GEORGES DELERUE OFFICIAL
THE GEORGES DELERUE MUSEUM
OFFICIAL WEBSITE ANNEXE
HE LEFT HIS MARK ON A WHOLE GENERATION OF COMPOSERS.
HIS UNIQUE, UNFORGETTABLE WORKS HAVE TRAVELLED
TO THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE WORLD…
I AGNES VARDA
In 1948, Georges was conducting Darius Milhaud's music for Shéhérazade at the Avignon Festival. We made our debuts together, in a manner of speaking: I was taking my first photographs for the theatre, and Georges was conducting for the first time. He went on to write the stage music for La Mort de Danton. We used to see each other in the great Cour d’Honneur in Avignon's Papal Palace.
Then in 1958, I was shooting L’Opéra-Mouffe, all alone with a 16 mm camera, making a silent film in black and white. I was pregnant, and the destitution in which people were living on the rue Mouffetard left a deep impression on me. I asked Georges to write a score for the whole film, lasting twenty minutes. At the beginning of each chapter there was a little quatrain to be sung. He saw the film on a tiny editing-screen. I used to go over to his home; he'd improvise on the piano and we'd talk together. His companion in those days sang the quatrains, but I don't remember where the recordings were done. The music that Georges composed for the film was magnificent; it was tender, and popular, both in the writing and in the instrumental choices. The music is amusing, even darkly humorous when the children are wearing their masks behind their heads, or when people are limping along or wiping their noses. L’Opera-Mouffe, a discreet little film, was shown everywhere; and thanks to Georges, everything I intended, all my feelings and sentiments, were brought to the screen.
For Du côté de la côte, a film I was commissioned to make about the French-Riviera in 1958, Georges wrote original music that was quite varied; it was full of humour for my song Nizza la piu bella, Mentona la piu bella etc. It was full of charm for C’est triste et bête la fin de la fête, la fin de l’été. Georges was so gifted! He listened to every request, and he gave free rein to his imagination.
In the meantime, Delerue began an international career.
Everyone wanted him in France. Let me just mention The Last Metro (1980) and the earlier film Contempt (1963) ; his music still haunts our ears.
The music for the film Documenteur in 1980 is a nice story.
I CHAPTER 1
I was shooting and editing this unusual film, the story of a sad woman looking for a place to stay in Venice (Los Angeles), and in between scenes I'd filmed I was putting cuts from documentaries: people waiting, a feeling of helplessness; moments with nothing happening. And I was wondered: what's the music going to be? I ran into Delerue and Colette on a street in L.A. It was quite unexpected, totally in keeping with the situation. In fact, they'd just arrived in town. Georges had already been my composer and so I knew how to talk music with him, what to say and what not to say as regards literary equivalents or musical references. I showed him Documenteur twice, on the editing-desk. He wanted to compose music for a solo piano.
I CHAPTER 2
Recording-day in a big pro studio. The piano's there, facing a wide screen. First round: the film-projection. Georges sketches out a few tunes. I'd done my homework and marked the beginnings of the takes where I wanted him to play. I gave him a signal ten seconds beforehand. Second round: we do the recording. Magnificent moments for me sitting on the floor (probably there wasn't a single seat there, apart from the piano-stool…). Moving, restrained music came from Georges' fingertips. The film takes on meaning. Thank you. Bravo. The sound-engineer gives us the 6.25 tape. We put it onto 16mm magnetic. We start the editing: the sound is completely distorted. What's happened? The studio makes its excuses. If Georges has no objections, we can redo the recording. But, voilà! Georges and Colette have already gone back to France...
I CHAPTER 3
Over the telephone, Delerue advises me to get in touch with Michel Colombier, who lives in L.A. (Michel had already composed the music for Jacques Demy's screenplay A Room in Town, the opera-film that wouldn't be produced until 1982). I tell him about the catastrophe. He'll fix it, no problem. He listens several times to the improvised music that was badly-recorded. He transcribes it all, and creates a score that didn't exist; we all know the reason why! We go back into the studio. Same screen, same piano. Different hands. And I'm dumbstruck! I just sit there watching the whole scene: Michel isn't playing this himself; he's playing with that special touch that Georges had for this music. It was as if he were waiting until the very last minute before placing his own fingers on the keyboard. It was the music we'd wanted: delicate, painful, and with great restraint. I realised what this rescue meant: it showed Colombier's admiration for Delerue, the ability to transcribe every note of an impro' and play it all in a kind of "talent-transfer"; it was a sign of the total generosity they showed towards me.
