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Ennio Morricone’s Score for Once Upon a Time in the West (Part 1 of 3): Jill’s Theme (Main Theme) — 15 Comments

  1. Dear Mark,

    Thank you for yet another of your wonderful film music analyses. I have been following your site in the past months, and found so many interesting things about my favourite composers (Williams, Morricone) that are not available anywhere.

    You really should consider writing a history of film music, providing similar analysis of the best film scores, supporting it with sheet music excerpts (this is what other film music history books lack and what makes your site so unique).

    Another of my favourites from Morricone is his music for “A few dollars more”, the second part of the dollar trilogy. I hope you can devote some time to that film as well in the future.

    Has the Morricone book you mention sheet music excerpts?
    Or do you take your sheet music examples from some published anthology, or do you simply transcribe what you hear?

    All the best, keep up your wonderful blog,
    Karoly

    • Thank you, Karoly. Writing a book on film music is something I would very much like to do. It’s probably just a matter of time.

      For a Few Dollars More is a favourite of mine as well. I’ll put it on my “to do” list of recommendations I keep from readers.

      As for the musical excerpts, there is a great three-volume set of Morricone’s film music arranged for piano called The Best of Ennio Morricone, of which the first volume has the Once Upon a Time in the West themes. Unlike many anthologies, they’re very well done in that they avoid the “easy piano” temptation and go for a more intermediate level, leaving in just the right notes to make it sound like the film score. That said, I do take liberties with it if I feel I want it to be even closer to the original score or just want to emphasize different things. Sometimes, though, I don’t have a score, so I just use my ears to write what I hear, as in my recent Man of Steel post.

      Thanks again for your kind response.

      • Dear Mark,

        I am looking forward to your planned book about film music.

        As for Morricone, most of his westerns have some kind of piano transcriptions. But there is a comedy western, Occhio alla Penna (Buddy Goes West) (1981, ITA), whose music is my favourite of his scores, and yet I did not see any published piano version from this movie.
        I highly recommend that you listen to it. I would be interested in an analysis of this music as well.

        All the best,
        Karoly

        • Thanks, Karoly. I’ve put this other score on my to-do list as well. I didn’t find it in my Morricone piano collections either. Maybe in a future volume (let’s hope).

  2. I am pleasantly surprised by their insightful comments and analysis of the beautiful piece of Morricone. Please accept my congratulations from a Chilean musician.

    • @Julian: That’s an English horn. Its range is a fifth lower than the oboe and it has a warm, rich sound, perfect for lyrical melodies with long notes like this opening.

  3. Such a great analysis! I’m reading the three chapters since 2 days and love all the insight on Ennio’s music. You really helped putting some light on his method of composition. I’m waiting for the For a Few Dollars More analysis, I hope it’s still on your to do list ! Regards.

    • Thanks, Frank! I hope to do some more on Morricone in the future. Something I’ve always wanted to write about is the opening of Once Upon a Time in the West, which is done with sounds that Morricone “composed” rather than music.

  4. You mean, the 15 min opening sequence with the 3 men waiting for Harmonica? I didn’t know it was “composed” by Morricone! So, he did the sound designer job before it was ever invented! All the McBain family sequence after also seems very “sound designed”.
    I’ve been doing some Morricone music interpretation myself with a project called “Orgasmo Sonore – Revisiting Obscure Film Music”, but more with a modern rock approach. You can have a look here (3rd song is La Resa Dei Conti by Morricone)
    https://soundcloud.com/orgasmo-sonore
    Best,
    Frank

  5. Hi Mark, As an orchestral conductor I am frustrated as to how difficult it is to obtain the written music and orchestral scores. I desperately want to play the “Once upon a time in the west” music with my orchestra. Is there any way I can get an orchestral arrangement with score or just the score so I can fulfil my ambition to conduct this work. Can you help me please ? Would I be able to orchestrate from the Piano Book 1 which you mention (the best of morricone) as a last resort.

    • Hi Norman,
      Alas, orchestral scores of Morricone’s music have not been made commercially available, as far as I know. But at least the piano arrangements in the books I mention are quite good arrangements, and I could see them being arranged successfully with a good ear. It’s hard to know exactly what combination of sounds one is hearing with Morricone, though, because his orchestrations so often include unusual instruments to blend with orchestral ones. Like with Jill’s theme, it sounds like there’s a harpsichord with vibraphone and cello amongst other things. And does Cheyenne’s theme use coconut shells rather than temple blocks? I wouldn’t put it past him, but it’s hard to know. Sorry I can’t be of more help – I share your frustration. Hopefully one day we will start to see commercial releases of some of his scores.

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