Oscars: 3 Nominated Composers Pay Respects to John Williams, Ennio Morricone

John Williams (left) and Ennio Morricone (right)
Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capitol Concerts; Morena Brengola/Getty Images

"There was no saying I could ever step in and do what John does," says Thomas Newman on scoring 'Bridge of Spies' in place of his mentor. "Because it'd be really hard to be John Williams."

This story first appeared in the Feb. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

"When I was beginning, the bane of my existence was that people were going to put John Williams' [music] in [as] temp scores and want me to do something like that," says Carter Burwell, 61, a first-time nominee for his delicate work on Carol. "The breadth of his compositional palette and his orchestration is just way beyond me and I'm always amazed by it."

For Burwell and fellow composers Johann Johannsson, 46, and Thomas Newman, 60, earning an Oscar nomination alongside musical heroes like 84-year-old Williams and Italian master Ennio Morricone, 87, makes the honor even sweeter. "I'm a huge fan of them both and both had an influence on the Sicario score," says two-time nominee Johannsson — citing in particular Williams' use of the low end of the orchestra, especially the strings, on Jaws.

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Williams lands his 50th nomination (he has five wins, including for 1977's Star Wars). Morricone's nomination for his work on Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight is his sixth, though he never has taken home a statue. As a fledgling composer, says Burwell, he studied Morricone's compositions from classic Sergio Leone Westerns like 1968's The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. He calls the composer "the model for trying to figure out how to get a lot of sonic richness and novelty with very sparse materials." Morricone's "mastery of creating atmosphere" resonates with Johannsson. Says the Icelandic composer, "He combines his effortless sense of melody with a sense of experimentation."

For 13-time nominee Newman, Williams — whom he replaced on Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies when the maestro fell ill — practically is family. Newman's father, Alfred, ran Fox's music department for two decades and gave a young Williams some of his first gigs. In turn, Williams provided Newman with one of his first breaks: orchestrating a cue in 1983's Return of the Jedi. "There was no saying I could ever step in and do what John does," Newman says of taking over for his mentor. "Because it'd be really hard to be John Williams."

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