How lucky I was to know them both and work with them! It was quite the opposite of the line in the tramps' quatrain for which Georges wrote the music: it goes, Vivants ils sont absents / Morts ils sont disparus. No, not absent, they were both very present; dead, yes, but they haven't disappeared.
If I think of Georges, I can see his look, very kindly, with an amused softness. His modest physical appearance made me feel very close to him. We had a very warm relationship; it was rare and discreet. I liked that man very much, and I admired his creativity.
I DAN CARLIN
In addition to being an extraordinarily talented composer and orchestrator—as well as a commanding conducto Georges Delerue was the nicest man I have ever known. He displayed great respect for others, whether he was speaking to the President of MGM, an orchestra's third violinist, or his gardener, and he was extremely generous to his family, friends, and collaborators. Our own collaboration had an inauspicious beginning in 1981. After serving as executive music producer for Francis Coppola on The Black Stallion, Coppola hired me again to perform the same role on his production of The Escape Artist. The film’s director, Caleb Deschanel, and I had our first meeting with Georges over lunch.
Regrettably, I do not speak French, and Georges’ English was still fairly rudimentary at that point; so, upon hearing my title, he pointedly asked through an interpreter what my role would be. I could sense a wariness on his part, as if he were thinking: «I've done a hundred and fifty films already without a supervisor; I have communicated and collaborated with the best directors in cinema without a supervisor; so why do I need this guy?» I explained that I wasn't going to interfere with his creative work; rather my role was to create the music-budget, hire the musicians and sound-engineer, choose the recording studio, oversee the recording, mixing, editing, and dubbing of the music, and generally try to make his job easier. My responsibility, I continued, was to ensure that everything progressed as smoothly as possible, with a final result that accommodated both him and the production-team.
I further hoped to relieve him of organizational problems so he could concentrate on his composing. He politely acknowledged my explanation, but he was clearly withholding judgment. Fortunately for me, The Escape Artist went off without a hitch; Georges' unease disappeared quickly, and we soon developed a wonderfully warm and fulfilling relationship, at both the professional and personal levels. We then collaborated on several films together in rapid succession: Partners, The Black Stallion Returns and Man, Woman and Child. Georges flattered and honored me by inviting me to his home and requesting my critical response to his themes before playing them for his directors. These sessions would end with the ritual of Georges’ wife Colette treating us to hors d’œuvres and Georges’ favorite: champagne! Sometimes my wife Lynn would join us at the house, where we would stay for dinner, taking in a spectacular sunset while the light faded across the Hollywood hills. These were lovely evenings that I now look back upon with great fondness and melancholy.
Even after Georges had been living in Los Angeles for a dozen years, I don’t think Hollywood had as influential an impact on him as he had on Hollywood. He altered neither his style nor his methodology; and Georges remained true to himself. During scoring sessions, for example, if the director suddenly demanded a change, Georges’ politely requested a rational justification. (As our own relationship grew, I sometimes made such suggestions to Georges when I sensed that the director was unsatisfied).
No matter from whom it came, if Georges thought the change to be worthy, he quickly would accommodate. But if not, he would resist Georges Delerue did not look kindly upon caprice. The great Hollywood composers Jerry Fielding and Elmer Bernstein worked in exactly the same manner. All three of these musicians were willing to collaborate and accommodate, but they fiercely resisted compromising their artistry.
Of course, even Georges knew that the ultimate authority resided with the director, so he occasionally was forced to make undesirable concessions, and it showed in the result. In particular, Georges had his first seriously challenging experience with director Bob Rafelson on the presciently titled film, Man Trouble.
