obituary

Ennio Morricone, The Sound Of The American West, Dies At 91

The iconic score to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: This is the sound of the American West, at least filtered through the ears of an Italian — specifically, composer Ennio Morricone. He was a giant in the world of film scores who wrote the music for more than 500 movies.

Morricone died Monday in Rome at the age of 91. The Italian cultural ministry confirmed his death in a statement that called him “a musician of refined skill who with his melodies has been able to excite and make the whole world dream.”

When Morricone wrote a score for a Western, he used sneaky tricks to make those evocative sounds, like whistles, animal calls, creaks, gunshots and groans. And his most famous sound?

“I used a coyote howl: Aie-aie-aaah. That is the theme of the film,” Morricone told NPR in 2014.

Morricone worked closely with directors to create a new kind of score. Dialogue was often minimal; instead, the soundtrack did the talking.

Historian Christopher Frayling wrote a book about the Italian Westerns. He told NPR in 2007 that the composer — and the directors he worked with — wanted to infuse those films with, among other things, a sense of humor.

“They wanted something that was much more hip, much more related to pop,” Frayling said. “So it’s Italian folk instruments plus rock music of the mid-1960s, and it was an astonishingly raucous, noisy sound.”

The creator of that sound was born in Rome in 1928. Ennio Morricone began writing music at the age of six, and never stopped. In the mid 1960s, he discovered the contemporary music scene in Italy and joined a collective called Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza that was influenced by John Cage‘s avant-garde experimentation.

“As a joke I called these friends of mine,” Morricone told NPR. “And I started telling them to do kind of a sound like groans or very strange sounds, and I started conducting them. And I also did sounds myself.”

From that early experience, Morricone was off and running toward one of the most celebrated film-scoring careers of all time. It began with Il Federale in 1961 and continued through his collaborations with director Sergio Leone on a famous series of Westerns that included A Fistful of Dollars; For a Few Dollars More; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; and Once Upon a Time in the West. But that wasn’t all he did.

Some of his best-known scores included the political drama The Battle of Algiers; Brian de Palma’s take on 1930s gangsters, The Untouchables; The Mission, about a Jesuit priest in South America; and Cinema Paradiso, about a young boy growing up after World War II with a love of movies.

Frayling had a chance to meet the choirmaster who worked on another Morricone film and asked what words the choir was actually singing. “He said, ‘I can’t remember,’ ” Frayling recounted. ” ‘They’re just sounds, you know, and the human voice is used as another musical instrument.’ “

But while the words might have been imprecise, the maestro’s hand still guided every aspect of the production. Many film composers write the music, and then hand the score off to someone else to orchestrate. But Morricone insisted on being part of each step in the process.

“Because a real composer has to take care of all his music,” Morricone told NPR. “And those who actually just write the melody and then hand it on to someone else are not. To me, they’re not real composers.”

This attention to detail paid off. Between 1979 and 2001, Morricone was nominated for six Academy Awards, and he was presented with an honorary Oscar in 2007.

He finally won the best original score prize outright in 2016 for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, but none of it seemed to go to his head. He told NPR that he didn’t think of himself as having created that iconic world of the Wild West.

“I understand and I know that a movie kind of belongs to a director,” he said. “So what I do is follow him. What I think I have done is specified, and made clearer, what the characters were feeling.”

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krzysztof Penderecki, Boundary-Breaking Polish Composer, Dies At 86

By Tom Huizenga

Krzysztof Penderecki, one of the world’s leading composers, died Sunday at the age of 86. The Polish Ministry of Affairs announced his passing in a tweet. No cause of death was given.

The Polish-born composer established himself while still in his 20s with jarring atonal works such as Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, and came to be widely admired by music fans and musicians far outside traditional classical music circles.

Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood noted the passing of one of his idols on Twitter, “Penderecki was the greatest – a fiercely creative composer, and a gentle, warm-hearted man” he wrote Sunday. “My condolences to his family, and to Poland on this huge loss to the musical world.”

Untold numbers of people are familiar with Penderecki’s music – perhaps without knowing it – thanks to films such as Shutter Island and especially The Shining, the Stanley Kubrick thriller that included the compositions Polymorphia and The Awakening of Jacob to frightening effect.

