Five notes of purity, majesty and simplicity. Of nature. Of the human being in its primitive state. For those who believe, perhaps even of God. A-G-A-G-A: this is the "mordent" produced by a wind instrument, Gabriel's Oboe, in the theme tune of the movie The Mission. "The movie takes place in 1750,” Ennio Morricone said. “I took into account the stylistic embellishments of the time, the acciaccatura, the mordent, the gruppetto. I wrote this music almost without controlling myself, almost as if it were a kind of strange miracle.” As if it were whispered, suggested.
Ennio, il Maestro, a film by Giuseppe Tornatore, presented out of competition at Venice 78 (Nastro d'Argento and David di Donatello for best documentary) will be released in February in fifteen Portuguese cities with the support of the Italian Cultural Institute of Lisbon, which hosted a conversation between the Portuguese pianist and composer Filipe Melo and Marco Morricone, son of the Maestro. He was given the job of telling the story of the creation of a document that would perhaps have been impossible without ‘Peppuccio’, Giuseppe Tornatore, friend and partner for almost thirty years, from Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988) to La Correspondence (2016).
What emerges is the story of a titanic struggle between the sacred and the profane, between “the humiliation of writing for the cinema and overcoming this guilt,” as the Master confessed. Almost succumbing to the power of a 'plastic' music, which becomes images, mixing Bach's metrics (“It's the brick with which I built so many pieces”) with shots, whistles, bells, thunderous horse rides, even the yodels that reproduce the howling of the coyote.
It’s hard to convey better the idea of the harshness of life in the Far West, like in the movies of Sergio Leone. Or the torment of human violence expressed with an alienating pan flute in Once upon a time in America. Universal feelings disentangled also thanks to the help of his wife Maria, who was always at his side reading the scripts and to whom he reserved the most “painful farewell” in the obituary he wrote himself. A musical anarchy that in his seventy-year career was translated into around 500 great classics and hundreds of awards, from the Oscars to the David di Donatello.
Was it difficult to convince him to make a movie about himself?
“The idea for the movie came from Gianni Russo and Gabriele Costa of Piano B productions, who one day went to see dad and asked him if he would like to make a movie about himself; dad thought about it for a few minutes and then he got up and went to another room. What actually happened was that he went to phone Peppuccio Tornatore to ask him if he would like to do this project. He gave an enthusiastic yes, and dad went back to the room where he had left Gabriele and Gianni and told them he would do it. In short, he would only do it if Peppuccio filmed it. The first take was in 2014 and obviously, when they both had time, they met up to work on the idea.”
Your father was extremely prolific; among his many tracks, did he have any favorites?
“No, there was no track to which dad was more attached, or more particularly, he was attached to all of them; they were like children and the end result of a more or less complex gestation.”
Tornatore's tribute brings together many testimonies from leading directors and musicians, such as Bernardo Bertolucci, Marco Bellocchio, Dario Argento, Quentin Tarantino, Wong Kar-wai, Bruce Springsteen, John Williams, Hans Zimmer and others. Did any strike you in particular?
“There are many testimonies that struck me, because they highlight the breadth and profound knowledge of his work; however, if I have to express my preferences, I would say Quincy Jones, Nicola Piovani, Antonio Poce, Alessandro De Rosa and Prof. Sergio Bassetti. And I don't wish to offend anyone I haven't mentioned.”
How did the gestation of a piece work? What inspired your father in his composition, in addition to the images?
“If you know Papa, you know that he used to say: ‘I don't know if inspiration exists but I know that what do exist are endurance, coherence, seriousness and duration.’ Dad had a very strong power of concentration and this allowed him to think of a film by seeing it from another angle. See The Man With the Harmonica, or the silences and noises in Once Upon a Time in the West. And he used the instruments with profound wisdom, also reproducing the noises that accompany us in everyday life. In reality, my mother, who is very much a film buff, read the script and was good at telling the story in a way that reached dad's soul. And dad wrote his outlines and his ideas, which he then developed.”
A personal memory of yours, something that not everyone knows about the Maestro?
“Respect and love for time, a love of silence. Dad was very quiet and thoughtful; he was probably in another dimension. Music is now made up of pauses (i.e. silences) and time. He was totally focused on always improving himself a little and transferring everything he had learned into perhaps less cultured music. And all his pains and torments in the dichotomy between classical music and music for the cinema accompanied him his whole life.”
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