In response to relentless film-editing changes that he was creating with the editor, Rafelson made constant demands on Georges to re-write his cues and to create new motifs or approaches sometimes contradicting Rafelson’s own previous direction. Now, to be sure, Rafelson is a visionary filmmaker, and he has made some outstanding films, but it was clear at the time that this wasn't going to be one of them.
I think he knew it, too, and in some respects made Georges pay the price. (Music is the last artistic contribution made in the process of moviemaking, so it represents the director’s final hope and opportunity for “saving” a poorly realized film.) In the case of Man Trouble, all this craziness resulted in a score that was about as interesting and successful as the movie—and a far cry from what it had been in Georges’ first drafts. This was a miserable experience for us both and for Georges especially because he'd had to swallow so much. But, that's all part of Hollywood’s darker side, the price we must all pay albeit infrequently in exchange for the jubilation one is able to share more commonly when the work is good.
Of course, Georges was called upon to create original scores for some excellent films, including Oliver Stone’s Salvador and Platoon, Norman Jewison’s Agnes of God, Ulu Grosbard’s True Confessions, George Cukor’s Rich and Famous, Mike Nichol’s Biloxi Blues and Herbert Ross’ Steel Magnolias.
But I think one might argue that none of these films matched the level of Georges’ best international projects with such directors as Truffaut, Godard, Bertolucci, de Broca, Fred Zinnemann, Bruce Beresford and Ken Russell. Then again, Georges started composing as a very young man in Europe, where he was able to establish and maintain long-lasting relationships with a generation of great filmmakers.
By the time he settled in Los Angeles, he was fifty-six, and many of the great Hollywood directors already had developed collaborative relationships with other composers. Also, by the time Georges eventually landed on Hollywood’s “A-list,” along came a new film-fashion that favored soundtracks peppered with pop songs and synthesizers. For example, the Australian director, Bruce Beresford collaborated on several films with Georges, including Crimes of the Heart. When Bruce wanted to hire Georges’ to compose the music for Driving Miss Daisy, his producers overruled him in favor of Hans Zimmer, who had received an Oscar-nomination the previous year for his innovative work on Rain Man.
The upshot is that Driving Miss Daisy ultimately received nine Oscar-nominations, none of which was for music. This wasn’t a knock on Zimmer, but rather an expression of the Academy voters’ conclusion that a score featuring synthesized sounds was inappropriate for a languid, character-driven mid-century civil-rights drama that takes place in the deep south. A warmer, more lyrical and heartfelt score would have been much better received, and Georges Delerue, as Bruce Beresford knew, was the composer who could, would, and should have delivered it.
Georges Delerue spoiled me, and after his death in 1992, I had difficulty recapturing a zeal for film-scoring work. He had provided such magic and pleasure to his collaborators that his absence left a void impossible to fill. Fortunately, my wife and I have been able to maintain our close friendship with Colette, who is busy still overseeing concerts and recordings from Georges’ monumental catalog.
And while listening to this music provides us comfort, it cannot make up for the loss of a man so dear, whose flame burned so intensely, whose creativity was so boundless, and whose love for life was so immense.
I BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI
“What I appreciated most in Georges Delerue was his instant ability to give shape to what the director wanted.”
My love for films was nourished by the great films of the Nouvelle Vague in France, which coincided with my debut as a filmmaker in Italy. I liked the composers associated with the films of Truffaut, Godard, Varda and Demy: Michel Legrand, Antoine Duhamel, and Georges Delerue, of course. I was obviously surprised by the fate that Italy reserved for the score he wrote for Contempt; the film had been coproduced by Carlo Ponti, who was notorious for his interventionism, the sometimes brutal manner in which he interfered with a film-director’s work. In this particular case, Ponti had released Il Disprezzo (the Italian title for Contempt) with a new cut: he’d amputated its first five minutes... and used Piero Piccioni’s music!
How can you imagine Contempt without Delerue, without the tragic gravity of that serious music? It was written like a classical piece, but it had such a modern feel. Piccioni had written music for an Italian-style comedy using contemporary pop rhythms, and it was anything but the same film!
