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Georges Delerue Official Website
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One long wail on the harmonica and the entire Wild West unfolds to an infinite perspective... In just a few bars, there was no-one better than Ennio Morricone when it came to renewing a genre with so much brio: the western. His theme came to incarnate the western, definitively, and it did so even more radically than Elmer Bernstein's music behind the Magnificent Seven riding out on horseback.

Few composers became a kind of unavoidable reference in one particular field. Bernard Hermann's domain was undoubtedly the 'atmospheric', with fantasy never far away. With the Ondes Martenot heard in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951), Herrmann would give science-fiction a sound that still echoes today; take "Mars Attacks", for example, where Danny Elfman's music is a fine tribute to a composer who was one of his inspirations.

Miklos Rozsa was another master who brought colour and panache to historic epics, especially such famous peplums as "Ben-Hur" (1959), "Young Bess" (1961) and "Diane" (1956).


He wasn't the only one of course; other great Hollywood epics have become part of the collective memory: Alex North's "The Agony and the Ecstasy", "Spartacus" and "Cleopatra"; "The War World" and "The Big Country" from Jerome Moross; or Nino Rota's "Romeo and Juliet", where Rota stood out from other composers in his use of period-instruments, breaking with the sweeping, orchestral traditions of his American counterparts.

And in Great Britain, John Barry would keep to a classical form of symphonic writing with his original music for "The Last Valley" (1971) or "Robin and Marian" (1976), after making his mark with "The Lion in Winter" (1968), the film where Barry's religious inspiration earned him an Oscar.


In 1988, in other words, two decades later…

France was readying for a great historical event with international repercussions, and the French were invited to gather together in celebrating the commemoration of the Bicentenary of The French Revolution; and the company Gaumont and producer Alexandre Mnouchkine were preparing a great fresco in two parts based on the events of 1789.

Robert Enrico was behind the camera for the first, "Les Années Lumières", with Richard T. Heffron directing the second, "Les Années Terribles". For the music, Alexandre Mnouchkine remembered how well the score for Philippe de Broca's film "Cartouche" had been received – an artistic success which had also pleased critics, despite reticence shown by its producers when the composer was chosen – and so for Mnouchkine, Georges Delerue seemed the obvious choice.

There were those, however, who feared that Georges Delerue might seem unnecessary after de Broca's "Chouans!" The action was set in the same period… But then again, "Chouans!" had been a masterstroke by the composer, and this was precisely where his talent as a musician lay, in renewing himself… and Delerue sat down to write the longest score of his film-career. In the view of some critics, it was one of his best.

One can go back even further to appreciate the 'historic' vein in Georges Delerue's work illustrating this period in French history: before even beginning to write for films or television, then in its infancy, the musician was praised for his work on "La Mort de Danton", which the Avignon Festival staged in 1948.

"Monsieur Delerue, you were made for the stage," said his teacher Darius Milhaud. It was Milhaud who introduced him to Jean Vilar, the director of the brand-new Festival d'Avignon which he'd founded the previous year – admittedly a particularly appropriate creation – and today it has become an institution.


The mentor's influence on his pupil went even further. If you remember, young Georges worked in his uncle's factory in those days, without the slightest thought of becoming a musician until an accident confined him to his bed. It was that imposed immobility which led Georges to reflect on his prospects… and he became convinced that his life lay in music: he would live by it and for it.

An immense task lay in front of him, however: he would have to make up for lost time and the artistic and musical culture he lacked in those days. The advice his mentor Vilar gave him – his readings, the music he should listen to – was invaluable, and thanks to his enormous capacity for hard work (which remained with him his whole life), not to mention his boundless enthusiasm, the young composer from Roubaix acquired a culture and became "a true Renaissance Man", as producer Carter DeHaven later referred to him on the set of "A Walk with Love and Death".

A great curiosity and a love for Baroque music and period-instruments resulted from that glorious TNP adventure; the adventure would no doubt have continued for some time if Georges Delerue hadn't been obliged to decline Jean Vilar's offer to stay.

As a faithful friend, Georges couldn't refuse the invitation sent to him by Raymond Hermantier, who directed the Nîmes Festival. Maurice Jarre would take over from Delerue, but the composer from Lyon didn't have the early-music skills of his predecessor and adopted a resolutely 'modernist' approach. 

At the Arenas in Nîmes, Georges Delerue pursued his 'historic vein' with Jean-François Noël's play "Les Princes de Sang" (1951), which evoked the struggle between Richelieu and the Duc de Montmorency. It was a fine opportunity for Georges to write superb pavanes and other courtly dances. In 1952 he followed those with his music for Friedrich Schiller's "Mary Stuart"; it was given a hundred performances. And that same year saw the beginning of a new chapter in the composer's career after another encounter sparked his friendship with writer Boris Vian.

