Composing For The Cinema: The Theory and Praxis of Music In Film: Ennio Morricone & Sergio Miceli (Scarecrow/ In Books)


So the maestro has written a book on the dark arts of film composition. Well not entirely. This book comes from a series of lectures celebrated composer Ennio Morricone undertook with musicologist Sergio Miceli between 1990 and 2000.

Morricone’ reputation as a film composer is peerless, from his Spaghetti Westerns with Sergio Leone, his Academy Award for The Mission, his French pop, funk, jazz improv and everything else in between he’s composed over 400 film scores. Miceli too is renowned as a film music scholar, and together the insights are flying thick and fast. They’re a curious duo though. Not in the least because they’re more than happy to publicly disagree with each other, both you’d suggest have healthy egos, however they’re also both extremely knowledgeable and there’ something in the combination of the analytical/ theoretical and the more practical that is particularly illuminating.

It’s quite technical. At the beginning Morricone warns participants not to delude themselves into thinking that they may learn how to compose music in these lectures. In his eyes you should already be 7 years into your composition studies, this is just the icing on the cake. And to be honest there’ a lot of technical talk in here, also a few examples for practical exercises that don’ especially translate to the written page. There’ no doubt that this isn’ a coffee table book like legendary film editor Walter Murch’ book with Michael Ondaatje, which was similarly philosophical, though less technical and more chatty – specifically directed to be as valuable to the layman as the dedicated cinephile.

In particular Miceli’ language and concepts can be quite dense. Subjects include Totem and the Contrabassoon, the use of Dissonance, Modular Techniques and The Relation Between Determinism and Aleatory. In fact a lot of space is given to audiovisual analysis. Yet throughout there are Morricone’ insights, the examples coming from his own experience, his own compositions. And it’s hard not to search through the book eagerly anticipating those nuggets. Beyond exploring the relationship between the composer, producer and music editor, the use of voice in his compositions, he even gets quite specific, the use of harmonica in State of Grace, and the use of dramatic pause in the Bugsy score. Examples come from the unlikeliest films, Woody Allen’ Bananas, Henry V (Kenneth Branagh), Three Colors Blue, Ridley Scott’s first film Duellists, Pasolini, and of course Sergio Leone’ Spaghetti westerns.

For example Morricone offers A Fistful of Dollars, where Leone initially wanted to use music in one scene from another composer. Morricone of course threatened to walk, causing Leone to relent, asking instead for Morricone to compose a piece that resembled Leone’ original piece. In what he now views as revenge Morricone grabbed a theme that had been rejected by another director. Later he confided his misdeed to Leone who from then on insisted on subsequent films for themes rejected by others.

Where else would you get this information? Or that Leone filled Clint Eastwood’ head with the most unspeakable disgusting worlds to help create that iconic near silent performance?

It’s quite a remarkable book, balancing the technical, theoretical and practical. It could be presented perhaps in a more user friendly manner that would appeal to a broader market, however for anyone interested in the theory behind the practice and who wants to begin to comprehend the genius behind some of Morricone’ iconic compositions Composing For The Cinema is simply without peer.


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Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.