At the same time as I was following Georges Delerue, I began a stimulating relationship with Ennio Morricone in around 1964, with my second feature-film Prima della rivoluzione (Before the Revolution). Delerue caught up with me six years later to do The Conformist, which was partly shot in France: the main character, Marcello Clerici, is on his way from Rome to Paris to find his old teacher, an anti-Fascist dissident; he’s about to precipitate his death.
I was working on the premise: “Even though it has an Italian director, and it’s based on a novel by Alberto Moravia, this film has to have authentic French roots.” Hence the choice of Jean-Louis Trintignant… and Georges Delerue, not only in reference to the music of the Nouvelle Vague, but also because of his ties with Moravia through Contempt. I knew of his special feeling for lyricism, so I knew what he could bring to my film: a colour, a feeling and a style of writing that were typically French; things which I wouldn’t find in Italy. Because I think Delerue is French to the core, even when he’s writing for Oliver Stone!
I particularly remember one of George’s visits to the set while we were shooting The Conformist. Was it the first time we’d met? I can’t remember now. We were filming in an open-air café on the banks of the Marne, a guinguette called Chez Gégène; a small group of musicians was there to play for the dancers. I remember suddenly asking Georges: “Can you write a musette waltz for them?” He took a pencil and some music-paper over to a table and, a few minutes later, I had my waltz! That really shows how talented some great film-music writers are; they have a feeling for immediacy, a rapid, instinctive side.
It was fascinating to be able to shoot a film using music that hadn’t existed even a few minutes before. And that’s what I appreciated most in Georges Delerue: his instant ability to give shape to what the director wanted. You only had to put a simple desire into words, even if it was sometimes vague or abstract, and he instantly translated it into notes of music; it became real.
George’s challenge in writing The Conformist was both to keep to the spirit of the period, and be outside the period at the same time. A whole part of the soundtrack has a realist, Thirties’ dance-rhythm orientation... while the rest leans towards pieces where the craftsmanship is more modern.
Do you remember the engagement-scene, which was put back into the film’s full version? One of the blind musicians cries: “And now we’re going to play the latest fox-trot by maestro Delerue!” That was an in-joke; Georges composed symphonies he was a serious musician—but he loved his name being mentioned in the dialogue like that, as if he wrote music for tea-parties! (laughter) In the end, Georges gave me what I was expecting, only better: a very Parisian waltz, a Kurt Weill-type piece for the scenes where the Fascist agent is shadowing someone; and for Clerici, a main theme with a sad lyricism that softens the character and makes him almost human. Delerue had perfectly grasped what I wanted there: The Conformist is a film about how mundane evil is; the closer Clerici seems to the norm, the more his monstrous side takes on depth.
The Conformist was very well-received, especially in The United States, where Paramount released it to cinemas under pressure from critics and a particular generation of filmmakers, the Coppola and Scorcese generation; the film is one of their favourites. Despite its success, however, Georges and I didn’t have another chance to work together. Not that I didn’t want to, far from it: six years later I had Georges in mind to write the score for 1900. We talked it over together and he was enthusiastic about the film, particularly its sweeping, socio-political dimension.
Perhaps I even sent him the screenplay... Then, to be honest, I backed down. What I was thinking was: “For such an Italian subject, better an Italian-born composer, someone who knows Emilie’s popular music by heart.” In a way, the composer for 1900 had to be as much of an Italian as the writer of The Conformist was a Frenchman. And that gave me the opportunity to work with Morricone again, my accomplice from the old days... In the end, Georges Delerue remains associated with two things in my memory: a very intense first meeting, and a score that was written as a matter of urgency, in three or four weeks. I think it was also his first experience of recording in Rome. When I made The Conformist, I was thirty years old; Delerue was forty-five. I didn’t see him as a composer so much as a piece of history; a whole chapter of French cinema all by himself.
