Brian Rasic/WireImage
February 19, 2016 at 02:58 PM EST

Legendary composer Ennio Morricone, 87, has scored more than 500 movies and television shows—from Sergio Leone’s iconic spaghetti Westerns to Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, for which he earned his sixth Oscar nod. Here, he tells EW the tales behind some of his most memorable work.

The Hateful Eight, 2015

Longtime fan Quentin Tarantino has used Morricone’s existing music in his films since 2003’s Kill Bill: Volume 1, and first tried to commission an original piece for 2009’s Inglourious Basterds—but scheduling conflicts got in the way. Still, the maestro was impressed: “That showed that he appreciated what I did in the past,” Morricone told EW via translator. So he signed on for Eight, marking his first return to Westerns in decades. (He prefers not to speak anymore about certain works, like his immortal score for the 1967 Clint Eastwood classic The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.) “Some directors wanted me to just do once again what they have already [heard],” he says. “But he trusted me so much, he had no special requests of what he wanted or expected. He just showed me the movie and rushed away—we didn’t exchange a single word about the music, so I was left completely free to compose whatever I wished to.”

Cinema Paradiso, 1988

Morricone has scored every film by director Giuseppe Tornatore since Cinema, their award-winning first collaboration. “Giuseppe is able to give me some pieces of advice that I can readily accept,” he says of their close working relationship. “It is not common because often the directors who don’t have an understanding of music try and convince me to do something, or try to give me some advice, and don’t take into account my creativity and my dignity as a composer.”

The Untouchables, 1987

For the unforgettable final scene of Brian De Palma’s gangster epic, in which Prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) brings Al Capone (Robert De Niro) to justice, Morricone presented nine possible options. As he remembers it, he hoped De Palma would choose any of them except the seventh—which, of course, is exactly the one the director wanted. “In the end, he was absolutely right,” the composer says. Celebratory music is a rare mode for Morricone, who favors more hypnotic, moody creations. “But De Palma chose the piece that was most like [the ending]—it showed the triumph of the police over the bad guys.”

The Mission, 1986

Filmmaker Roland Joffé would become another of his longtime collaborators. “His films are very, very strong and relevant from a moral point of view,” he says. “This has always impressed me.” It was one of their projects together that produced what Morricone considers his crowning achievement: his score for The Mission. “I didn’t realize at first that this would become such an extraordinary piece,” he says of the best-selling score that went on to win both a Golden Globe and a BAFTA. (It also earned him an Oscar nod, though he has famously won only the Academy Honorary Award, given to him “for his magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music,” in 2007.) “My main concern,” he says, “is to please the director or serve the message of the film. I never think about the success that may come after.” Even in his ninth decade, though, he’s still looking ahead: He is, he says, thinking of “a completely different way of writing music. I cannot speak about it because I’m not ready yet to disclose everything. But I am thinking about something completely new.”

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