By MARTIN STEINBERG
NEW YORK — What are Bruce Springsteen, Celine Dion, Metallica, Yo-Yo Ma, Roger Waters, Renee Fleming and Andrea Bocelli all doing on the same album? Paying tribute to composer Ennio Morricone, the prolific film composer who at age 78 is also getting a long-awaited Academy Award. ...
The CD, ‘‘We All Love Ennio Morricone,’’ has many of his favorites, from tender love songs to raw cowboy romps. It was released Tuesday, five days before Morricone picks up his honorary Oscar. The Italian composer has been nominated five times — for ‘‘Days of Heaven,’’ ‘‘The Mission,’’ ‘‘The Untouchables,’’ ‘‘Bugsy’’ and ‘‘Malena’’ — but had never won. His most popular tune, the theme from Sergio Leone’s 1966 spaghetti Western ‘‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,’’ wasn’t even nominated.
His music for Roland Joffe’s movie ‘‘The Mission,’’ with its memorably sweet theme of ‘‘Gabriel’s Oboe,’’ lost to Herbie Hancock’s ‘‘Round Midnight’’ for original score at the 1987 Academy Awards.
‘‘After ’The Mission’ I did not expect to get any Oscars,’’ Morricone said in an interview this month in New York. ‘‘I was so disappointed.’’
So finally getting one came as a surprise.
‘‘I have to say this Oscar is very, very good for me,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m very happy with it — even more so because I didn’t really expect it.’’
Dion sings the sentimental opening number on the CD, ‘‘I Knew I Loved You,’’ from the 1984 Leone movie ‘‘Once Upon a Time in America.’’ She’s also scheduled to perform it at the Academy Awards presentation on Sunday.
Springsteen plays the haunting theme from Leone’s ‘‘Once Upon a Time in the West’’ in icy gunslinger style on his electric guitar, a contrast to the big, symphonic version on Ma’s 2004 Morricone album.
Perhaps in a special nod to Morricone, Hancock is also on the album, combining with Quincy Jones in ‘‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’’ A few cuts later is Metallica’s version of ‘‘Ecstasy of Gold,’’ which the heavy metal group adopted 24 years ago as an intro song at its concerts.
‘‘It just kind of played for us,’’ Metallica singer and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield said in a telephone interview. ‘‘It builds about three or four times within itself. ... It created a frenzy within us, so that’s exactly what you want in a concert atmosphere. You want people to get pumped up by something that’s not exactly your sound.’’
On the softer side of Morricone, Waters, in his best Pink Floyd style, sings ‘‘Lost Boys Calling’’ from Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1998 film ‘‘The Legend of 1900.’’ Ma’s recording of ‘‘Malena’’ from his earlier CD is part of the tribute album. Fleming, the American soprano, sings one of the most moving songs on the CD, ‘‘Come Sail Away,’’ from the 1990 TV movie ‘‘Voyage of Terror: The Achille Lauro Affair,’’ and Bocelli sings the ethereal ‘‘Conradiana.’’ They all feature Morricone’s lush, soaring string arrangements and deliciously romantic harmonies.
Morricone’s entry on the Internet Movie Database lists 505 works for television and film, including 35 for 1972 alone. He also has written some 100 other compositions, including chamber music, symphonic pieces and operas.
‘‘I really, really, really do love, and am moved by, his music,’’ said the mezzo soprano Denyce Graves, who sings ‘‘Could be Heaven’’ on the CD. ‘‘Can you imagine finding that much melody, that much music inside or however the music comes to you? ... It’s genius! Genius!’’
Morricone said the music comes to him as he sits at a desk, not in front of a piano or computer keyboard.
‘‘It’s just a matter of starting off with an idea and letting it go into your head,’’ he said. ‘‘Of course when you do have the idea, you have to start writing. You have to go through with it. By working on a piece it may happen that the initial idea that you had totally changes.’’
Sometimes he doesn’t see the movie before he composes.
‘‘I know all the film, the story of the film, even if I didn’t see the film,’’ he said. ‘‘I know the director’s style. He tells me what he believes the film needs. And I read the screenplay, the plot of the movie. And so I give him my ideas and we discuss my ideas, and if these ideas are accepted then I start.’’
But it’s up to the director to decide where to place the music in the film, he said.
Morricone said he composes every day, waking up early and going to sleep early.
‘‘As I have a deadline, I have to respect it. That really helps me to go ahead with it and be as protective as I can and just finish it on time.’’
He’s now working on an as-yet-untitled film by Giuliano Montaldo about the life of a great writer.
Has he ever considered retiring?
‘‘Every 10 years I say to my wife, ’I’m going to quit, I’m going to quit,’ But I never quit,’’ he said. ‘‘And so I think I’ll die writing music. I’m lucky enough to be in good health so I have a long way to go.’’