I CLAUDE MILLER
«Garde à vue is music for roundabouts; the repetition leads to a malaise. »
My association with Georges Delerue was short, but intense. It was in 1981, when I did Garde à vue (Under Suspicion), my first and only commissioned film, produced by Alexandre Mnouchkine and Georges Dancigers of Ariane Films. They'd bought the rights to an American thriller called Brain Wash. They wanted Michel Audiard to write the dialogue, with Michel Serrault as the lead… and they were casting for a director. Before me, I think they'd already contacted Costa-Gavras, Yves Boisset and Robin Davis.
I was the fourth name on their list. In those days I'd done two features: one that was well-received by the critics, La Meilleure façon de marcher (The Best Way to Walk), followed by a flop, Dites-lui que je l’aime (The Sweet Sickness) that Dancigers had liked. But if Audiard's dialogues didn't belong to my culture, the offer was still an opportunity; my professional situation made it difficult to refuse... Given the status of the whole thing, Mnouchkine was quick to point out that he wanted a well-known composer, too, Maurice Jarre or Georges Delerue.
I tipped the scales in George's favour straight away; I'd naturally seen him before at Films du Carosse, when I was working with François Truffaut. Mostly I knew him as a film-buff. The score for Deux Anglaises et le continent (Two English Girls) is a completely objective masterpiece, like the later documentary Tours du monde, tours du ciel. In Delerue's work, the clarity in his writing, its apparent simplicity, hides complex, fragile sentiments that have great emotional depth.
But I wouldn't have immediately thought of Delerue for a psychological thriller like Garde à vue. To me, a project like that seemed out of character for him. In my head, Delerue was first and foremost a man associated with Truffaut's films; tales of passion or, at any rate, romantic or lyrical subjects. Again, I knew the film wouldn't need much music, twenty minutes at the most. I almost felt guilty about bothering a star like him with such a modest effort! (Laughter.)
We met in a tiny apartment he used as a pied-à-terre. What I expected from him was very precise, and he was seduced by it. I said to him, «You know, Georges, I especially don't want music for a thriller; I want something more like a fairground, hurdy-gurdy music that brings candy-floss to mind, childhood and winter. Music that's simple and dizzy…» A few days later he played me the main title, pointing out the instruments for me in detail: «I'm going to treat this rather naively, with a celesta, a glockenspiel and recorders! »
I loved how obvious our conversation was, it was so fluid. With his main theme, Georges paints the portrait of a young girl who's murdered, but we only see her in glimpses, rapid flash-backs; we never hear her voice. It begins quite innocently, and then the same theme becomes ambiguous, even troubling, with its repeated effect… but also in the way it fits the scenes, the police-station, night-time, the sand-dunes. Its morbid dimension, its "follow the little girl" aspect, has a function like the famous melody from Grieg's Peer Gynt in Fritz Lang's M. That fairground-roundabout waltz takes you back to a world which makes me, personally, think of fears I had as a child. And when I see Garde à vue again today, those are the scenes I prefer. Each time I see the film I can appreciate how much mystery Delerue injected into the story; it has an uneasy poetry to it that attenuates the sometimes mechanical aspects of the film.
In retrospect, I also tell myself there's a symbolic dimension involved in working with Truffaut's favourite composer; he was one of my fathers in filmmaking.
When I first met Delerue I was awed with the idea of working with him, but after only half an hour he was acting as if we'd been friends for a long time. His attitude was modest, and yet friendly, in total contrast with his professional aura. He'd done two hundred films… I'd like to have known him better. I wish I could have gone deeper into things with him, and involve him in a project with a fuller score. I'm convinced we'd have been friends in the end.
I HOWARD SHORE
"Watching Georges Delerue, I learned many things about conducting for films."
Even before I started composing I'd always been interested in the music written for films; the approach to writing the music was different, depending on the composer's background and culture: Takemitsu, for instance, and his rapport with silence, or Nino Rota, and the way he digested popular music… and Georges Delerue in France. Quite simply, because he was working with the most emblematic directors in French films, Truffaut and Godard. His writing seemed so clear and generous, with great finesse in the tiniest details of his orchestration. Later, when I investigated his music, his scores confirmed my opinion… and above all, I understood how a musical discourse could be constructed for pictures.
