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SOUND & LIGHT

HE LEFT HIS MARK ON A WHOLE GENERATION OF COMPOSERS.
HIS UNIQUE, UNFORGETTABLE WORKS HAVE TRAVELLED 
TO THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE WORLD…

Light on the work of Georges Delerue

 

In the flood of research-projects undertaken by the ORTF in their exploration of sound, a new form of artistic expression literally came to light. It was given the name Son et Lumière and it came to be synonymous with "sound-and-light entertainment at night", although it was actually a subtle marriage of history, literature, architecture, lighting and music. Georges Delerue was a familiar figure at the ORTF when the decision was taken to master this new sound-concept, and the adventure would last some thirty years.

As early as 1950 there was a spate of activity aimed at bringing life to the Chateaux of the Loire Valley, and one of the projects was the famous Route des Châteaux lumineux.

 

On May 30th 1952, the world's first sound-and-light show was staged in the grounds of one of France's most famous royal buildings, the Château de Chambord. It was a prestigious evening christened "Les Riches Heures de Chambord".

It was in 1954, however, that Georges Delerue delivered his first work, and it was a commission for the City of Lisieux, with trumpet fanfares and a flamboyant chorus accompanying illuminations at the city's sumptuous basilica.

With sound-effects resonating through the natural décor to accompany the tones of a narrator recounting the city's history, Delerue's creation was quietly dramatic with power in its introspection; it revealed the musician's extraordinary talents for evoking the present and at the same time throwing his listeners  here spectators into the past.

Drawing on his experience of Baroque music acquired in theatre (and developed with Jean Vilar and Raymond Hermantier), Georges drew Chambord's historic façades into his music, permeating them with intimate scenes of joy and tension, all magnificently expressed in his score.

For Georges, the son et lumière concept was a perfect match for his own expectations of music: it suited his views on music and his experience, and it corresponded to his concept of renewal.Less obviously, son et lumière was the fullest expression of an art-form which was becoming increasingly dramatic, and it would gradually bring the composer closer to a genre to which he would soon give himself over entirely: Film.

Lisieux was no isolated event. That same year, 1954, the City of Paris solicited Georges Delerue to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the Liberation.

 

Four years later, the son et lumière concept reached across the French border to Brussels and its Hainaut Province; Georges would make a halt there to write the music for a sound-and-light spectacular at Belœil, the ancestral stately home of the Prince De Lignes with its chateau and hunting-grounds.

In 1961 his music celebrated Egypt's pyramids, and over the next few years Georges continued with an ambitious concept designed to restore the prestige of the medieval and Renaissance chateaux which border the river Loire: Chambord (twice, in 1965 and 1972), for which he composed remarkable dances and pavanes, followed with panache by the regal son et lumière shows staged at Chantilly, Blois and Sully-sur-Loire.

Georges Delerue was particularly inspired by the genre; he wrote music for Shell Berre in the form of an oratorio commissioned by the City of Marseilles and the military history of the Invalides in Paris gave him the idea to compose "Ombres de Gloire" over a rhythm in time with the 79 steps of the soldiers who marched in its courtyard, coming to an abrupt halt on the final step. In 1972 his music would resound over Strasbourg Cathedral before it returned to the impressive surroundings of Egypt's Pyramids.


In 1978 Delerue accepted an invitation to take part in the Bicentennial of American Independence at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate, for which he composed an imposing score to illustrate the sound-and-light show staged by Gaston Papelous. Claude Roussel directed the sound, Jean-François Thouillard the lighting, and the voices heard in the narrative were provided by none other than John Wayne, Olivia de Havilland, Kirk Douglas and Gregory Peck…

 

In 1988 Georges moved on from nocturnal sound-and-light performances after completing his 'Time Tunnel' ( Le Tunnel du Temps ) for the Smurfs' Amusement Park in Lorraine. Yet visitors to Le Puy du Fou in Vendée could still admire Delerue's mighty choirs and fiery brass right up until 2002.

 

Georges had written the music for this "Cinéscénie" son et lumière extravaganza at Le Puy du Fou as early as 1982; it was an epic saga spread over several centuries and it allowed the composer to explore different styles. It goes without saying that Georges' creation was a perfect display of his knowledge of period-music.

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