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5 Great sacred music works by Ennio Morricone

Gonzalo Tello - CC BY-SA 2.0

J-P Mauro - published on 07/07/20

The late Italian composer's Catholic faith was often sourced for his beautiful scores.

The great Italian composer Ennio Morricone has passed away at the age of 91. The prolific film composer’s exceptional compositions have set the mood for more than 500 films over his 70-year career. For perspective, John Williams is probably the most famous American composer of all time, but for all of his blockbuster hits, his body of work is only a fifth of the size of Morricone’s.

Although his music was primarily focused on his work for the film industry, Morricone drew on his Catholic faith in creating works of sacred music, which are found in many of his films. In a 2009 interview with Edward Pentin of Zenit, Morricone stated:

“I think of the music that I have to write — music is an abstract art,” he explains. “But of course, when I have to write a religious piece, certainly my faith contributes to it.” He went on to add, “As a believer, this faith is probably always there, but it’s for others to realize it, musicologists and those that analyze not only the pieces of music but also have an understanding of my nature, and the sacred and the mystical,” he explains. However, he says he believes that God helps him “write a good composition, but that’s another story.”

Ennio’s musical style seems to have revolved around his faith, touching on Catholic themes without drawing attention away from the movies they accompany. This in turn gives his work evangelical value, in that the music exposes listeners to traditional Catholic musical elements they might not otherwise have heard.

So let’s take a look at some of the best sacred music from the esteemed Italian composer.

1. “The Mission Theme” (1986)

The main theme of the 1986 film The Mission, loosely based on the life of St. Roque González de Santa Cruz, is an excellent example of the way Morricone could meld sacred music with the familiar style of film scores. The chorus of voices is strong at the beginning, but it weaves in and out of the orchestration throughout the piece. This gives the feeling of a sacred presence even throughout the high energy “action” music in the second half.

2. “Our Father” (The Mission, 1986)

We’re double dipping on The Mission, because Morricone also wrote this beautiful arrangement of the Lord’s Prayer  While it was composed for a film, this is a true example of sacred music, which takes prayers and scripture and sets them to melodies, most commonly hymns, but also including works for full-scale orchestras.

3. “Stabat Mater” (Il Sorriso Del Grande Tentatore, 1975)

For the 1975 Italian film “Il Sorriso Del Grande Tentatore,” which takes place in a hospital run by a nun, Ennio wrote this gorgeous arrangement of the Stabat Mater, a 13th-century hymn to Mary as she stands at the foot of the cross. This is a work that all the greatest composers have arranged, and Morricone shows a great deal of flexibility, as this glorious hymn pops up in the midst of standard film score fare.

4. Alleluja, Alleluja (Giordano Bruno, 1973)

Written for the biopic of philosopher Giordano Bruno, this beautiful hymn would sound great in a church, but it might take a seasoned choir for stronger sections.

5. Missa Papae Francisci (2014)

Every great composer worth his salt has to arrange a Catholic Mass, and Ennio did so in 2014 to honor Pope Francis’s elevation to the papacy, as well as to honor all Jesuits, whom Morricone held in high regard. The Mass was also dedicated to his wife, who had been encouraging him to write a Mass for several decades.

Catholic Music
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