Even if the name's unfamiliar, you'll have heard the man's music.
No, seriously. Go to IMDB. Just perform a cursory scan of the ridiculously long list of films he's been attached to. You will have watched one of those films, if only by accident.
Ennio Morricone (10 November 1928 — 6 July 2020) was an Italian composer, musician, and conductor. His prolific output stems from the fact that when it comes to genre he was not particularly picky (although he's best-known for his contribution to the Spaghetti Western and many collaborations with Sergio Leone). Rather than list people he's influenced, it would just be quicker to list people he hasn't. He's been sampled and covered by artists ranging from John Zorn to Jay-Z. Everybody tends to form an orderly line in order to heap superlatives on him.
A lifelong Rome resident and classically trained musician, Morricone began studying at the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia at age 12. Advised to study composition, Morricone also specialized in playing trumpet and supported himself by playing in a jazz band and working as an arranger for Italian radio and TV after he graduated. Morricone subsequently became a top studio arranger at RCA Records, working with such stars as Mario Lanza and Chet Baker. Well-versed in a variety of musical idioms from his RCA experience, Morricone began composing film scores in the early '60s. Though his first films were undistinguished, Morricone's arrangement of an American folk song intrigued director (and former schoolmate) Sergio Leone. Leone hired Morricone and together they created a distinctive score to accompany Leone's different version of the Western, A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Rather than orchestral arrangements of Western standards à la John Ford — budget strictures limited Morricone's access to a full orchestra regardless — Morricone used gunshots, cracking whips, voices, Sicilian folk instruments, trumpets, and the new Fender electric guitar to punctuate and comically tweak the action, cluing in the audience to the taciturn man's ironic stance. Though sonically bizarre for a movie score, Morricone's music was viscerally true to Leone's vision. As memorable as Leone's close-ups, harsh violence, and black comedy, Morricone's work helped to expand the musical possibilities of film scoring.
Astoundingly, Morricone had no issues scoring films and touring the world in his late 80s, even conducting his music live. Unfortunately, he suffered a fall which broke his femur, and he died at age 91 from complications shortly after being hospitalized.
Significant works include soundtracks for:
- A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Credited as Leo Nichols or Dan Savio on most prints.
- For a Few Dollars More (1965)
- The Hawks and the Sparrows (1966)
- Navajo Joe (1966). Credited as Leo Nichols.
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
- The Battle of Algiers (1966)
- Operation Double 007 (1967) (yes, THAT Operation Double 007)
- Danger: Diabolik (1968) (yes, THAT Danger: Diabolik)
- A Fine Pair (1968)
- Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
- Hornets' Nest (1970)
- Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970). His main theme from this film is also used in the "pony riding" scene from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
- The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
- The Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)
- A Fistful of Dynamite (1971). This is Ennio Morricone at his most "trippy" — complete with an ear worm about "Sean" which may or may not, cause you to try and tear your hair out...
- Allonsanfàn (1974). Perhaps one of the lesser known films the soundtrack of which was reprised in Inglourious Basterds.
- Buddy Goes West (1981). His last western soundtrack before The Hateful Eight, 34 years later.
- Le Professionnel (1981)
- The Thing (1982). Where he imitates John Carpenter's composing style so well, that many mistakenly think Carpenter did the score.
- White Dog
- Once Upon a Time in America (1984). Which Sergio Leone himself considered, the finest work Morricone had ever done for him. Unfortunately, it was the victim of a particularly aggravating Award Snub, when the paperwork to submit it for an Oscar nomination, wasn't filled out properly.
- Red Sonja (1985)
- The Mission (1986)
- The Untouchables (1987)
- Cinema Paradiso (1988)
- Django Unchained (2012). Features several of his older works, but he also did one original piece for it, "Ancora Qui."
- The Best Offer (2013)
- The Hateful Eight (2015). His first western score in 34 years, and one of the few times Quentin Tarantino has trusted one of his films to be scored with original music. Some of the unused tracks he did for The Thing (1982) also show up. He won a Golden Globe and Academy Award for it.
Works with soundtracks consisting heavily of recycled Morricone:
- Red Dead Revolver (2004)
- Inglourious Basterds (2009). Morricone originally agreed to do the score, but had to bow out, due to conflicts with his workload; Quentin Tarantino wound up filling the soundtrack with Morricone pieces, originally written for other films.