Taking Inspiration from Master Morricone: Silvio Caroli Adds Beauty and Color

An arranger of already revered music, such as the body of work of film composer Ennio Morricone, has their work cut out for them if they wish to re-imagine the music in a fresh way. To take something adored and make sensitive, nuanced changes while honoring its reason for coming alive in the first place is a huge task. Pianist and composer Silvio Caroli can take indeed take a rhapsody and imbue new things to love about it, even when it comes from the beloved film composer.

A fervent fan of Morricone’s, Caroli adds formidable and sweeping movement plus passion in “Crepuscolo Sul Mare,” paints drama and dark patina in “Giu la Testa” and displays a unique tenderness in “Love Affair.” His arrangements are now available at https://www.musicnotes.com/sheet-music/artist/silvio-caroli.

What captures you about the music of Ennio Morricone?

With the exception of Chopin, I know of no other composer whose melodies have touched the heart of so many. His movie themes have become the treasured property of all civilized nations. 

Morricone brings to his film music all the knowledge gained from his classical musical education and popular music business experience.  His music encompasses a great stylistic range and the movies he has scored represent virtually every genre of film.

He is famous for crafting a blend of music and sound effects to create stunning scores for Spaghetti Westerns (a term that Morricone notably loathed) such as “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” “Once Upon a Time in the West,” “For a Few Dollars More” and “A Fistful of Dollars.”

He also invented the formula of “music composed, arranged and conducted by Ennio Morricone.” Bernard Herrmann used to write all his scores by himself. So did Bach, Beethoven and Stravinsky. He didn’t understand why nowadays in the movie industry often the conductor (and even the arranger) is not the composer.

Despite the fact that he is so rooted in Johann Sebastian Bach and the other great masters of classical music, he did something quite unique because he used tonal/melodic music and into this type of music he snuck in some styles of avant garde music (like the Second Viennese School) and this was often unnoticed.

Morricone, known as the Maestro, remained resolutely modest. Although he wrote music for more than 500 movies (a movie per month on average), compared to classical composers like Bach or Mozart, he always defined himself as unemployed. He said Bach, for example, used to compose one cantata a week to be performed in church on Sunday. 

Which songs are your favorites and why?

“Gabriel’s Oboe” from the movie The Mission. This memorable theme is a discovery of what heaven must sound like. The soundtrack was nominated for an Academy Award in 1986. I love this score because Morricone created a masterpiece although he had to follow some rules of writing the music: Father Gabriel plays the oboe and the story takes place in the 1750s. Therefore, he had to write music that might have been played in churches in that period of time and he exploited all the techniques coming from the Renaissance, especially from the Council of Trent (1545 – 1563). I guess he was inspired by Palestrina and Frescobaldi, who were both great masters in counterpoint and lived in Rome, the same city where Morricone spent his entire life.

I also love the “Duel Theme” from “A Fistful of Dollars.” In the final scene, Leone was going to use a theme from another movie. The song was “Degüello,” a piece for “Rio Bravo” starring John Wayne and Dean Martin. Morricone wanted to quit and then Leone stepped back and asked him to come up with something similar.

In the southern Texas atmosphere, according to Sergio, the tradition of Mexico and the United States blended. Morricone took a lullaby he had composed years before and rearranged it. The trumpeter is Michele Lacerenza, who had studied with Morricone at the conservatory. Michele performed freely all the melismas and the ornamentations with the Mexican flavor and military intention. It sounds really great, so epic.  

Talk about the importance of music in cinema and why he is considered a master at matching mood with music.

From the mid-1890s to the late 1920s, silent films were accompanied by a pianist or a small orchestra, which was absolutely necessary. Imagine watching your favorite movie without music, just images and nothing else. Quentin Tarantino, in an interview with the BBC, said, “To me, movies and music go hand in hand. When I’m writing a script, one of the first things I do is find the music I’m going to play for the opening sequence. I can’t go forward until I figure out how I’m going to start – what the opening mood music will be.” 

Ennio Morricone came up with some great ideas which greatly influenced the development of the film score. The first thing we can notice in Morricone’s style is the amount of music he writes for a film. For example, in the westerns of Sergio Leone, Morricone leaves most of the film unaccompanied. It is often the absence of music that makes the entrance of the sound much more noticeable and dramatic.

He also used a modern technique from the musique concrète, including natural sounds such as animal noises or mechanical sounds, etc. One example is the pocket-watch melody heard in For a Few Dollars More or the coyote sound in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or the opening sequence of Once Upon a Time in the West. In that case, we hear mechanical or natural sounds, like a water wheel or a telegraph, with no other musical accompaniment. No music is played until the end of the second scene, when Henry Fonda makes his first entry.

Besides, in Once Upon a Time in the West, the leitmotifs describe the four principal characters and Sergio Leone wanted to play Morricone’s music on set to get the actors in the mood. It was an incredible cinematic union of image and score.

