The Morricone West

(Above: Clint Eastwood in ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Source: Flickr)

It is not easy writing a tribute to the extraordinarily gifted Ennio Morricone, who died July 6 at 91.

Ennio Morricone films
(Above source: Wikimedia)

The ingenious composer, whose scoring career spanned 60 years and more than 500 films and shows, finally won his first Oscar — at the tender age of 87 — for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015).

Tarantino could not have tapped a better man for his snowy, violent horse opera. After all, it was Morricone, in the 1960s, who redefined the American Wild West with a daring and atmospheric cinema soundscape.

Maestro Morricone and director Sergio Leone (both born in Rome) collaborated in Italy on “The Dollars Trilogy,” the three ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ that propelled Clint Eastwood to superstar status. In turn, Eastwood’s fame only added to the Morricone legend, indelibly linking the two.

Film fans are perhaps most familiar with Morricone’s “go-go-go-migo,” the ear-catching vocal from the main theme for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the trilogy’s final film.  “Go-go-go-migo” is not so much sung as intoned. And it is not a lyric, but a rhythmically chosen, syllabic chant.

A hint to jog your memory?

Electric Fender Guitar:  TWANG-TWANG-TWANG-TWANG-TWANG

Low Male Chorus: “GO-GO-GO-MIGO”

(REPEATED)

Better yet, listen to the iconic main theme here, starting at the 47-second mark:

The first minute of the theme is dedicated to vocals that imitate instruments and animals. In addition to the male ‘go-go-go-migo’ chorus, there is a solo voice, doubled with a harmonica, that suggests female cat-like singing. There is also a full male and female chorus, used adroitly for thematic variation. All are underpinned by the drumbeat of the American Civil War, so intrinsic to the plot. 

Another extraordinary example – this time employing Church Latin vocals – is found in The Mission, starring Robert DeNiro, Jeremy Irons and Liam Neeson.

In the eastern Paraguayan jungle, the indigenous people, captivated by Christianity, defend their mission – to the death – from an onslaught of Portuguese and Spanish soldiers. Morricone’s Oscar-nominated score combines solemn religious tones with the joyously spirited music of the South American Guarani tribe embracing their destiny and protecting their church. Musical elements of the film’s climactic battle include Father Gabriele’s oboe in counterpoint to the rhythmic choral chants.

Where to Stream the Films Discussed in this Article

The Hateful Eight (2015) – Stream it with a Netflix subscription, or rent it for $3.99 from Vudu and other providers.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – Stream with a Starz subscription, or rent for $3.99 from Google Play and other providers.

For a Few Dollars More (1965) – Stream with a Starz subscription, or rent for $3.99 from YouTube and other providers.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) – Stream with a Netflix subscription, or rent for $3.99 from Google Play and other providers.

The Mission (1986) – Rent for $3.99 from Vudu or other providers.

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About Charlie Greenberg

Charlie Greenberg is a NY-based theater and instrumental composer.

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