Ennio Morricone, the Oscar-winning Italian composer best known for his immersive work on Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns, has died. A lawyer for Morricone confirmed to CNN that the composer died in a Rome hospital after falling and breaking his leg. He was 91.
The Maestro’s vast body of work encompasses more than 500 films, from the iconic likes of Leone’s The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables to less-reputable films like Alberto De Martino’s Holocaust 2000. He was especially prolific throughout the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, trading between low-budget Italian films and works by visionaries like Terrence Malick, Roland Joffe, and Giuseppe Tornatore.
A master at cultivating the kind of wordless tension needed in grim, dialogue-light Westerns, Morricone’s work could stir with climactic grandeur or shiver with the wail of a single instrument, be it a lone trumpet or oboe. He continually broadened his musical palette over the years, toying with rock, samba, and folk sounds while incorporating electric guitars, non-traditional instruments, and organic sounds like church bells, howls, chirps, gunshots, and, perhaps most memorably, whips and whistles.
In 2016, he won an Academy Award for Quentin Tarantino’s , his first proper Oscar after five previous nominations and, in 2007, an honorary award from the Academy, only the second ever given to a composer. In Italy, meanwhile, he won 11 David di Donatello Awards, the country’s highest film honor.
Born in Rome, Morricone grew up listening to his father, a professional musician, play the trumpet before learning the instrument himself and almost immediately penning his own compositions. From there, he built a career writing background music for radio dramas and composing songs for jazz and pop artists. And, though he worked as a ghostwriter on a number of scores in the ’50s, he made his proper debut as a film composer on Luciano Salce’s 1961 film The Fascist.
He and Leone’s first collaboration was 1964’s , and Leone would never work with another composer. “Gradually over time, he as a director and me as a composer, we improved and reached our best, in my opinion, in Once Upon A Time In America,” Morricone told the BBC in 2014.
“Both a refined and popular musician, he has left a deep mark in the history of music in the second part of the 20th century,” Italian President Sergio Mattarella said in a statement. “Through his soundtracks, he has greatly contributed in spreading and reinforcing Italy’s prestige around the world.”
As tends to happen with most artists of another generation, Morricone was vocal about his lack of interest in modern film scores. “The standard of composition for film has deteriorated. I have suffered a lot in watching many films because of that,” he said in a 2015 interview, noting an over-reliance on synthesizers. “Electronic instruments flatten everything. Maybe you can do everything with [them], but the result is quite similar-a kind of standardized music.”