Funeral Held in Rome for Composer Ennio Morricone

The Oscar-winning film composer, who died Monday at age 91, declared himself “Catholic without hesitation.”

Ennio Morricone conducts an orchestra in the Paul VI Audience Hall at a concert on Nov. 12, 2016, at the Vatican.
Ennio Morricone conducts an orchestra in the Paul VI Audience Hall at a concert on Nov. 12, 2016, at the Vatican. (photo: Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

ROME — A very private funeral for the popular film-score composer Ennio Morricone took place yesterday evening in Rome, the same day he died at the age of 91.

According to Morricone’s wishes, his soundtrack to the 1986 movie The Mission — a composition to which he was particularly attached — was played as the priest blessed the body, the Italian news agency Adnkronos reported. Only family and his closest friends were present.

Born in the former working-class Trastevere district of Rome, Morricone died on Monday in a Rome hospital where he had been admitted days earlier with a fractured femur. His lawyer said he died “with the comfort of faith.”

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, described the Italian Oscar-winning composer of soundtracks for more than 500 movies as someone who “declared himself Catholic without hesitation” and had a “very deep and convinced faith, with some innocent questions.”

In an interview with the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire on Tuesday, the cardinal recalled awarding Morricone the Pontifical Gold Medal last year in recognition of his work. The composer asked for the award ceremony to take place in the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone in Piazza Navona, during a performance of Bach’s St. John Passion.

“He was very moved,” Cardinal Ravasi said. “On that occasion, he told me, ‘Let’s hope they won’t put on great celebrations for my death.’” In his will, reports said he had made it clear that he did “not wish [his funeral] to be a bother.”

“He was an extremely simple man. He would speak only about what was essential, but he sought out the best — he had a strong sense of beauty,” Cardinal Ravasi said.

In a 2015 interview with the Italian Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana, Morricone spoke at length about of his Catholic upbringing and his faith.

“I come from a Christian family. My faith was born in a family. My grandparents were very religious. With my mother and sisters, we always prayed before going to bed,” he recalled.

During the “terrible years” of the Second World War, he said the family would pray the Rosary. “We were all very affected,” he said. “I recall myself sleepily responding to the Hail Marys of my mother. We were always religious.”

Morricone was also deeply affected by the death of his brother Aldo at only 3 years of age. He said in another interview that he tried to make “life more beautiful in order to help decipher the mystery.”

His faith continued into adulthood, but with a greater emphasis on the Church’s social doctrine. He said a believing man reveals himself as an “honest, selfless person, respectful of God and neighbor.” In short, he said it is about “loving others, even if the word loving may seem strong, but it is so. This is important.” Morricone also spoke of the willingness to sacrifice, of being generous, and loving “others as you love yourself.”

He also remained intensely devotional.

“I pray one hour a day, sometimes more. It's the first thing I do,” he told Famiglia Cristiana. “Even during the day in some cases. In the morning I stop in front of this Christ [he pointed to an image of Jesus present in the living room], and also in the evening. I hope my prayers are heard.”

In an interview with the Register in 2009, Morricone said his faith did not inspire his compositions, but he nevertheless saw music as the “only true art that truly brings us closer to the eternal Father and eternity.” He added in the interview with Famiglia Cristiana that he believed all the music that has been written and will be written “already existed, all of it!” Music already exists, he said, “even if it isn’t there.”

He also said he had not consciously thought of his movie compositions as spiritual or sacred music until a fellow director, Luciano Salce, said he wished to remain friends but would have to stop working with Morricone professionally, as Salce made comic films.

“The episode marked me a lot,” Morricone recalled. “Thanks to him I started to think about it. Sometimes I probably express sacredness even when I don’t look for it or think about it. I’m also not talking about inspiration, which doesn’t exist. I speak of ideas. I am perhaps a platform that leads to these outcomes.”

Although he said in 2009 he had not written a Mass and expressed no wish to do so, he eventually composed one in 2015, a Missa Papae Francisci — a Mass in honor of Pope Francis — for the bicentenary of the Society of Jesus. He had wished for it to be performed in St. Peter’s Basilica with the Pope present, but it was deemed too long and impractical, according to Cardinal Ravasi, and so it took place instead in the Jesuit Church of the Gesù in Rome.

Morricone was known to be very close to his family — his children Giovanni, Marco, Alessandra and Andrea, and his Sicilian-born wife Maria, whom he was devoted to, in a marriage lasting 70 years.

“She was friends with my sister Adriana,” he said in another interview with Corriere della Sera. “I immediately liked her very much. But she liked me less.” After Maria was involved in a car accident, which caused “great suffering,” Morricone stayed close to her and she fell in love with him. “In love, as in art, constancy is everything,” he said. “I don't know if there is love at first sight, or supernatural intuition. I do know that tenacity, consistency, seriousness, duration exist. And, of course, loyalty. The fact is that we got engaged.”

Asked how he remained with his wife for 70 years, he smiled: “The question must be asked of my wife; she has been very good at putting up with me. Living with someone who does my job is not easy — military precision, strict schedules, whole days without seeing anyone.” 

He added: “I am a demanding guy, first of all with myself and consequently with those around me. Otherwise the results don’t come. Success certainly comes from talent but even more from work, experience and, I repeat, from loyalty — to one’s art as to one’s woman. I have given myself the rule of giving my best, always, even if you don’t always succeed.”


Pope Francis made a “short, affectionate phone call” to Morricone’s widow Maria on Wednesday afternoon, to comfort her and assure her that he would pray for him, Italian media reported on July 9. The Pope also expressed his closeness to Morricone's family. The two spoke for a few minutes, the reports said. 

In an interview last year on his 90th birthday, Morricone said he had cried twice in his life: when watching The Mission for the first time, and on meeting Pope Francis.

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