I met Georges through stage and film-director Mike Nichols. We'd worked together with Mike on the Broadway show Gilda Live, based on the work of the American humorist Gilda Radner, with the different characters she'd created for Saturday Night Live. Nichols contacted me again after that experience, saying: “I'm preparing a film for Fox on the Karen Silkwood affair, with Meryl Streep, and Georges Delerue is writing the music. Would you like to be music consultant on the project?
At the time, around 1983, I was just starting to write for films with only three or four features behind me. I was young and inexperienced, especially where writing for an orchestra was concerned. So meeting a composer I admired, being alongside him during the whole creative process including the sessions, was an experience not to be refused.
As a matter of fact, Nichols had already worked with Georges on The Day of the Dolphin, and for Silkwood he liked the idea of having a typically French composer for a subject that was purely American, with a score that would take in the popular music of the South, Oklahoma if I remember rightly. And that motivated Georges too: to jump into that particular culture and write a pretty ballad for a banjo for instance.
But for me, the things I remember most were the recording sessions. Georges had the orchestra completely under control; he never lost sight of the picture and, above all, he kept the tempo intact, with no electric clicks. It was like he'd been grafted with a metronome inside him! He had amazing technique: he managed both the musicians and the picture at the same time; he instantly obtained the slightest nuance, they were never late. Total control, and so natural… it made a huge impression on me. I also remember dropping by when they were recording the playback for a song that Georges had arranged for Paul Simon, “René and Georgette Magritte with their dog after the war”.
Nichols and Simon had been friends since The Graduate, and Mike had suggested Georges' name to him, to bring in a European colour; it was logical for that song. Their meeting was quite out of the ordinary: Delerue writing for strings behind the voice of Paul Simon! Watching Georges taught me many things about conducting for films, and in return I introduced him to some new tools. He used to write in a very traditional way: paper, pencil, eraser… I invited him down to my studio in New York: I'd just installed my first digital synthesizer, with a keyboard plugged directly into a computer, what they call a synclavier.
It was a new instrument that had been brought in during the Seventies. This world of new technology seemed to amaze him; he was surprised, even slightly disconcerted maybe. I gave him a few demonstrations on the synclavier. He was very interested in it; the machines allowed you to obtain and memorize unusual timbres, totally different from those of acoustic instruments. Facing a great composer with classical training, a pupil of Milhaud, was a thrill. On the surface, everything kept us apart: the language, our generations, our culture, and yet we met. Twenty years later, when I was working on The Aviator, Scorcese decided to screen Godard's Contempt for me; it was like a landmark, a reference. Martin was a total fan of Delerue, and he'd made use of his music in Casino. In a way, Georges was catching up with me: from now on, we both had one director in common.
I NORMAN JEWISON
«Somehow, Georges Delerue found a deep religious source in his heart when he wrote and conducted the score for Agnes of God.»
Agnes of God was a film based on the play by John Pielmeier. I was asked by the playwright to help him on the first theatrical production in Boston, around 1979. I was totally fascinated by the theme of the play : a struggle between the Catholic faith and Freudian logic. Six years later, when I had to direct a screen adaptation of Agnes of God, I thought Georges Delerue would be the best choice for the music. I was familiar with his film scores of Silkwood and some of his work in television and in France. Michel Legrand also recommended Georges to me. I found his music both lyrical and dramatically strong.
I can’t remember whether we met when I began post-production but I believe that Georges was sent the script when I was still shooting. On the other hand, I do remember discussing religious music with Georges. I had assembled some recordings of Gregorian Chants and I had hired a Jesuit musicologist to advise me when I was filming any of the religious rituals involving the Catholic religion. Specifically scenes in the church or chapel. Georges was very excited about scoring with voices. I encouraged him to write vocal scores for the choir, which we could integrate with the orchestra or use a cappella. Georges felt that after the miracle the score should grow more lyrically. I also remember discussing the influence of Bergman’s Cries and Whispers on my concept of the film. This was what affected Georges because Sven Nykvist was also Bergman’s cameraman. Agnes of God, therefore, has a rather Bergman look in the use of light. The contrast of black and white and muted colour tones.
