Tim Hughes talks to the master of the atmospheric movie score, Ennio Morricone

Ennio Morricone is responsible for writing some of cinema’s most iconic movie soundtracks.

Over seven decades he has composed more than 500 film scores – some the most memorable ever made, atmospheric masterpieces for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Thing, The Mission, The Untouchables, Cinema Paradiso and Frantic. So he could be forgiven a fair degree of confidence – pride even – in playing live.

Not a bit of it.

Next Thursday the Italian composer – who also has some 100 classical works under his stylish designer belt - comes to Blenheim Palace to conduct a 200-strong orchestra and choir for a night of his own music. And the 87 year-old creative genius, referred to simply as ‘Maestro’ by those who work with him, confesses to being a little nervous as to how his music will come across live.

“I feel pleased just playing and conducting,” he tells me through his interpreter – a deferential young Italian woman who seems in awe of the man widely regarded as one of the world’s finest living composers.

“I don’t think about what I am conducting, I just think about what extent this music can be appreciated by the audience. That’s the only thing. I put all of myself into live conducting and am always concerned by the reaction – whether people like it or not.”

For an artist whose music has appeared in the charts for four decades, and has sold millions of copies, he comes across as modest; humble even.

“I just want to work to convey my music to the audience,” he goes on.

“When I am on stage conducting I never think about how great I was or how much fun I had. All I have in mind is that I have done my best in composing and conducting – and worry about the potential reaction of the audience.

“I’m always extremely please when the audience enjoy it, and feel nervous when there is no immediate reaction.”

Ennio plays the palace as part of its four-part Nocturne festival, which also sees Elton John, The Corrs and the London Philharmonic play the stately home’s great court from this Thursday to Sunday.

Even for an artist with a CV as impressive as his, the show is a significant one, following the award of his well-deserved, first Oscar earlier this year, for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.

“After the disappointment of many nominations, I was surprised,” he says. “I wasn’t expecting to receive an Oscar.”

Remarkably it will also be the Maestro’s first UK show outside London, and he is planning on marking it by playing not just his best known work, but also pieces rarely performed live – including works from classic Leone Westerns and new music from his more recent collaboration with Tarantino.

With his music perfectly fitting the subject matter of the films for which they are scored – think of those moody western soundtracks for all of Sergio Leone’s movies - I ask how much the plotline influences the process of composition.

The Oxford Times:

“Of course I am influenced by the subject matter, by screenplay, narrative and direction, but despite that I just try to compose something that is independent,” he says.

“I combine elements with stand-alone music which has its own dignity.”

His music has a power to enhance the landscapes and atmosphere on screen. Are his soundtracks also composed with location in mind?

“The landscape and surrounding environment are very important in composing the right piece of music for a film, I can’t deny that,” he says. “But nevertheless, despite the influence, they are completely independent pieces – music that can be listened to and enjoyed even without watching the movie.”

So which work is he most proud of? “The soundtracks I am most proud of are always the latest one – and the next one,” he says after a pause. “I am always happy when a piece is finished and is right and appropriate.”

So what can audiences expect from his palace show?

“People can expect the classics,” he says. “They will know music from my famous film work but which can also stand alone as independent music.

“I am not familiar with the palace but am eager to go,” he says. “It seems like one of those nice and wonderful buildings. I am very excited to go to Oxford, but when I am conducting, all I will be concerned about is the music – despite the wonderful surroundings!”

The award of that elusive Oscar highlights Ennio’s relevance, 70 years after embarking on his wide-ranging career with the award of a diploma in trumpet and composed his first real piece of music – Il Mattino (The Morning) for voice and piano.

To what does he attribute his longevity as a composer?

“My career has been made up of lots of different experiences – in film and contemporary music,” he says. “Even in film music, I have scored many different genres. Many people know my music from western films, but that accounts for only eight per cent of my film work

“I have acquired different experiences from different films.”

And is he a fan of all of those films? “Sometimes I have accepted a commission for a film even if I didn’t like it,” he confesses. “But that’s a mistake.

“I thought music could save a lousy film, but that’s not possible. Sometimes I have also accepted to score a film which is not finished, which is also a mistake.”

Despite global success – not least in Hollywood, Ennio says he has never felt the the need to leave his beloved native Rome.

“I am a Roman and like to live in the city I was born in,” he says. “I have moved around a lot but in different ways.”

And does this iconic instrumental superstar get recognised in the street? “Sometimes people recognise me but it’s not a big problem,” he says after a pause.

“To be honest I am neither bored nor overly pleased to be recognised and sometimes say I look like him, but am not him- though some don’t believe me!”

And as he approaches his ninth decade, does he have any plans to hang up the baton? “I will continue to compose as long as my brain and health and body allow me to,” he says cheerily.

“It can be hard work composing, but conducting a live concert is more physically exhausting. My main concern when I am on stage in front of 200 people is that I have to convey this work to the audience. It’s exhausting – but I do my best to deliver a wonderful concert, and I hope the audience will enjoy it.”

Ennio Morricone plays Blenheim Palace on Thursday. Tickets start at £45 from nocturnelive.com