In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the same theme played by different solo instruments was associated with each one of the characters. A flute for “the good,” a voice for “the ugly,” and the ocarina for “the bad.” Using the same theme implies that the three scoundrels share a common identity and fate. In fact, their lives are intertwined with the development of the American Civil War.

In For a Few Dollars More, the integration of the jaw harp is simply unique and it wasn’t so easy to realize. The part includes five notes, but the jaw harp is a monotone instrument capable of producing only one pitch. They had to use five different instruments and record the sounds on separate tracks.

In the same movie, the organ plays aloud the incipit of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in the deconsecrated church. It is an incredible scene in which El Indio kills a man after murdering his wife and their little girl. The Bach quotation and the organ have a great impact on the audience in the scene.

Thanks to his talent and mastery, Morricone was able to make a plain movie into a must-see and a good movie into a masterpiece. 

When you begin arranging music, what do you consider, and how do you make it fresh and inject your own creativity?

First of all, I try to be faithful and accurate regarding the harmony and the chord progressions of the original score. Then, I will start to think about the texture of the arrangement. Generally speaking, I work on songs that have been conceived and written for orchestra. My goal is not to create a transcription because it is absolutely impossible to reproduce the sound of the orchestra. Instead, I wish to achieve an arrangement that would be essentially pianistic and sound loyal to the original score.

I am inspired by many great pianists from the past, especially Franz Liszt, not regarding how to create a virtuosic piano solo, but more in how to find a way to bring the violin vibrato, the voice sound or the colorful orchestral texture into the piano keyboard. It is almost always a utopia. And Liszt was a sorcerer in transcribing Beethoven’s symphonies or Wagner’s works, for example.

Other pianists that I venerate are Max Reger, Moritz Rosenthal and Leopold Godowsky. They show us, with their intricate and extremely difficult compositions, all the sound possibilities we can obtain from the piano using just two hands. We can take very great ideas from these piano conquerors, especially regarding chord voicings and piano texture. 

The progress in playing technique and in terms of mechanical improvements enables us to achieve better arrangements than was previously possible. But the piano will never sound like an orchestra and sometimes I just have to admit the impossibility of even a partially satisfactory arrangement. It has already happened to work on some arrangements and then, after several attempts, I simply decided to throw the arrangements away because they weren’t effective.

Do you write for other instrumentation in these arrangements? What instruments do you think go well with the music and how big should these ensembles be?

I love working on the formula of solo and piano accompaniment in which the solo could be a violin, cello, trumpet, clarinet, etc. I started writing these kinds of arrangements many years ago just to satisfy the requests from colleagues who teach other instruments. In student concerts, many pupils want to play the music they love and most of the time it is impossible to find a tailored arrangement in a library or on the web. For example, the last arrangement that I customized for a friend of mine is “We don’t talk about Bruno” for alto sax and piano accompaniment.   

My favorite combo is cello and piano because I do love the cello’s timbre, which is so warm and gentle.  

What arrangements are you most proud of?

Well, I am very proud whenever I arrange themes by Italian composers. But there are some arrangements I have written that made me pleased and satisfied, for example, the piano solo arrangement of “Malena” by Ennio Morricone. In the original orchestration, the silky sound and the cantabile are played especially by strings. It gave me a hard time while I was trying to move the same poetry to the piano.

Another arrangement that I really love is “Crepuscolo sul Mare” by Piero Umiliani. That song is used in Ocean’s Twelve as the main theme. In this arrangement, I tried to put together a harp glissando, the guitar arpeggios and the bass line with only two hands. I had to be a bit creative, taking advantage of the three-hand effect by Thalberg, Liszt and other virtuoso pianist-composers of the 19th century. 

I also worked on another amazing theme by Giorgio Moroder, thanks to which he won the Best Original Score at the Academy Awards in 1979, the Midnight Express theme. Such a haunting melody.  

How do you know when you are getting more skilled as a composer and arranger?

I can define myself as more of an arranger than a composer. I always study and try to improve my knowledge by discovering old techniques from the Romantic Era to the early 20th century. I also exploit a lot of modern devices coming from jazz, pop, rock or Latin music.

We can also learn a lot from our errors and experience. I think that mastering music is more about perseverance than natural talent. Music skills improve over time like a fine wine!     

What are you working on at present?

Many people who played my arrangements write me asking for new arrangements of songs by Morricone that I have never heard. It is not a surprise, because Morricone’s heritage is so huge (more than 500 film scores). Probably he wrote something every day. I would like to publish arrangements of all the lesser-known songs. Many of them are music gems from Italian movies which are simply unknown.

Other comments?

“When a man with a .45 meets a man with a rifle, the man with a pistol will be a dead man!”

“Let’s see if that’s true!”

Epic movie!

For more information visit https://www.musicnotes.com/sheet-music/artist/silvio-caroli.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.

© 2022 Debbie Burke

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