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. In chess, the two dimensions remain spatial, and time is what players have at their disposal in order to make the right move. In addition there are horizontal and vertical combinations, different graphic patterns, just like musical notes in harmony. Even still, one can pair patterns and plays as if they were instrumental parts in an orchestra. The player who doesn’t start—who has been assigned black chess pieces—has ten moves to choose from, before it is again the opponent’s turn—white chess pieces. The number of possible moves then grows exponentially with the following plays. This makes me think about counterpoint. There are analogies between the two disciplines—if one is interested in looking for them—and progress in one field oftentimes is linked to progress in the other. It is not by chance that mathematicians and musicians are generally among the best chess players. Take Mark Taimanov—an exceptional pianist and chess player—Jean-Philippe Rameau, Sergei Prokofiev, John Cage, my friends Aldo Clementi and Egisto Macchi. Chess is related to mathematics and mathematics is related to music, as Pythagoras claimed. And this is all the more true for the kind of music Clementi composed, a music substantively based on tone rows, numbers, and combinations … the same key elements as in chess.
Ultimately, music, chess, and mathematics are all creative activities. They rely on graphical and logical procedures that also involve probability and the unexpected. Read More