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FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT

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

 Georges Delerue, my friend François !

"François Truffaut was an exceptional man warm, discreet, rather timid and sensitive, who nevertheless always surprised me and who always expressed what he thought and felt most deeply."

He was profoundly admired by those who worked in the cinema and I, who also had great affection for him, suffered a terrible shock upon learning that he was gravely ill."

 

"When I arrived in the United States, I was surprised to learn that I was rather well known thanks to François' films. Everyone seemed to know Jules and Jim (1962) and Shoot the Piano Player (1960).

Day for Night (1973) was a critical triumph. All of his films were discussed and analyzed in film programs of American universities. And, of course, in studying the films, one discovered the music I had written for them."

"It is perhaps Day for Night that, of all his films, has always moved me the most. That love song for the cinema very much resembled François himself. Film was his life, his passion. The scene where everyone takes leave of each other at the end of shooting captures what everyone in cinema experiences at such moments. That feeling one has of a family, close-knit and intense during its work, now breaking up and scattering has always been difficult for me. The way in which François shot the scene suggests that he too was moved to sadness at the end of shooting a film."

 

"I lost in François' disappearance someone I loved and someone who taught me an enormous amount about film-making. It is hard to believe that I shall never be with him again in a cutting room and that I shall never again hear him say: "It's time for a break. Let's talk about music."

 

 

The Cinema of François Truffaut

"To me, film music is a question of grammar. If you can accept the comparison between film and the novel, I add music to my picture when I change the tense from Present to Imperfect."

That, in a nutshell, was how François Truffaut clarified his approach to film music, an approach confirmed in a long career he shared with Georges Delerue. Truffaut had taken pains to elevate him to a rank as the greatest film-buff composer there was, and yet his relationship with Delerue seems to have been built on a strange paradox, a kind of consistency in inconsistency, a loyalty troubled by repeated absences.

Even if the filmmaker was unconditionally enthusiastic about the work of the composer who was his lucky mascot, he still explored other associations (Bernard Herrmann, Antoine Duhamel, and Maurice Jaubert posthumously) yet it was always so that he could better return to the fold. Truffaut also practised this policy of alternation with his cameramen (Coutard, Clerval, Almendros, Glenn). Strangely enough, the singularity of the Truffaut-Delerue relationship probably lay in its eclipses : the tandem always emerged so much the stronger. In the end, this discontinuous continuity organized itself into three cycles that covered twenty-three years and eleven films.

The composer met Truffaut for Tirez sur le pianiste (Shoot the Pianist !) and took his leave with Vivement dimanche ! (Confidentially Yours). From the second full-length feature to the last. It was as if Delerue's music constituted an almost-total perimeter of Truffaut's filmography; it was a kind of frame.

To replace his real family, Truffaut manufactured another for himself, a cinema-family in which Georges Delerue appeared as the composer-brother. Their common denominator was stubbornness : in taking their own destinies in hand, and in slipping the moorings that tied them to social backgrounds and the drabness of their childhoods. By the time he was seventeen, Delerue was completely fulfilling himself in an apprenticeship as a composer.

"If music hadn't entered my life, he confided, I'd be a labourer today. The Conservatoire in Roubaix quickly became a dream, a means of escape, The means to have an intense life". Films and books had the same refuge-status for Truffaut, an adolescent in rebellion against a hostile family environment. Escape, emancipation, maturing through art : Truffaut and Delerue were made to work together. There was nothing in their respective origins that could have allowed anyone to foresee that these infants of Roubaix and the Place Clichy would one day emerge as two of the world's most famous French creators.

  

In the course of these films, Georges Delerue voyaged among the different genres summoned up by Truffaut : adaptations of thrillers, tales of loving passion, the sentimental adventures of Antoine Doinel, and explorations of goings-on behind the scenes. Musically speaking, Truffaut inclined towards the whimsy of Charles Trenet, or the baroque, or scores from Hollywood's Golden Age. "Generally, François had a passion for film music", underlined Delerue. "He had a rather large collection of records from the great MGM era, with all those never-ending musical endings".* Delerue quickly grasped the filmmaker's tastes and gauged just how far he could go. [in Georges Delerue, une vie, par Frédéric Gimello-Mesplomb (Ed. Jean Curutchet, 1998)]

 

With Truffaut's films he would never stretch to the radical modernity of L'Insoumis or Police Python 357 like his colleague Antoine Duhamel who, with his provocative score for Domicile conjugal, precipitated his break with the director.