Georges was very worried about recording the score in Toronto. He wanted to score in Los Angeles or New York where he was more confident in the musicians and recording artists. I told him if he was not satisfied with the first day of recording we would cancel the sessions. The string section of the Toronto Symphony and the voices of the Mendelssohn Choir blew him away. He got very excited after the first few hours and realized the talent was there. Without his score, my film would have remained too theatrical. Delerue made the film very real and human.
He seemed to support the scenes rather than intrude upon them. His work is very delicate and sensitive to the performance and even the lighting and camera moves on the screen. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his score of Agnes of God. Somehow, I feel that he found a deep religious source in his heart when he wrote and conducted this score. Agnes in her innocence –the hands of God– truly touched Georges and his work on this film.
Music and the moving image have always been a marriage of impressive force. Music plays a most important part in all of my films. Georges Delerue joins Michel Legrand, Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini and John Williams, a great group of talented composers, of all of them Delerue was perhaps the most sensitive and delicate in his voice.
I PIERRE SCHOENDORFFER
"Usually, Georges Delerue had to submit to the constraints of the image but, in Dien Bien Phu, I had to submit to his music."
Music played a decisive role in my film Dien Bien Phu as early as the scenario, because music was in the structure of the drama: one of the characters was a female violinist who'd come to Hanoi to play a concerto at the Opera, accompanied by an Indochinese symphony orchestra. The concerto obviously had to be written and recorded beforehand so we could shoot the corresponding scene over a playback.
But who was going to write it? I was looking for a classical composer, classical in the noble sense, and someone told me that Georges Delerue was in Paris. We'd known each other since the days of Le Crabe-Tambour; he'd almost been the composer on that film, as a matter of fact. I went to see him and explained what I was looking for: «Dien Bien Phu is about heartbreak, about saying adieu.
I thought I'd translate the idea using a violin concerto: the violin, the solo instrument, represents France, and the orchestra, Indochina. I'd like them to talk to each other, to listen and respond to each other with a lyrical tone that's necessarily painful. A sense of love has to be felt as much as the storm that's brewing...» Georges listened to me attentively, but didn't ask any questions. I knew he had a major offer from Hollywood at the time, an Australian-American production. Deep down, I thought: «Maybe I'm wasting my time... and wasting his time, too!» His answer was quite polite, even a bit evasive: «Very well, I'll think about it...»
A week or so later, Delerue gave me a call. I can hear his voice over the phone even now, and especially what he said: «I've done it, Pierre; I've got your thing!» The idea had taken shape in his mind in the meantime. I raced over to his house in Enghien; it was very early one morning. He sat down at the piano and played me the concerto, alternating the violin parts with those of the orchestra. I immediately sensed the tone was there; the mixture of gravity and melancholy was unique, with a violence that was either contained or expressed to the full.
A few weeks later we were in London for the recordings; they rehearsed, one chair after the other, and then Georges threw himself into it. I was stunned. The first violin, Michael Davis, did magnificently; his playing was full of nuances. At the end of the performance there was a long silence; we were paralyzed with emotion. The violinist wanted to do a second take, just to polish his performance, and Georges agreed. When it was over, the orchestra gave Delerue a round of applause. He hadn't written and conducted this concerto like a traditional piece of film-music at all; he'd composed it like a recital meant for a picture. It was an extraordinary situation for me: I hadn't even begun shooting my film, and yet a part of it already existed.
Right from the beginning, this Concerto de l’adieu (Farewell Concerto) gave Dien Bien Phu a special colour, an ambition. I knew right away how high a standard he'd set for me. Usually, Georges Delerue had to submit to the constraints of the image but, in Dien Bien Phu, I had to submit to his music: the film was at the service of his score. And Georges knew it; it gave him a kind of strength, a sort of impetus, freedom.
When the film was finished, the music was its precious stone, with the battle for Dien Bien Phu, the gangue minerals around the diamond... I'm only sorry that I could only work with Georges on just that one film, by force of circumstances.
When he passed away in March 1992, Dien Bien Phu had just been released in the cinemas. I never imagine for a single moment that this Concerto de l’adieu would be his own farewell, too.
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