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DECISIVE YEARS - LOS ANGELES

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

 1980 – DECISIVE YEARS

 

In 1979, Georges Delerue's work was recognized in America at the 52nd Academy Awards. In the face of competition from such prestigious composers as Jerry Goldsmith, Henri Mancini and Lalo Schifrin, the legendary Oscar statuette was awarded to Georges Delerue for his music for George Roy Hill's film "A Little Romance".

It came as a great surprise to Georges Delerue; the composer imagined that Jerry Goldsmith would win after his nomination for the splendid score from "Star Trek: The Motion Picture". Delerue's Oscar meant influence and honour for the French composer, after a long relationship with Hollywood.

 

Georges Delerue worked with America but never left French soil. When criticized, his reply was, "Nationalism in music horrifies me; even when I was still at the Conservatoire, I never agreed with people who talked to me about "French" music. Music is one of the rare languages that are international; let no-one take that quality away from it... And, yes, I did say that I preferred working in Europe with Americans, rather than working over there!"

Originally, he was explaining why he refused to fly it was stipulated in his contracts but there was another reason for his observation.

"Some people already living in America told me that unbearable constraints would be imposed, that I wouldn't be allowed to choose the people I'd be working with, that I'd have to put up with an orchestrator… Stravinsky himself had seen his work re-orchestrated when he arrived in America. I worked with Fred Zinnemann on "A Man for All Seasons", and he kindly warned me: "You're a European; you'd be unhappy in The United States". There were other factors, however, which comforted Georges' desire to go to America.

"When you've worked a long time in the same milieu, there comes a day when you want to go and see what's happening elsewhere…"

"In France, I was starting to go round in circles; it was always the same fight to get two violins here, two clarinets there. One day, after haggling with a lady-producer for weeks to get five more musicians, I just decided I'd had enough. After thirty years in the business without ever going over budget, it was hard to be still in the same situation. And I made my decision: when the next contract was offered to me in America, I was going, despite the fact I'd have to fly. I don't speak a word of English? So what? Interpreters exist."

At the end of 1980, United Artists made the composer an offer to write the score for Ulu Grosbard's "True Confessions", produced by Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, and starring Robert de Niro and Robert Duvall.

So Georges Delerue left for Los Angeles, where he was given a warm welcome by peers and colleagues alike: Lalo Schifrin, Henri Mancini, Elmer Bernstein, Charles Fox and many others.

"When I arrived, my first surprise was to find several screenplays waiting for me at my hotel. And I discovered that I was known not only for the English-language films and the work I'd done with the Nouvelle Vague (Truffaut, Godard), but also for Philippe de Broca's "King of Hearts"! That film, full of poetry, had been a total flop in France (3000 spectators), but its directing was being studied in American universities! And through that, so was my music.

 

The professionalism of Americans was something I found very seductive. Contrary to what I'd been told, I worked with complete freedom over there. I chose the musicians I wanted, did the orchestration myself, and conducted the orchestra as before. I didn't dread the budget anymore. When I was worried and asked for three recording-sessions to do "True Confessions", the producers gave me five! And nothing stopped me from continuing to work in France."

A light ocean-breeze rustles the tips of the cypress trees surrounding the discreet white house which was purchased by Georges Delerue. Situated near Mulholland Drive, and filled with the colours of David Hockney's paintings, the house looks out over Burbank's studios on one side, and on the other there's a view of the famous, sunny highway twisting through the foothills separating Beverly Hills from the Valley.  (Frédéric Gismello-Mesplomb, " Georges Delerue: Une Vie")

In theory his new life was idyllic, but there were difficult times ahead. Under the American system, unlike in France, the composer is paid at the outset, according to his reputation. It's a system which authorizes producers and directors, without any qualms, to reject music which, for one reason or another, no longer suits them, and hire another composer.

It's always a bitter experience for a creator to see his work turned down, and Georges Delerue went through this painful process on two occasions: first in 1982, with "Something Wicked This Way Comes" directed by Jack Clayton even though it was one of the composer's most beautiful scores – and again in 1991 with "Regarding Henry", directed by Mike Nichols.

"Welcome to the club! Now you're a real American composer!" said his colleagues, most of whom had already had been through the same bitter experience.

But Georges Delerue was never one to let that get him down. Sweeping away the clouds, his creative energy quickly returned to give us even more melodies with that instantly-recognizable sound. Some composers have drawn inspiration from it, and have sometimes paid tribute to Delerue with pieces that are "Delerue-esque", like Paul Cantelon's score for Justin Chadwick's film "The Other Boleyn Girl" in 2008.

A world-musician, Georges Delerue lived for music, and it made him a happy man.

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