Delerue's Truffaut-work was clear and fluid; it was writing that showed a mastery of the Romantic and expressed all the intensity of emotions, both their complexity and the grief they can cause. Here we find the great waltzes "à la Delerue", waltzes that are both jaunty and misted over with nostalgia L'Amour à vingt ans (Love at Twenty), the finale of Le Dernier métro (The Last Metro), love-themes with a fragile lyricism, for a solo flute over a carpet of strings, Tirez sur le pianiste, La Peau douce, (The Soft Skin) and L'Amour en fuite (Love on the Run), ironic superficiality not far from the tongue-in-cheek, Une belle fille comme moi (Such a gorgeous kid like me), Vivement dimanche !, not to mention injections of darkness, tension and disquiet when dealing with the Occupation (Le Dernier métro), culpability (La Peau douce), and the devastating effects of passion (La Femme d'à-côté or The Woman Next Door).

 

For Les Deux Anglaises et le continent (Two English Girls) the composer brought to perfection the unique orchestral formula he'd merely outlined In Henri Colpi's (Mona), l'étoile sans nom : at a moderato tempo, the sound of a levitating sitar brings out a totally graceful melody in layers that swell like sails in the wind. This Petite île, a pure concentrate of poetry, is one of the most moving themes born with Truffaut's pictures.

And in another sequence from the same film, the director even disrupts the sound-treatment he'd initially envisaged : at the dockside, Claude (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is waiting for Muriel (Stacey Tendeter) to disembark.

"The sun was making waves of light on the hull, recounted cameraman Nestor Almendros. I said to François : It would be beautiful if you could get them to meet in front of those vibrations in the light! He said to me : "When you have a picture with light like that, it's worth a whole line of dialogue!" So we shot the scene and later, during the editing, he cut the dialogue; he only kept Delerue's music.

t was as if the passion, the inner vibration, had been projected into the scene."

 

** It was proof, if proof be needed, that Truffaut took great interest in form; that he knew how to conjugate music and photography together, especially when expressing a mood where words could no longer suffice. If Delerue wisely left the aggressiveness of his modern inspiration at home when working with Truffaut, he also turned his back on the sparkling pastiches he wrote in the court-music genre, which incidentally became his trademark when working with Philippe de Broca. No vitriolic dissonance with Truffaut, no "son et lumière" like a Chambord chateau. The great exception to this, because there was one, was La Nuit américaine (Day for Night) and its chorus of baroque trumpets and orchestra; it sublimed the fusion of cinema people in the execution of their chosen field. "My problem was the main theme," recalled Delerue,

 

"François caused people to feel the magic of the cinema, and I could sense his love for the art. Suddenly I had an idea : the grandiose, timeless, great choral style! Like Bach would have written to the glory of God, here I had to write music to the glory of the cinema!"*

Hence a tasty contrast between the vigorous flights of fancy, half-Vivaldi, half-Telemann, and the action of the film, which is resolutely contemporary. After abundant other versions, (concerts, theme-tunes, jingles), today the Grand choral has become a musical symbol for Truffaut's cinema, even though it contains nothing in itself that is representative of the composer's usual aesthetic when working with the director. Yet in writing "classically", Georges Delerue had clearly written one of his own classics.

A final word on the subject of this present album, which for the first time retraces the chronological continuity of the Truffaut-Delerue path. Everything here is in its original version, and the content is enhanced with some previously-unreleased pieces and alternate takes (notably in Une belle fille comme moi, La Nuit américaine and L'Amour en fuite). Themes that are central in Truffaut's filmography have been concentrated within some seventy minutes of music : love of women and the cinema, the wounds of childhood, educations both professional and sentimental, devastating passions.

 A year after the director's death, Delerue would write from his home in Los Angeles : "The day he died, many Americans, some of them strangers, telephoned me to tell me their sadness. I still can't believe that I'll never be beside him again in an editing-room; I'll never hear that phrase he used on every film again : "Play-time now! Let's talk about the music!"

 

 

***As for Truffaut, he once declared : "From the moment Hitchcock started using Herrmann, something in his films was intensified." To simply paraphrase him: the day Georges Delerue's music glided into Truffaut's pictures, the films gained in intensity and moved up the emotional ladder a step.

Stéphane Lerouge

* in Georges Delerue, une vie, by Frédéric Gimello-Mesplomb (published by Editions Jean Curutchet, 1998)
** in François Truffaut, by Antoine de Baecque et Serge Toubiana (published by Editions Gallimard, 1997)

*** in Le Roman de François Truffaut (published by Editions de l'Etoile, 1985)

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