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 (

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.


How about playing a round?


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.]


What’s your first move?


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.


Have we already started talking about music?


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.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Paris Review

The Paris Review5 min read
Our Town and the Next Town Over
The author as a child, dressed as Oscar the Grouch. Every year it floods on three sides of our town. I do not know how any town could have floods on three sides, but there it is. My mom says it is because the very rich people who live on the lake to
The Paris Review11 min read
Voyage around My Cell
© Mathier / Adobe Stock. When I was eight my views on literature were precise and unshakable and my confidence in myself much greater than it is now. I had decided O. Henry was the world’s best author. During Prohibition, the folks who bought one of
The Paris Review9 min read
The Stuntwoman Named for a Continent
In the late summer of 1866 a Black equestrian stuntwoman made her Paris debut and galvanized the city. She was known only as “Sarah the African,” and history has left us few traces of her: just some battered posters, inky clippings and burlesque scri