Are You Truly A Composer If You Don't Orchestrate?

Updated: Oct 4, 2020

Being able to orchestrate is an essential part of composing music... or is it?



Anyone who knows me, knows that I've been a huge fan of Ennio Morricone for a very long time. His scores are not only brilliant, but there are a LOT of them! He's been unbelievably prolific.


According to his official website, he's composed the music for over 450 films in his career. Films such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, The Mission, Cinema Paradiso, and The Untouchables owe much of their success to his incredible music.


In a 1995 interview with Alejandro Ryker, Morricone is quoted as saying the following:


"A composer who does not do his own orchestrations, it’s a serious defect to consider him a composer 100%. Either he’s not capable, or he’s lazy, or he’s capable but he doesn’t love his own profession – three negative things that make him a halfway composer. I am comforted in what I say by the consideration of the great composers of centuries ago, Beethoven and Bach and Stravinsky and Mozart – they didn’t have arrangers, or orchestrators."

It is interesting to note the strength of conviction in Morricone's statement. Based on what he said, the two questions I would ask are,


  1. Is Morricone's statement valid?

  2. If so, what's the solution?


Is Morricone's Statement Valid?

Morricone is talking about the tendency of Hollywood composers to hire one or more people to orchestrate their music. This is common practice and has been going on for decades.


Clearly Morricone opposes this practice and goes as far as calling composers who don't orchestrate their music as "not capable", "lazy", and a "halfway composer".


These are strong accusations, but he backs up his statement by referring to the great composers of the past.


But let's return to the question I posed earlier. Is Morricone making a valid point?


As a big admirer of Morricone and his music, I would always argue that any statement he makes regarding film music or music in general is valid. However, there are two sides to this coin.


The other side of the coin

Many film composers hire people to orchestrate their music because of the time constraints and limitations placed on creating a film score. It's not unusual for a feature length film to require 60 minutes of music or more. Often times, this music has to be composed in a just a few weeks.


So even capable composers sometimes find it easier to hire orchestrators to save time during the writing process. But if someone else orchestrates for you, did you genuinely compose the music?


There's no easy answer to that question. To some degree, it depends on how much detail is in the sketch that is sent to the orchestrator.


Some composers in Hollywood create sketches that have detailed orchestration instructions that relegates the orchestrator to a copyist.


Others may be less proficient in orchestration and rely on the orchestrator(s) to manage the orchestra and actually arrange the short score.


Regardless, maybe there is another way to approach this...


What's the Solution?

Because there seems to be some overlap with compositional duties and titles, one thing we might consider in this situation is to redefine our terms and reassign credit in the following manner:


Redefine Terms


  • Perhaps we should distinguish between an orchestrator and copyist. As mentioned above, there is a distinction between the two. Consequently, it makes no sense for them to have to same title.


Reassign Credit


  • If a composer needs an orchestrator to actually orchestrate, maybe the orchestrator should have his or her name listed with the composer on the score. After all, orchestrating is a significant part of the compositional process.

Once these distinctions are made, at least there can be some clarity with regard to what was done on any given score. At that point, everyone can evaluate on their own the validity of Maestro Morricone's statements.


Coda

So, what do you think? Does Morricone have a point? Should you be considered a composer if you don't orchestrate your music? Let me know in the comments section...