Fresh from picking up his lifetime achievement Academy Award in Hollywood at the weekend, 78-year-old Italian maestro Ennio Morricone is still one of the busiest men in the business.

In the weeks before the Oscars, Morricone's schedule was typically packed: flights to New York and London for concerts; performances in Italy; mixing TV scores; and reportedly at work on Giuseppe Tornatore's long-awaited Leningrad, though he does not like to talk about projects in advance.

In short, Morricone maintains the kind of schedule that means he has produced more than 300 film scores, for directors from Gillo Pontecorvo to Brian De Palma, in a "lifetime" - with more still to come.

Morricone's career is not just a Hollywood tale, and he certainly worked his way up through the ranks, starting as a trumpeter in Italy in the late 1940s.

"I had two phases. They would call me to score Italian films and I would get about lire400,000 ($200). Then I got called by Hollywood and I got a lot more," typically $35,000, he says.

But he stopped collaborating with Hollywood when he discovered that fee was given to "the lowest" composers. His return there came with Roland Joffe's The Mission in 1986. Morricone thanks Italian producer Fernando Ghia with getting him the job - and a raise.

"I didn't want to take the film," he said in Rome recently. "I said, 'It's beautiful as it is, I might mess it up.'"

After The Mission, Oscar nominations for Days Of Heaven, The Untouchables, Bugsy and Malena followed.

"At a certain point, I wanted to remain in the group of 'illustrious non-winners'," he says regarding the Oscars, but last weekend's lifetime achievement award has put paid to that.

Film buffs will most recognise his Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western soundtracks. "Do you know how a coyote sounds'" Morricone asks, in talking about Leone. His imitation brings up the theme from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. He then imitates wheels humming and trains stopping to demonstrate a composer's reliance on visual clues that connect audiences to characters through recognisable themes.

Regarding the way he works, Morricone believes music in film needs what he calls "EST". Energia (energy) or the transmission of a sound; spazio (space), temporal space given to make a sound heard; and tempo (time), or the "right moment" to use the music.

In terms of EST, Morricone says: "Leone was fundamental. He gave me all three."

Oscar nominations
Days Of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1979)
The Mission (Roland Joffe, 1986)
The Untouchables (Brian De Palma, 1988)
Bugsy (Barry Levinson, 1992)
Malena (Giuseppe Tornatore, 2000).
Bafta wins
Days Of Heaven; Once Upon A Time in America; The Mission; The Untouchables; Cinema Paradiso.
Golden Globe wins (from eight noms)
The Legend Of 1900; The Mission.