Vian saw Georges Delerue as a perfect accomplice for his "Le Chevalier de Neige" (1954), a work based on the Knights of the Round Table legend. First staged as a theatre production in 1954 for financial reasons, it was transformed into an opera (the form which Boris Vian had originally wished for his work) in 1957, thanks to Delerue's unfailing enthusiasm for the piece which became his personal project.

"Le Chevalier de Neige" came close to the "total spectacular", with film-projections and all kinds of special effects. Boris Vian even hired a magician to create some spectacular stage-sequences. As Vian said, "There's only the opera if you want to take off." For his part, Georges Delerue once again renewed his feeling for a lavish show with a rich, complex score in a resolutely modern tone. The premiere at the Opera in Nancy was a four-hour production in three Acts and twenty-eight tableaux. 

After tackling "Les Chevaliers de la Table Ronde", the composer turned to another medieval costume-drama with a reputation for being 'un-stageable': "La Tragédie des Albigeois", another piece put on by Raymond Hermantier, only this time lasting three hours (again given at the Arenas in Nîmes). Resources were available, and no fewer than 120 musicians – including organists and period-instrument players – accompanied the spectacle based on a tragic episode at the end of Albi's Crusade against the Cathars.

Georges Delerue's feel for baroque writing was put on hold at the beginning of his career as a film-composer; spirited away by the Nouvelle Vague, his fertile inspiration was drawn to a romanticism more adapted to that renaissance of the Seventh Art, and the creativity which stemmed from his interest in 16th and 17th century music was temporarily put to one side.

In 1966, however, "King of Hearts" [original title, "Le Roi de Coeur", a poetic fable by filmmaker Philippe de Broca], gave Georges Delerue the opportunity to return to the pavanes and minuets in the style of the period he loved.  

This facet of the musician was quickly noticed and exploited by such filmmakers as Fred Zinnemann, Charles Jarrott and John Huston in three costume-dramas: respectively "A Man for All Seasons" (1966), "Anne of the Thousand Days" (which received an Oscar nomination for Best Film Music in 1970) and "A Walk with Love and Death" (1969).

The maestro's talent was seen to lie not in the use of pastiche, but in the reinvention of a musical language appropriate to the occasion.


A return to the period of… A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

At the beginning of the year 1966, the BBC screened an 'Omnibus' TV special entitled "Don't Shoot the Composer", a new documentary by Ken Russell; it was his tribute to Georges Delerue, with the composer in the leading role. Fred Zinneman received a call from one of his associates saying, "Fred, watch TV. They're showing a portrait of a very interesting French musician."

The very next day, Delerue was invited to meet the filmmaker. Georges wasn't known in England in those days, but Zinnemann asked him on the spot to write the music for "A Man for All Seasons".

For this film released in 1966 – it was awarded six Oscars – Georges Delerue wrote a score inspired by the music of The Middle Ages and The Renaissance to accompany the action set in 1529 at the Court of King Henry VIII. The opening title perfectly illustrates the universe of Fred Zinnemann's film in mixing tradition and modernity, with Delerue using principally an instrumental ensemble featuring a recorder, lute and harpsichord, with a section of viols that is typical of Renaissance music.

The main theme is built on a series of chord intervals in open fifths more typical of traditional medieval music, whilst the writing for viols leans more to the ricercars of the Renaissance (as in certain pieces for viol by the Spanish musician Diego Ortiz, for example, or later pieces by John Dowland or William Byrd). The melody is punctuated in several places by brass and percussion which reinforce the impression of grandeur at the Court of England. With his clever blend of medieval harmonies and composition in the style of The Renaissance (if not quasi-Baroque in the use of the harpsichord bass continuo), Delerue wrote an extremely skilled theme to accompany the opening credits for "A Man for All Seasons."


Fred Zinnemann's story...

"When I heard the opening title at the recording-sessions in London I was dissatisfied. In embarrassment I went over to speak to Georges. After a long silence he said to me, 'Let's take a break, with everyone out of the studio. Give me twenty minutes to find something else. If I can't think of anything, we'll have to do an extra session tomorrow.' Half an hour later we were recording a new title that was everything I could have wished for. A composer who can accomplish a feat like that really is an exception…"


In 1969, for the British film "Anne of the Thousand Days" directed by Charles Jarrott, Georges Delerue again wrote a score in a medieval style using an orchestra oscillating between solemn and lyrical brass, and intimate woodwinds. Like "A Man for All Seasons", Anne is set in the reign of King Henry VIII.

