Spaghetti Western for English horn and orchestra | Michael Daugherty, composer

Spaghetti Western
for English horn and orchestra (1998)

Instrumentation: Solo English horn; piccolo, 2 flutes, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba; 4 percussion, timpani; celesta/piano; harp; strings

Publisher: Boosey and Hawkes, Hendon Music (BMI)

Duration: 20 minutes

Program Note:

Spaghetti Western is a 20-minute concerto for English horn and orchestra with an unusual instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, 4 percussion, timpani, celesta/piano, harp, and strings. It was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for Harold Smoliar, and is dedicated to his teacher Louis Rosenblatt who played for decades with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

My concerto is inspired by the so-called “Spaghetti Western” films of the sixties, such as For a Few Dollars More (1966), The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1967) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1969), directed by Sergio Leone with music by Ennio Morricone. Leone takes the conventions of the Hollywood Western—gunfights, bank robberies, saloon brawls, train heists, rope hangings, ghostly stagecoaches, quests for gold, revenge and retribution, the final showdown between good and evil—and through his innovative use of the camera in panning and close-ups makes us see the Western film genre in a new light. Morricone’s strange orchestrations musically enhance the surreal atmosphere of these films.

Just as Leone’s films redefined the Western genre from an Italian perspective, I redefine the European concerto by placing it within an American context. In my Spaghetti Western, the English horn soloist is the “Man With No Name” moving though a series of musical landscapes. I create imaginary scenarios that evoke the sun-drenched panoramas, the barren deserts and desolate towns of the wild West, as well as the gun-slinging characters who haunt this landscape. The three movements of the concerto are my own original music compositions, without alluding to particular film scenes or following their plot.

I. Strade Vuote (Empty Streets)

I imagine the English horn soloist on the deserted streets of a ghost town, somewhere in the Wild West ca. 1890. An off-stage mariachi trumpet echoes the melancholy, bending melodies of the English horn. Percussive sounds are heard like the hooves of galloping horses. The strings play a dirge, while tapping the wood of their instruments like nails into a coffin. These introspective moments are interrupted by a stampede of flutes, brass, and percussion.

II. Assalto all’oro (Gold Rush)/ La diligenza fantasma (The Phantom Stagecoach)

This movement is a dreamlike ballad of hardened cowboys, both heroes and villains, who dream of discovering gold. English horn melodies soar over cascading string harmonies and celestial harp reverberations. The dream is interrupted by orchestral wagon-wheel rhythms and crackling horse whips. These sounds suggest an empty stagecoach, with no driver or passengers, drawn by ghostly horses racing across the desert on an endless dusty road.

III. Mezzogiorno di fuoco (Noon of Fire)

Along with a trembling marimba, four mariachi trumpets set the stage for a big showdown. The English horn solo twists and turns through the orchestra, punctuated by brassy polyrhythms and pizzicato bullets in the strings. A celesta ostinato signals the clock slowly ticking toward high noon when the final gunfight will begin between the “Man With No Name” and the villainous gunslingers.

–Michael Daugherty