Dramatic Vocalise Database

Morricone, Ennio (b. 1928)

A Fistful of Dollars [Per un pugno di dollari] (1964)

“Of all the film’s accomplishments, the most innovative was the soundtrack and Ennio Morricone’s groundbreaking composition is still popular today. In 1965 it won the Italian Film Journalists’ Silver Ribbon for ‘Best Score’. Morricone had been at school with Leone (at the Institute of Saint Juan Baptiste de la Salle) and became a pop-song arranger in the early sixties, having graduated from the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome. Morricone maintains that he drifted into film-scoring: ‘I thought a filmmaker must call me because he thinks what I write is fine . . . so it happened that a director called me, then another, and another’. He scored some of the earliest spaghettis, including Gunfight at Red Sands (1963) and Pistols Don’t Argue (1964), but Leone wasn’t keen on Morricone’s previous scores. Morricone had prepared an arrangement of Woody Guthrie’s folk song ‘Pastures of Plenty’ (‘To pastures of plenty, from dry desert ground. We come with the dust and are gone—with the wind’) with Peter Tevis on vocals. Leone liked this much better. The arrangement used a variety of whip-cracks (like Frankie Laine’s title songs to Rawhide and Bullwhip) and electric guitar lines, strung along a repetitive acoustic guitar riff. Morricone removed Tevis’s vocals and rearranged the piece in collaboration with Leone.” 1

Woody Guthrie, “Pastures of Plenty” sung by Peter Tevis, arranged by Ennio Morricone

Morricone put much more effort into his work for Leone, so that every scene has a different composition (or variation on a theme), with the melody taken by a whistler, guitar, harmonica or flute. Other composers simply reused the same main theme over again. Consequently, Morricone’s soundtrack albums contain a small proportion of the music recorded and sometimes pieces that don’t appear in the film at all.” 2



Opening Credits

Ennio Morricone is listed in the opening credits under the pseudonym “Dan Savio.”

Fistful’s main theme is structured like a pop song. A whistler takes the ‘verse’ melody, while a guitar leads the ‘chorus’. After the first verse, which is simply the whistler accompanied by an acoustic guitar, a series of sound effects (whiplashes, gunshots and bells) are incorporated, along with the Alessandroni Singers chanting ‘We defy’ and ‘With the wind’ (from ‘Pastures of Plenty’). Alessandro Alessandroni, the leader of the choir named I Cantori Moderni (The Modern Singers), also provided the guitar playing and whistling on the track. This extraordinary sound, coupled with Lardani’s title sequence, make for a startling beginning to the movie. Whining ricochets herald Clint Eastwood’s name, while animated action scenes from the film (an effect called rotoscope) play in silhouette in the background.” 3

“Joe” Calls Out Don Miguel Rojo and Kills Some Baxters

First appearance of the “Theme from A Fistful of Dollars” in the soundtrack of the movie.

Riding to the River, A Massacre, and Stealing the Gold

Title Music accompanies “Joe” and Silvanito as they ride to the river.

The Baxters Prepare for a Truce with the Rojos

Reappearance of the “Theme from A Fistful of Dollars”. Plaintive solo English horn with wordless chorus added at the end.

The Baxters and the Rojos Ride to the Cemetery

Title Music accompanies the Baxters as they ride to the Cemetery, followed by the “Theme from A Fistful of Dollars” as the Rojos prepare to ride out to meet them. “Joe” stays behind and sneaks back into the Rojo compound accompanied in the soundtrack by a recapitulation of the Title Music, this time with melody played on an arghilofono [bass ocarina].

Scene Change and Hostage Exchange

Chorus section of Title Music briefly used for a scene change, followed by the “Theme from A Fistful of Dollars” as Marisol is traded for one of the Baxter family.

“Joe” Trashes the Small House of the Rojos

Scene change accompanied by a modified version of the Title Music.

As “Joe” trashes the house “The Chase,” a melody derived from the Title Music, designated as such on the soundtrack recording, plays in the background. This is followed by the plaintive “Theme from A Fistful of Dollars,” then once again “The Chase”/Title Music.

The Rojos Search for “Joe”

Rhythmically elongated version of the Title Music melody in the wordless male chorus with differing accompanimental musical figures as the Rojo gang tries to find “Joe.”

Ramon Rojo Lights a Bomb/“Joe” Slips Out of Town in a Coffin

Begins with an atonal quasi-dirge played by strings alone.

A brief snipet of “The Chase” played as the fuse Ramon lights burns.

Testing the Bullet-Proof Vest

“Theme from A Fistful of Dollars” once more as “Joe” tests an iron plate that he will later use as a bullet-proof vest.

Final Showdown

“Theme from A Fist Full of Dollars” for the final showdown.

Morricone uses a piano riff, drums and flute trills to accentuate the stranger’s actions and dialogue, while the other important theme is the slow trumpet piece played by Michele Lacerenza (backed by the choir and a strummed guitar). Subsequently much copied and owing plenty to the trumpet-led ‘Deguello,’ this style of ‘mariachi’ trumpet playing became a cliché of Italian westerns, Lacerenza himself using it in his own scores.” 4

Final Scene and End Credits

A recapitulation of the Title Music to end the film.


1 Howard Hughes, Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers’ Guide to Spaghetti Westerns (London; New York: I. B. Tauris, 2004), 11.

2 Ibid., 12.

3 Ibid., 11–12.

4 Ibid., 12.