Following on from last Thursday’s blog post, today we have another of Morricone’s best-known compositions. “Man with a Harmonica” is from the soundtrack to Once Upon a Time in the West, a 1968 western film of the same name that was released in 1972. The film score sold about 10 million copies worldwide.
The soundtrack features leitmotifs that relate to each of the main characters of the movie as well as to the spirit of the American West. Film music composers often use leitmotifs to help build a sense of continuity. A leitmotif is a recurring musical idea (e.g. a melody, chord sequence, rhythm) which is associated with a particular idea, character or place. The composer often develops the leitmotifs during the film to match the action and mood of a scene. They could be altered by:
- changing the rhythm or pitch
- changing the instrumentation or accompaniment
- adding new material
- developing fragments of the idea
The harmonica, also known as a French harp or mouth organ, is a free reed wind instrument used in many musical genres, notably in blues, American folk music, classical music, jazz, country, and rock. It is played by using the lips and tongue to direct air into or out of one (or more) holes along a mouthpiece.
Listen out for the piece opening with a harmonica solo, followed by a menancing leitmotif played on electric guitar. A broken chord melodic ostinato accompanies, played by the horns and then violins.