The Paris Review

Ennio Morricone Plays Chess

Collage with modified images. Ennio Morricone photo: Gonzalo Tello. Chess photo: David Lapetina (CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)).

Ennio Morricone is responsible for some of the most recognizable soundtracks in cinema. He’s been the go-to composer for Sergio Leone, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Brian De Palma, and many others. He’s especially renowned for his spaghetti western themes, which helped establish the mood of the genre. In 2007, Morricone received an Academy Honorary Award, and in 2016, he won an Academy Award for Best Original Score, for The Hateful Eight. Here, he discusses one of his other great passions: chess.

ENNIO MORRICONE

How about playing a round?

INTERVIEWER

Rather than playing a game, you’ll have to teach me how to play the game.

[We pull out a very elegant chessboard, which Morricone keeps on a table in the living room of his home, where we are seated.]

INTERVIEWER

What’s your first move?

MORRICONE

I usually open with the queen, so I’ll probably start with her, although once the great chess player Stefano Tatai advised me to open on E4, which reminds me a lot of the figured bass.

INTERVIEWER

Have we already started talking about music?

MORRICONE

In a certain sense … In time, I’ve discovered that strong links exist between chess and the musical notation system, set up as it is in durations and pitches.

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