Single Review: Ennio Morricone – The Ecstasy of Gold by Mark Wong

Legendary Italian film composer Ennio Morricone is considered to be one of the most influential musicians of our generation. He’s composed over 500 film scores within his lifetime. His compositions have been in famous films such as The Thing and The Hateful Eight. However his most recognised pieces are from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and A Fistful of Dollars.

Single Review: Ennio Morricone – The Ecstasy of Gold

It’s actually surprising that Morricone has only scored for thirty five western films in his career. Over 50 years after The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was released in 1966, The Ecstasy of Gold still remains as a timeless and iconic piece of music in cinema history. It has become the quintessential template for all film composers to follow.

The Ecstasy of Gold starts with a fast piano melody. In the opening bars, it’s absolutely clear that Morricone’s arrangements are purely influenced by Italian music. This can be heard through the melancholic clarinets. The marching drum beat and soprano singer Edda Dell’Orso’s vocals add an epic and theatrical quality to The Ecstasy of Gold.

Dell’Orso’s operatic wordless and wailing vocals reminds me of how profound Clare Torry’s vocals were on Pink Floyd’s iconic The Great Gig in the Sky. In the majority of his compositions for Leone’s films, Morricone would use samples such as gunshots, cracking whips and whistles to add authenticity to the score. While The Ecstasy of Gold doesn’t implement any of these soundscapes, Morricone uses chiming bells to create a jarring effect towards the end of the piece.

One thing that’s great about Morricone’s work is how he incorporates diverse instruments into his scores such as harmonicas and trumpets. While every instrument is playing a variation of the main melody, Morricone manages to emphasise these musical textures beautifully. He allows each instrument to stand out significantly in the mix.

“It’s pretty safe to say that Leone’s films wouldn’t have been as stirring without Morricone’s score. Whenever you listen to any of Morricone’s work, it’s outstanding to hear how he manages to capture the true essence of a film’s narrative.”

In the bridge the violins are isolated. This is to release tension. The intensity then rises again and begins to builds its layers from the harmonica and Dell’Orso’s powerful vocals. It’s absolutely euphoric when The Ecstasy of Gold pulls all of its instruments together for the last section. The piece finishes on a gigantic crescendo.

Ennio Morricone’s The Ecstasy of Gold highlights why his score for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was so ahead of its time. The piece is distinctive due to the techniques that Morricone incorporated. This consisted of using various instruments and samples such as a soprano singer and chiming bells.

It’s pretty safe to say that Leone’s films wouldn’t have been as stirring without Morricone’s score. Whenever you listen to any of Morricone’s work, it’s outstanding to hear how he manages to capture the true essence of a film’s narrative. It’s still baffling to think that out of all the 500 films that he scored, pieces like The Ecstasy of Gold & A Fistful of Dollars’ Titoli still remain as his most famous pieces to date.