While Penderecki found instant fame with Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, an avant-garde piece for 52 strings from 1960, he later broadened his compositional style to embrace tonality. In works like the Second Symphony (“Christmas Symphony”) and the violin concerto called Metamorphosen, he displayed a singular post-romantic palette of orchestral colors.

The concerto was written for violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, who premiered a number of the composer’s works. Mutter, writing on Facebook Sunday, lamented the loss of a friend and a composer whose music was more than just a vehicle for world premieres.

“The loss of Krzysztof Penderecki leaves a huge void in my heart as well as an enormous one for all musicians and music lovers around the globe,” she wrote. “The premiere of his “Recordare” in September 1984 in Stuttgart was a life changing experience for me. His violin concert “Metamorphosis” became my life line during the terminal illness and death of my husband in 1995.”

Greenwood, who released an album in 2012 that paired his own Penderecki-influenced compositions with those of the Polish composer, told NPR last year that he first encountered Penderecki’s music in college. “I saw him doing these very peculiar sounds, and it was all notated on paper. And yet an orchestra turned it into a strange, otherworldly collection of textures. And I loved it. And then when I saw it live, I really loved it. It was 100 times better than the recordings, and I’ve been obsessed ever since.” Greenwood acknowledges that some of his orchestral music, especially his celebrated score for the film There Will Be Blood, was inspired by Penderecki.

He said that to be properly appreciated, Penderecki’s music must be heard live to catch all of the subtlety. “When you listen to those recordings of Penderecki you just associate it with horror films and you think it’s loud and abrasive and grating,” Greenwood said. “But in the room it’s actually very colorful and quiet and it’s a magical experience.”

Penderecki was born Nov. 23, 1933, in Dębica, some 200 miles south of Warsaw. He studied composition in Kraków, where his earliest works won awards from the Union of Polish composers. By the time he was in his late 20s, Penderecki was already recognized as one of the rising champions of avant-garde music. Threnody was given a UNESCO award, while later works, such as the St. Luke Passion won Westphalia and Italia prizes and the Fourth Symphony earned Penderecki the Grawemeyer Award.

The composer launched his career as a conductor in 1972 when he led the London Symphony Orchestra (at Abbey Road studios) and the Polish National Symphony Orchestra in celebrated EMI recordings of seven of his most popular early pieces, including Fonogrammi, Anaklasis and De Natura Sonoris No. 1. His role as a teacher broadened over the years as he accepted guest residencies in Germany in the 1960s and at Yale University in the ’70s.

In his music, Penderecki has confronted politics, religion, social injustice and the plight of the common man. In 1980, the year that the trade union Solidarity was formed, Penderecki composed a Lacrimosa for the unveiling of a memorial in Gdańsk, erected to commemorate those killed in the 1970 shipyard riots, when Poland was under Soviet rule. The piece for soprano, orchestra and chorus later became part of another major work, the Polish Requiem, which contained music in tribute to Cardinal Wyszyński and Father Kolbe (who gave his life for another in Auschwitz).

With his early, avant-garde pieces Penderecki told interviewer Bruce Duffie in 2000 that he wasn’t writing for an audience, but that he later changed his mind. Music, the composer said, “it’s just communication with people, because that’s the only way I can communicate easily. This is my profession. But those pieces in the ’60s were played and I found an audience, and I found that people were interested in this music. So I think it’s very important writing music which somebody understands.”

Along with his wife of more than five decades, Elzbieta, Penderecki is survived by a son and two daughters.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Soprano Mirella Freni, Dies at 84

Pictured: Mirella Freni By Unknown (Mondadori Publishers), Public Domain.

One of the truly great singers of her generation, an artist who honored the lyric soprano repertory with standard-setting performances in nearly every role she sang, Mirella Freni was a level-headed, unpretentious woman who seemed singularly unaffected by her extraordinary acclaim. In a career of fifty years, she conquered audiences, colleagues and critics but had no enemies; her sovereign charm, directness and sincerity made everyone rejoice in her success. Read complete article at Opera News

Sir Stephen Cleobury, Former Music Director of King’s College, Cambridge, has Died

King’s College, Cambridge, announced that they learned Sir Stephen Cleobury died on Friday, November 22, 2019, following a long illness. Cleobury was well known for being the music director for the famed King’s College, Cambridge, choir for 37 years.

