The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
The third part of Leone’s ‘Dollars’ trilogy shows Morricone’s instrumentation at its most vivid. The coyote motif – used for the three main characters, each represented by an instrument (Clint Eastwood: flute; Lee van Cleef: ocarina; Eli Wallach: human voice) – stands out like the caricatures of Leone’s bounty hunters on the hunt for gold.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Wordless vocals by Italian singer Edda Dell’Orso, and a haunting three-note theme suggested by its harmonica-playing gunman, bring atmosphere and space to this epic tale of revenge. The film’s soundtrack sold more than 10 million copies, but it’s on the big screen that Morricone’s powers of characterisation come to the fore.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
The final collaboration between Sergio Leone and Morricone includes ‘Deborah’s Theme’ – its classic Copland-esque intervals and Morricone pedal points giving way to jazz-flattened, romantic string harmonies. Leone played the music on set to get his actors (including Robert de Niro, below) in the mood; when you’re watching, you can almost see the music well up in their eyes.
The Mission (1986)
Morricone’s oboe theme, inspired by Jeremy Irons’s musical missionary, is one of the composer’s most memorable. It is combined with a post-Renaissance choral theme and pipe-and-drum-based music in director Roland Joffé’s film of how South American communities were destroyed by 18th-century Spanish and Portuguese colonialists.
Cinema Paradiso (1988)
This thoroughly sentimental string-rich score perfectly captures Giuseppe Tornatore’s celebration of the magic of cinema. Small instrumental forces and bittersweet harmonies evoke a young boy’s love of film shared with the projectionist of a local cinema in war-torn Sicily.