The 90-year old celebrated composer Ennio Morricone, who has won countless awards for his more than 400 famous movie and television soundtracks, will receive an extra special honor this evening: a Pontifical Gold Medal.  

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, will present the award at 6pm this evening in the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, in Piazza Navona in Rome.

The Vatican told the Register April 15 that Pope Francis is giving him the Gold Medal of the Pontificate for his “extraordinary artistic work in the sphere of music, universal language of peace, solidarity and spirituality.” 

Morricone, a Rome native, is perhaps best known for his ‘Spaghetti Western’ film scores of the 1960s such as A Fistful of Dollars, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, and For a Few Dollars More.

But among Catholics, he is perhaps most famous for his soundtrack to the 1986 movie The Mission about Spanish Jesuit missionaries. The score became at one time the world’s bestselling movie soundtrack, selling over 3 million copies. 

In December, Morricone’s “Fourth Concert for organ, trumpets and orchestra” was performed, which is said to have “a strong spirituality.” 

And in 2015, he composed Missa Papae Francisci — his first Mass, dedicated to Pope Francis to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Society of Jesus. 

Morricone has said he and his wife Maria were thrilled to have met Pope Francis on one occasion in the past, but the Pope was not able to attend the performance of the Mass. 

 

Faith Scores

In an interview in 2009 for ZENIT, Morricone described himself to me as a “man of faith” but said his Catholicism did not inspire most of his composing. 

“I think of the music that I have to write — music is an abstract art,” he explained. “But of course, when I have to write a religious piece, certainly my faith contributes to it.”

He added that he has within him a “spirituality that I always retain in my writing,” but it’s not something he wills to be present, he simply feels it. 

“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 said.

He said he believes God helps him “write a good composition, but that’s another story.”

On liturgical music, Morricone said he was strongly opposed to having “guitars and popular songs.” 

“I don’t like it at all,” he said. “Gregorian Chant is a vital and important tradition of the Church and to waste this by having guys mix religious words with profane, Western songs is hugely grave, hugely grave.”

 

Award Concert

At the award ceremony this evening, the St. John Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach will be performed in his honor by the Roma Sinfonietta orchestra, part of a concert series organized by a former auxiliary bishop of Rome, Bishop Paolino Schiavon, now rector of the church.

The monumental work, involving six soloists, recounts the Passion and Death of Christ, taken from Chapters 18 and 19 of the Gospel of John. 

Before retiring this year, Morricone is to conduct a series of farewell concerts June 15-23, at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. 

Six planned dates were sold out in the first few days, prompting the organizers to add on an extra day.