A Few Words With Ennio Morricone

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Ennio Morricone became a fixture of global culture with his film music — but as a young composer, he was a radical.

Today at the Cannes Film Festival, attendees marked the 50th anniversary of the spaghetti western at a special screening of A Fistful of Dollars, the Sergio Leone classic that kick-started the genre. Leone's vision of the American West remains singular — and it's impossible to imagine without the iconic music of Ennio Morricone.

Morricone's music is inseperable from the emotional texture of an astonishingly diverse number of films: The Battle of Algiers, The Mission, The Thing, Cinema Paradiso and so many others. He's a fixture of the cultural landscape now, but as a young composer, Morricone was a radical. Long before the spaghetti westerns, he was working modern American sounds into his experimental ensemble, Il Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza — Il Gruppo for short.

Speaking from his house in Rome, the 85-year-old Morricone recently told NPR's Arun Rath that Il Gruppo's approach began as a joke: a collection of friends spoofing on the work of one of their contemporaries, John Cage. To learn how the gag evolved into an identity — and hear Morricone's best impression of the coyote howl from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly -- listen to their conversation at the audio link.

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