Charles Jarrott's film takes an interest in the story of the Boleyn sisters, an agitated, explosive tale against a backdrop of adultery, incest and treason.

The overture composed by Georges Delerue returned to the great lines of his Renaissance music. A great royal fanfare for the Court of Henry VIII is played by an ensemble of cornets and trombones over the drums, typical of the Royal Music of the period, and then more modern writing for strings brings in the characteristic warmth of the French musician, in contrast to the solemn, royal fanfares.

The central part of the overture unveils a second theme, more lyrical and intimate, played by a melancholy oboe against a backcloth of strings and the harp; the style is more classical, and more modern, close to the Golden Age of Hollywood. The strings then give way to a delicate recorder, still accompanied by warm harmonies from the strings and arpeggios on the harp, before returning to a royal fanfare in conclusion.

The same year, for John Huston's film "A Walk with Love and Death", Georges Delerue continued his explorations of medieval music. In this film adapted from the novel by Hans Koningsberger, John Huston plunges us into the midst of the Hundred Years' War: the film is set in France in 1358, the year of anarchy and the Jacquerie revolt.

For the scene of the return to Dammartin, Georges Delerue wrote a characteristic piece inspired by The Middle Ages and the instrumental/profane music of French "troubadours" heard in the south of France in the 13th and 14th centuries (and their northern counterparts known as "trouvères".)

In addition to classical strings, Delerue makes use of an ensemble recorder, cor anglais, baritone oboe (a 12th century instrument often used in Renaissance ensembles) and drum which evokes those formations seen in 12th century engravings. The central part of "Return to Dammartin" makes more classical use of the elegant and melancholy harmonies that come from the strings, the harp and a peaceful, lyrical solo recorder.

"Certain elements in the film needed dramatizing and I decided to use two orchestras: a concert-ensemble with period-instruments, and a full symphony which I fell back on here and there without straying too far from the language of the period, so that the difference would only lie in the timbres; the final score was the result of a symbiosis between the early instruments which combined with the film, like part of the décor, and the modern instruments which had a more psychological role to play." [From an interview with Georges Delerue in Cinématographe dated November 1980.]

There is indeed a Delerue style which expresses itself with great skill in the way the early instruments combine with their contemporaries. In this respect, "A Walk with Love and Death" represents a great accomplishment in the use of this medieval language.

In 1973, Georges Delerue was entrusted with the music for a historical saga in six episodes conceived and directed by Claude Barma for French television. "Les Rois Maudits", a series starring Jean Piat, Louis Seigner and Georges Marchal, had a huge following in the Seventies. The music had character, and it immortalized Georges Delerue.

Perfectly in rhythm with the period-setting in which it was anchored, the deep accents of the melody were dominated by massed strings and recorders which give the overall sound its powerful, regal character. The theme-music left its mark on Seventies' television, perfectly illustrating the dramatic tension during the reign of Philippe Le Bel. Nine years would go by before the name of Georges Delerue finally appeared in the credits of another television serial, the Anglo-Italian mini-series "The Borgias", which was directed by Brian Farnham for the BBC in 1981. 

For "The Borgias" the composer wrote a great, symphonic score using Renaissance and Baroque instruments. The series' main theme recalled the fanfares which typified royal music during the Renaissance, with trumpet calls and open fifths reminiscent of his work in the 1966 film "A Man for All Seasons". Delerue made use of a brass trumpet/trombone ensemble with a few discreet strings, kettledrums, and a very successful recorder part written over lute arpeggios closer to those found in Baroque music.

The intimist, lyrical character of the recorder acts as a counterbalance to the massive, solemn brass fanfare in "The Borgias". A listen to the opening title instantly reminds you of the singular universe of that corrupt family of Popes and depraved villains who held a ruthless sway over Italy in the 15th century.

Georges Delerue returned to the history of France in 1982 when politician Philippe de Villiers created the son et lumière theme-park "Le Puy du Fou" in Vendée after four years of work with voluntary helpers.


Renaissance, Medieval, Baroque...

the trace of these borrowings can sometimes be found in filigree in the music which Georges Delerue composed for such completely dissimilar films as "Interlude", "King of Hearts", "Pleins feux sur Stanislas", "Curly Sue" or "Man Trouble", together with his radiant signature-tune for French radio's "Radioscopie", the ballet "Les Trois Mousquetaires" and more contemporary works such as "Vitrail" and "Fanfares pour tous les Temps".


"Stylistic exercise, composition, savoir-faire, passion…

behind Georges Delerue's "Musique Baroque" lies a genuine signature…"



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