I met his manager, Luigi Caiola on March 2, eight years ago. Our meeting was hastily arranged. In fact, just the day earlier, he asked me to meet them at the Hyatt Hotel. A friend in the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO) had passed my letter to The Maestro on the off chance that he may consider my proposal to write music for me. Well, since I do not play any instruments, it was really a proposal to write for my sons. I was so taken aback that Mr. Caiola actually made contact and wanted to meet to discuss in more detail my “kind proposal’ (as he called it). On the morning of the meeting, I did not fret and I did not stammer. For a person who cannot make a public speech without being extremely nervous – potentially a closet sufferer of glossophobia – I was surprised I was calm and behaved normally during breakfast, despite the sheer audacity of asking for an audience with a living legend on the world stage. After all, at the time he was a five-time Oscar nominee and the winner of the Academy’s Honorary Award in 2007. He was to win one more nomination four years after we met and he would go on to win the Oscar that year. Luigi was a towering, heavy man with a massive handshake. “Please call me Luigi”, he said. Well presented in his bespoke Italian-made business suit, he made me feel under-dressed and disrespectful even though I had picked the best suit in my wardrobe. Maybe the tie let me down – it was one from the 80’s, a black skinny tie acquired after much deliberation from a clearance sale at Myers. Well, one must not judge a book by its cover, I was taught from very young. Let us not look at the superficial surface but delve deep into the substance of the person, right? Luigi came across like Michael Corleone (in The Godfather) in his demeanour – confident, busy and sharp. “Would you like coffee or tea?” he asked. He offered me only two choices, just as well I never decline coffee when offered. The one thing I learned about successful, worldly people is that they are incredibly polite and generous with their time. On reflection, why the heck would people of such greatness give someone like me their time? Someone like me… no, that is not a put-down, it is not self-deprecating. A person like me would frown and be agitated if I was asked to view a three minute video that was fit only for the rubbish bin. Our time is so precious we do not even give enough of it to our loved ones. Yet, this great composer had agreed to meet me, to give me his time. “The Maestro apologises for not being able to meet you personally this morning”. Luigi started with an apology. I later learned The Maestro never learned English – that could also be another reason why he was absent. Luigi went on to explain why his boss couldn’t make it. The night before, The Maestro had conducted the ASO in an open-air concert at Elder Park but he was greatly stressed by the poor acoustics and noise from outside the park. “The Maestro isn’t feeling too good this morning, he sends his apologies”. Luigi was very restrained to explain that the concert was spoilt by a noisy car race being held nearby their event. Such gentlemanly conduct, so un-Italian-like without the Italian expletives, I thought to myself. No, the word Vaffanculo did not spew from his mouth. No, his elbow did not bend to produce the Italian Salute either. So, I let rip into the farcical scheduling of South Australia’s event organisers instead. “No, those feckless idiots ought to be sacked! How unthinking were they not to understand that a car race cannot be held next to an orchestral concert just a few hundred metres apart. Do they not know how incredibly lucky and privileged South Australians were to be graced with such a visit? This was a visit from royalty, far more beneficial and special than that from any monarch. Seconds later, there he was, sitting right in front of me, sipping coffee and listening to my ideas why The Maestro should consider writing for me. How impetuous of me! How audacious of me! Yet, I attracted no vituperation from him. What was I thinking? No, I wasn’t thinking. That was why I had the nerve and naivety to even dare dream to meet the great man. No, not merely to meet him, but to actually ask him to write music for me? No, not for me. For my sons. A father does just about anything for his sons.
On Monday 6th July, Ennio Morricone died in a Rome hospital, after earlier falling and breaking his leg. He was aged 91. The Maestro leaves behind a huge legacy for mankind – a body of work that someone like me cannot even begin to imagine – some 500 original scores across many genres, westerns, romances and historical dramas. He was annoyed at his music being predominantly known for spaghetti westerns because they were no more than 7-8% of his work, he said. Yet, who will not remember A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon A Time In The West? He brought new sounds to Hollywood – to America and therefore to the rest of the world. He was the first to use the notes a-e-a-e-a-e to depict the sound of the hyena. In A Fistful of Dollars, he showed what a genius can do with a guitar, a whistle and a whip to convey the stark landscape of the world of Clint Eastwood’s character, “a man with no name”. Morricone also showed us a showdown or a gun-fight cannot be faced without the solo trumpet’s call for bravery and sharpness. I learned to spin my wooden revolver as a young boy whilst the music replayed in my head. I listened to his music all day today. I still get goose-pimples when I hear Edda Dell’Orso’s soaring voice in Once Upon A Time In The West. But, for me, there is nothing more wonderful than Deborah’s Theme in the 1984 drama starring Robert De Niro, Once Upon a Time in America. This movie was Sergio Leone and Morricone’s final collaboration. Deborah’s Theme… I have shed many tears listening to Yo-Yo Ma’s version of it. Listen to it in the still of the night, but please have a box of tissues ready by your side. It pulls at your heart, kneads it, crumples it and turns it inside out. You suddenly cannot breathe whilst it transports you into another realm.
The other contender for making my tear ducts hyper-active is Gabriel’s Oboe, a soundtrack from the movie The Mission. It was voted #1 in the ABC Classic Music in the Movies countdown in 2013 and again in 2020. Its music is more famous than the movie, often performed in concert halls all over the world. It is so glorious it lifts my spirit high every time the oboe makes its entrance. The Mission was a 1986 drama about the experiences of Jesuit missionaries in 18th century South America trying to ward off the Portuguese and later the Spanish invaders. But, it is they too who destroy the idyllic innocence of a group of people. It is no wonder we describe grand scale high drama music as “cinematic”. The Maestro’s music is cinematic. Director Edgar Wright probably summarised it best. “He could make an average movie into a must see, a good movie into art, and a great movie into legend.” Film composer Hans Zimmer said “Ennio was an icon and icons just don’t go away, icons are forever.”
Thank you, Maestro Morricone for enriching my life with your music – another personal favourite is Cinema Paradiso. The poignant piano never fails to bring me back to my own life as a 15-year-old boy who fell in love with a girl with pig-tails who he remembered as Janet all his life until friends recently told him her real name is Susan. When the violin appears it is like a beautiful moment when their eyes meet briefly, just once. In his mind, he saw a smile formed by her soft lips as her shy eyes looked away. Hello Susan, goodbye Janet. Vale, Ennio Morricone.