Spaghetti Western, also known as Italian Western or Macaroni Western, is a broad subgenre of Western films that emerged in the mid-1960s in the wake of Sergio Leone’s film-making style and international box-office success. Ennio Morricone was undoubtedly the composer that create major part of western music clichés (which have influenced all film music).
Today i’m glad to show you a score i did for the film 10 Miles to bisbee, where we can found a lot of Morricone idiomatic devices.
After listening almost all Morricone’s work and having scored two western films, i would like to share a little part of my knowledge in this wonderful genere.
1) Use of minor7 chord arpeggio (1-5-3-7)
I have found this melodic line in a thousands of western scores. It comes from the well-know score The good, the bad and the ugly. In my composition it´s used as an intro for the theme and is played in G by the marimba doubled by the snare drum and supported by other instruments of the orchestra.
2) Idiomatic Orchestration
Morricone introduced folk and pop instrumentation to film music. The use of hammer, bells, guitar, lapsteel, human voices, mexican trumpet… is basic if you want to achieve this kind o sound:
I tried to underline with music the ironic aspects of certain characters. Leone never really shared the American psychology, to which he manifestly preferred a more Italian reality-a down-to-earthness. Leone was born in Rome, like me. Certain characters in his films, the bad ones in particular, are very Italian, and even very Roman. But with stetsons on their heads. Nothing to do with American history, really, and to underline the irony and craziness of these Italian characters, I created an “Italian” sound.’ Partly this was achieved through use of distinctiv e musical instruments which were unusual in a Western setting: ‘I wanted to hammer out a kind of music which was more pressing, more troubled, more of a direct experience. So I used the Sicilian guimbard and the maranzano [‘Jew’s harp’], a Mediterranean instrument which is also played in North Africa and Asia.’
Morricone also enjoyed ‘using instruments which resembled the human voice, like the flute and the violin’ and ‘using the human voice itself, solo and choral, as if it was a musical instrument (like in some forms of nasal folk-singing). Both the guimbard and the folk-singing were associated with the ‘music of remote places,’ which again was appropriate to The Magnificent Stranger (working title for what became A Fistful of Dollars).
‘When I began to compose for Leone,’ says Morricone, ‘I didn’t think about it as writing specifically for that kind of film. With reference to the American Westerns which were the available “models,” I wanted simply to use the idea of the escape to the prairie or desert and the expression of solitude. I wanted to put all this in music: isolated locations, a long way away from the noise and bustle of towns; I tried to re-create in my music this sense of wildness.’ This is why whistling–as an ‘expression of solitude’–seemed so appropriate .
3) The “Western mode”
The flavour of the major 6th in minor mode is one of the most used features in spaguetti western. It’s used both melodic and harmonically. For example, in the scale of C the “western mode” contains the notes C D Eb F G A/Ab Bb. The trick is to use the most major chords as possible (especially IIIM, IVM, VIM, VIIM). When we use major chords which don’t belong to the scale, the feeling is that they sound “more major” and more epic. We can take advantage of this trick, to evidence certain harmonic moments.
In my example, the first time we listen the main melody we are in Fm scale. We find the use of Db in bar 12 (DbM). A few bars later it apperars this special flavour of D natural as a 3 voice of BbM (IVM). It’s important to use this devices carefully, with elegance and not over-use this device.
4) Improvisation and extended techniques
Morricone was part of Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza (G.I.N.C.), a group of composers who performed and recorded avant garde free improvisations. The Rome-based avant-garde ensemble was dedicated to the development of improvisation and new music methods. The ensemble functioned as a laboratory of sorts, working with anti-musical systems and noise techniques in an attempt to redefine the new music ensemble and explore “New Consonance.” He used this approach of composition to his scores. So it’s a good practice in this genre, the use of extended techniques and conducted improvisation scores.