Who Saw Her Die? (OST)
Digitmovies, 2002 (CD/LP)
Morricone’s score for Aldo Lado’s 1972 giallo Who Saw Her Die? (Chi l’ha vista morire?) is like a children’s church choir gone horribly, disturbingly awry. As accompaniment to a film that stalks the foggy labyrinths of Venice, you couldn’t ask for a more perfectly haunting and off-kilter collection of songs. As a stand-alone piece separated from the movie, it’s still a fascinating collection of music that combines several motifs common throughout Morricone’s work, though not always all at once. The chanting (present in almost every track) is somewhere between what Morricone did on some of his spaghetti western scores (I’m reminded most often of Death Rides a Horse and Vamos a matar, compañeros) and, as mentioned, a particularly unnerving church choir. And though Japanese composer Geinoh Yamashirogumi wouldn’t record his first album until 1976, if you are familiar with his work on the soundtrack to the anime feature film Akira, you’ll recognize several shared chords between it and this. The lush strings of many Morricone scores are absent here, or at least lost among the polyphony. Instead, the primary accompaniment is a harpsichord, lending the whole thing an almost camp baroque quality. To again invoke the film’s Venetian setting, one can easily imagine ornately clad nobles skittering across bridges and piazzas en route to some sinister masque with occult undertones.
The film’s theme, “Chi l’ha vista morire?” would be upbeat if there wasn’t such an air of menace beneath the vociferous chanting. The second track, “No Ghè Più Ble Cantar Della Sera,” is a more soothing but no less haunting affair, something between a Mass and a funeral dirge (I honestly cannot tell the difference between the two, most of the time). When the solitary violin kicks in, it becomes acutely somber. The melody is distinctly Morricone, but he’d never quite delivered it in this manner. “La Bela Riposava” is the track that most reminds me of his spaghetti western work. Once again, it’s a wall of chanting backed by harpsichord (or something very much like a harpsichord) and a medieval trumpet. Parts of “El Primo Baso” veers into territory that recall nothing so much as, perhaps surprisingly, a Cocteau Twins or Sigur Ros song.
“Canto della campana stonata” sounds like the occult-tinged theme Morricone’s frequent collaborator, Bruno Nicolai, wrote for All the Colors of the Dark (also in 1972), and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the two composers had been sitting at the same table when working on these two soundtracks. The final track, “Solo grida” conjures up church organs and synthesizers (it’s the rare track where the choir is the accompanying, rather than dominant, element) that sound, frankly, a little like Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale.” The choral parts were handled by Coro Di Voci Bianche di Paolo Lucci, under the direction of Nicola Samale. Most of the lyrics for the Coro Di Voci Bianche di Paolo Lucci songs were written by Maria Travia Morricone, Ennio’s wife. And if you were worried that Morricone was leaving out Edda dell’Orso, fear not; she makes an appearance on “El primo baso.”
The Italian moviemaking machine being what it was, by 1972 there had already been many giallo films and soundtracks. The rules were established. But then, they were established by musicians like Morricone and Nicolai, and who better would know how to deliver what was expected, but do so in an unexpected fashion? Even working within a relatively narrow style for this particular score, Morricone manages to find ways to surprise the listener and deliver the unexpected.Who Saw Her Die? is one of his more stylized scores, which perhaps results in it not being as universally praised as some of his other, more conventional (well, conventional for Morricone and Italian movie music in the 1970s) work. Regardless, it is one of his best, if most idiosyncratic, soundtracks. There’s something truly terrifying lurking in this score, especially if one is listening to it while walking the streets of Venice late at night. But even if that location (a haunted cathedral will do just as well) isn’t available to you, just sitting in a dark room and letting it wash over you will do the trick. As was so often the case, Morricone writes music that seems actively opposed at times to the action on screen and yet makes the visual and audio elements work in perfect harmony.