Read more about Cleobury’s life from King’s College and see an online book of condolences.

Pictured: Combination works of Stephen Cleobury By VocalEssence Ensemble Singers, CC BY-SA 2.0; and Choir stalls and Great Organ, viewed from the east end, at King’s College Chapel By Jean-Christophe BENOIST – Own work, CC BY 3.0.

Conductor and Composer Raymond Leppard – A Champion Of The Old And The New – Has Died

Pioneering British-born conductor, harpsichordist, composer and scholar Raymond Leppard has died. He was 92 years old. With full-bodied performances matched by pioneering scholarship, Leppard helped reintroduce audiences to 16th-century Italian masterpieces by composers including Claudio Monteverdi. But Leppard was also very much a man of his time: he championed — and wrote — contemporary works for both stage and screen.

His death was announced by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, where he was Music Director and Conductor Laureate from 1987 to 2001.

Born in London Aug. 11, 1927 and raised in Bath, Leppard first entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1945 on a choral scholarship, and then joined the Royal Air Force to perform his military service. Three years later, he reentered Trinity, where he studied harpsichord and viola and also began conducting regularly. In 1953, he made his professional debut at Wigmore Hall in London — conducting his own group, the Leppard Chamber Orchestra.

Soon, he became known for his performances of Baroque and Classical-era music, often conducting, in period style, from the harpsichord; he also started writing musical scores to accompany performances of Shakespeare’s plays. (In 1962, he became music adviser to the Shakespeare Memorial Theater in Stratford-upon-Avon.) In 1959, he made his debut at Covent Garden with a production of Handel’s opera Samson, and soon created performance editions of Monteverdi’s landmark opera L’Incoronazione di Poppea and operas by the Italian Baroque composer Francesco Cavalli. Through this work, Leppard became one of the foremost champions of music that had gone dormant for the previous three centuries — and brought these works back to contemporary audiences.

He also became closely associated with the English Chamber Orchestra, and served as principal conductor of the BBC Philharmonic between 1973 and 1980.

But he was very much a modern artist as well. He composed the music for several films, including the 1963 adaptation of Lord of the Flies directed by Peter Brook. And he conducted 20th-century works by other composers, including Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd at the Metropolitan Opera, a revival of Virgil Thomson’s The Mother of Us All at Santa Fe Opera and the world premiere of Nicholas Maw’s Rising of the Moon at England’s Glyndbourne Festival.

Leppard moved to the U.S. in 1976, and served as music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and as principal guest conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra between 1984 and 1990. He also appeared with many of the world’s top international orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Boston Symphony, the BBC Symphony and the Israel Philharmonic. He collaborated with such top soloists as violinist Yehudi Menuhin, English mezzo-soprano Janet Baker, and guitarist Julian Bream.

A Grammy Award winner, Leppard made some 200 recordings for such labels as EMI, Decca, and CBS, including one of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis’ benchmark album Baroque Music for Trumpets. Queen Elizabeth II made him a Commander of the British Empire in 1983.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Opera Singer Jessye Norman Dies At 74

Updated at 6:40 p.m. ET

Opera singer Jessye Norman died Monday morning at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital in New York. The official cause of death was septic shock and multi-organ failure secondary to complications of a spinal cord injury she had sustained in 2015. She was 74.

Her death was confirmed to NPR by a spokesperson for her family, Gwendolyn Quinn, as well as a representative from The Jessye Norman School of the Arts.

Norman was one of the leading opera figures in the world in a time when there were fewer celebrated African Americans than now. The soprano won four Grammys and the National Medal of Arts.

Norman is survived by a brother and sister, James Norman and Elaine Sturkey, who released a statement saying they are proud of her musical achievements and, “We are equally proud of her humanitarian endeavors addressing matters such as hunger, homelessness, youth development, and arts and culture education.”

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.