Musical Gesture, Modality, and Dissonance in "L'Estasi dell'Oro" from Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo: Decoding Ennio Morricone's Micro-Cell Technique

Charles Leinberger, University of Texas at El Paso

Much has been written about Ennio Morricone's numerous contributions to film music. Unfortunately, many of these writings have not been very analytical in nature, owing to the fact that the vast majority of his film music manuscripts are not available for study at any archive anywhere in the world. Musicologist Sergio Miceli briefly mentions Ennio Morricone's micro-cell technique in his article in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (vol 17, p. 146). Miceli describes it as "a pseudo-serial approach often incorporating modal and tonal allusions, which, with its extreme reduction of compositional materials, has much in common with his film-music techniques." The composer has acknowledged that he did in fact use this technique in his music for Sergio Leone's 1966 film Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo, but he has politely declined to explain this technique in any detail. Although its role in his compositional process may remain somewhat of a mystery, it is the intention of the current research to describe the resulting characteristics of this technique as evident in the cue "L'Estasi dell'Oro." This presentation will begin with a brief explanation of the composer's use of a six-note scale, from which he derives the three-note "micro-cell" used in "L'Estasi dell'Oro," along with several relevant recognizable gestures (rhythmic, harmonic, and timbral) that occur throughout the film score.