Why should you care about Ennio Morricone?

San Diego Comic-Con wraps up today, and amid all the Batman and Star Wars news, you might have missed a little announcement that has classic film fans in a tizzy. During a panel on Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming The Hateful Eight, the director announced that film composition icon Ennio Morricone would score the movie, his first Western score in forty years. That’s a big, big deal.

So why the hubbub? Morricone’s work is a cornerstone of the Western genre. Picture a Western movie and the music that pops in your head; it’s probably based on something Morricone composed.

Beyond his most recognizable work, the theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (and that film’s legendary Ecstasy of Gold, embedded above) Morricone also wrote the music for Once Upon a Time in the West and countless near-anonymous spaghetti Westerns that have been sampled by other films. Bits of his score for Navajo Joe, for instance, was re-used in Election and Tarantino’s Kill Bill duology. Morricone’s trademark combination of raw guitars, whistling, choral singing, trumpets, and whipcracking have become ingrained in popular film vocabulary often to the point of parody.

A new Morricone Western score is like a new Hitchcock thriller. It’s a new work by an artist in a medium they so thoroughly defined that everything afterwards is homage.

Of course, you need to listen to his music for the full effect. Instead of recommending that you watch any of the dozens of films Morricone scored, we’ll instead point you to Morricone Conducts Morricone, a streaming video in our catalog of a concert of select notable pieces from his oeuvre. It’s a great taste of how he transformed a genre – and what we can expect from him later this year.

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