian director Sergio Leone's Westerns, the movie maestro has 400 film scores to his name.

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Ennio Morricone, interviewed by CNN's Screening Room

The score for "The Untouchables" -- one of five Oscar-nominated works by Morricone -- provides a perfect example of the composer's art, ranging from majestic themes to tense, pulsating, musical moments underscoring dramatic tension.

But Morricone's definition of a great score might surprise you.

"It's definitely not the most beautiful music," he told CNN. "It is definitely achieved through a director's good audio mixing. The director is fundamental. No one remembers that once the film has been shot, the director is only halfway through his work. Many directors believe their work is done, but that is not the case."

Morricone's lifelong musical "mission" was rewarded with an honorary Oscar this year. He will also be recognized at the 2007 Venice Film Festival for his unforgettable work with Sergio Leone.

He describes their relationship as pivotal to his career. "It was a beautiful relationship," he told CNN. "He'd listened to some music for two Westerns I'd done, and liked it, so he called me. I worked with him thinking of doing a job as in many other films."

"So this helped me and gave that previous creation a thrust for the creation of the music for the film 'A Fistful of Dollars.'"

"The second was extraordinary with respect to the first, the third even more, the fourth even more, 'Giu' la Testa' (Fistful of Dynamite) even more. Not to mention 'Once upon a Time in America' -- that is an absolute masterpiece of very elevated literature."

One of Morricone's many admirers, film composer Hans Zimmer, revealed how Morricone and Leone's way of working freed the director to create bold cinematic moments. "I know that's how Sergio Leone always worked with Ennio Morricone; he always made him write the music first," he told CNN. "And in a way it gave Leone that sort of power to hold on a shot because he knew he was going to have decent music to go with it."

Morricone's advice for composers wanting to break into the film industry is simple: focus on the music.

"When a composer asks me what he must do, I sometimes say let go, and abandon the profession," he told CNN. "Write absolute music and let go of music for film because it can cause enormous delusions: if a film composer, who wants to do film, a real composer, is not called by anyone, the composer doesn't exist. That is a very serious and sad situation."

Morricone is revered by his colleagues, many of whom grew up listening to his inspirational soundtracks. Zimmer, who has written scores for 'Gladiator', 'The Lion King' and 'The Simpsons' amongst others, told CNN, "It's very complicated for me to have a clear critical opinion of Ennio Morricone because I remember as a kid, sneaking into the cinema (I grew up without a TV; my parents thought it was 'uncultured' to have a TV) and they were playing 'Once Upon a Time in The West.'"

"I heard his music and I knew what I wanted to do; and luckily I picked a good guy as a role model because he has consistently written great music. His work ethic is so great: you can tell here's a man who puts everything into each one of those; the inventiveness is so tremendous; and there's just a musicality, just a God-given gift he has that makes him better than anybody else."

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Morricone has some tough advice for budding composers wanting to enter the film world. "I advise desperation," he told CNN. "It's the cat which chases its own tail. It's difficult to enter. One must enter with an already consolidated professionalism. One cannot begin to write music for film if the director does not know one of the composer's other works, theatrical, or of minor cinema, or other. It's not so simple, it's hard."

And composers need to demonstrate a broad and versatile range. "I would recommend the young composer practiced in all genres of music, all: rock, pop, exotic. A composer must be able to write a string quartet, a symphony, a song, a bad piece, because even to write something bad can be useful, and also a beautiful piece, of great breadth." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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