Spanning a two-year period, this collection of themes from three films scored by Ennio Morricone between 1968-1969 sharply illustrates the composer's daring use of elements from avant garde, classical, and pop music each score.
In the case of Teorema (1968), the first two cues are best described as free-form chamber, with a few string instruments, clarinet, separate groups of male and female wordless vocals, marimba, and harpsichord reconfigured in revolving bursts of recitatives; each break is characterized by arching 4- and 5-note patterns, initially performed by individual instruments that blend into thicker instrumental pairings.
What's fascinating about the Teorema cues is how the loosely performed thematic arch in the chamber versions becomes the main melodic line in “Fruscio de foglie Verdi (cantata),” a bopping rock tune with soothing vocals patterned after a Gregorian chant.
The seemingly disjointed pauses and high note arches by strings in the chamber cues are compacted into singular harpsichord accents in “Fruscio,” just before a hard bass drum hit signals a vocal herald and lyrics, enhanced by a whooshing wind sound effect. There's a short instrumental solo before the cue winds down, but “Fruscio” again demonstrates Morricone's ballsy use of transgressing idioms (chamber, experimentalism, and rock) while retaining the basic structure of a third idiom (a Gregorian chant).
The fourth cue, “L'ultima corrida,” is Spanish-flavoured in 3/3, with castanets, male and female vocals, and trumpet solos flipping between a familiar spaghetti western delivery and jazz off-beats, with a rock-styled electric guitar carrying some solo material. Rock also dominates “Beat N. 3,” but it's the weakest cue of the quintet only because it's a generic instrumental with electric guitar and drums, and lacks the sparkling idiomatic collisions of the preceding cues.
Like Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), La stagione dei sensi (1969) is an unstable collage of styles, beginning with two bopping rock vocals, “Gloria” and “Tel Me Tell Me” (plus its Italian equivalent, “Laila Laila,” both belted out by an enraged Patrick Samson), the Bossa Nova tinged “Una voce allo specchio” (in an instrumental plus wordless vocal version, with Edda dell'Orso), and the gentle “Sospendi il Tempo” (with silky, hesitant vocals by dell'Orso, backed by a strings, brass, and coarsely sustained chords on electric guitar).
The most intriguing cues are “Dinamica per 5+1,” where Morricone flips back to his fetish for squealing muted trumpet and plucked bass for some dreamy, ambient weirdness, goosed with pulsing chords from a metallic organ; and “Sytar,” which foreshadows the mournful tone of Frantic (1988), wherein improvised bass notes (here performed on sitar) skitter above strained, intersecting chords played by strings and banks of brass.
The third and final represented score, Vergogna schifosi (1969) also begins with a vocal track, featuring discombobulated phrases sung by I Cantora Moderni di Alessandroni, and wordless accompaniment by Edda dell'Orso. “Matto, Caldo, Soldi… Girotondo” is bizarro tune where the words are sung in and out of order, punctuated by half and full pronunciations of “Girotondo.”
Solo incantations by a female vocalist mimic a kind of pseudo-Japanese phrasing, and the singer constantly switches to differing renditions; some are playful, impatient, sexual, or border between a strained whisper with heavy sibilance that evoke a peculiar unease within a looped, child-like sing-song structure – a quality more typical of Morricone's giallo soundtracks. The cue reappears in two variations: “Ninna Nanna Per Adultu,” characterized as a tinkling, lighthearted version with smoother vocals; and “Una spiaggia a mezzogiorno,” with wordless vocals by dell'Orso.
The remaining cues are a waltz (the breezy, easy listening “Un altro mare,” with its clipped female vocals), and a recap of the main theme. This final theme rendition actually subjugates the vocals – they're far less overt in their sing-song delivery – in favour of selective orchestra instruments. Besides a longer running time, the cue's opening is of note because of its slow build and scaled back orchestration which collectively remind one of the cue “Eternity,” from John Carpenter's The Thing (1982). It's sounds a bit far-fetched, but Morricone is so massively prolific, one can sometimes find small snippets of ideas that became leading components of later scores (which in this case, involves a five-note pattern on keyboards, contrasted by long-held notes by unsettled strings).
One could find the tonal shifts within each score a bit schizophrenic, but together they form another snapshot of where Morricone's mind was at the cusp of his bonkers period: in 1969, he's credited with scoring 25 feature and TV productions after having already scored the most definitive spaghetti westerns before 1970, numerous sexploitation flicks, compact war dramas, and closing an influential association with Guppo di improvvisazione nuova consonanza from 1967-1969.
Fin de siecle's source materials are in good shape, with Teorema the most dynamic and full, and also free from some minor hot level distortion present in the latter two scores. John Bender's liner notes are appropriately laudatory, and the original graphic art from each film has been nicely integrated into the digipack layout.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan