For almost sixty years, Ennio Morricone had been completely devoted to writing film music. The man with 500 film scores passed away at the age of 91, on July 6, 2020. But where did the story start? We take a look at the origins of a composer who became a major cultural phenomenon in the mid-1960s, in particular thanks to the films of Sergio Leone.

The 1960s saw the start of a love affair between Ennio Morricone and cinema with his first composition for the big screen, dated 1961 (The Fascist by Luciano Salce). The Maestro was 32 years old and already had a solid reputation as an arranger for Italian variety, whether influenced by rock, jazz, or Neapolitan love song. Signed with the label RCA, he swiftly became a fixture of the big Italian recording studios, working for singers such as Gino Paoli, Gianni Morandi, Mario Lanza and Paul Anka. He now boasts a back catalogue of over 500 songs. "Looking back, while Morricone thought of some songs written in those days as "terrible", like Go-kart Twist sung by Gianni Morandi for Camillo Mastrocinque's film Diciottenni al Sole, or Quattro Vestiti for Milva, his creativity, speed and formidable capacity for work made their mark and he found himself much in demand", stresses Laurent Perret, a specialist in film music and author of articles and liner notes on Morricone. On the subject of Milva, we should note that in 1972 the composer concocted a remarkable album whose title, winningly, was Dedicato a Milva da Ennio Morricone.


Some of these songs feature in films (in particular those performed by the singer Gianni Morandi), and so Morricone was sometimes brought on to compose the rest of the music for those films. But it was also (and above all) thanks to Luciano Salce, who recommended that he work less as an arranger for variety in order to concentrate on composing for cinema. The two men met in 1958 and then, the following year, Salce took him on for two plays: La Pappa Reale and Il Lieto Fine. After The Fascist, they would do five other films together, including Slalom (1965), a 007-style spy comedy whose main theme is a joyous blend of electric guitar, bells, horns, bringing in a choir for some staggering interventions. But the end of the Salce/Morricone double-act left something of a bitter taste, as, seized by a sudden inferiority complex, Salce decided, when hearing the "mystical and holy" music of Sergio Leone's films, that Morricone was no longer fit for comedy films.