Ennio Morricone, the legendary Oscar-winning composer of more than 500 film scores, has died today, at the age of 91.
He played competitive chess in the mid-50s, and he took it very seriously: in an effort to improve, he even trained with the twelve-time Italian champion, IM Stefano Tatai.
His passion for chess began by pure chance, when he came across a chess book when he was a boy, and ended up organizing a chess tournament with some other kids who lived in the same building. But his father noted that chess was interfering with his music studies, so he put an end to this new hobby, and Morricone would not play again until he was already a consecrated musician.
"Had I not become a composer, I would have wanted to be a chess player, but a high-level one, someone competing for the world title". He definitely had the talent, and he even drew in a game against Boris Spassky in what he describes in his memories as the peak of his chess career. "He started with a King's Gambit, a terrible move and a difficult one for me. Thanks to this he took the initiative, but on my fifth move I tried a Bobby Fischer invention (a move by his historical rival), and I managed to force a triple repetition".
Morricone also had the chance to play against chess giants, the likes of Kasparov and Karpov, "and I lost dreadfully. I also played against Judit Polgar, who was pregnant at the time, and Peter Leko in Budapest. Those were great occasions. Leko was kind enough to offer me a rematch after I made a beginner's mistake in my opening move. I lost anyway, but in a decidedly more honorable way". "I have always admired Ennio Morricone", posted Judit Polgar earlier today on Twitter. "I was fortunate to meet him, he challenged me in two rapid games in 2004 at the Hungarian Academy of Rome. I will always remember him and continue listening to his music as his artwork and compositions were one of a kind", she concludes.
Not surprisingly, Morricone made friends with another chess-musician, Mark Taimanov. And he often cited Mikhail Tal and Bobby Fischer as his favorite players. "I have often met players with whom I have nothing in common, but they turn out to be sensational chess players. Spassky, for instance, seemed like a very laid back, easygoing person, but on the chessboard, he was fiercely determined".