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BRUCE BERESFORD

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

I think that the first film score I ever heard by Georges Delerue was Jules and Jim in the early sixties. I was captivated by its melodic charm and the manner in which it captured the spirit of the movie. Today, the score has not dated at all, a claim that can be made for few films over even ten years old, but this is a characteristic of all of Delerue's film music. Through the sixties, seventies and into the eighties, I continued to find Delerue's scores fascinating. Not just those for virtually all of the Truffaut films, but also movies such as Bertolucci's The Conformist with its invigorating jazz rhythms. At first I thought of him as best suited to comedies, probably because the Truffaut films were made with a gentle Gallic touch, but his gift for melody and enormous versatility were demonstrated with films such as A Man for All Seasons, The Pumpkin Eater, Our Mother’s House and, in America, Salvador, Silkwood and Platoon. Every score he wrote fitted the film so perfectly. His understanding of story and characters was so acute that his music always added depth and subtlety.

In the mid-eighties, Delerue began to spend months of each year in Los Angeles scoring American movies, and I decided to approach him about my film Crimes of the Heart. At this time (1985), he spoke barely any English and we had to speak mostly through an interpreter. Any qualms I had about his understanding of the movie vanished on the first day of recording, when the first chords of his inventive but unmistakable style were played against the images of the film. Actually,

 

Georges was charmed by Crimes of the Heart, which was uncommonly well-written by Beth Henley, and adapted from her successful stage play.

I wanted him to capture the intimacy of the three sisters and the southern ambiance. For the main title, a haunting ballad, Georges suggested the saxophone because one of the sisters, Diane Keaton, plays it in one scene. Over the next five years, Delerue scored another four of my films: his music for the comedy Her Alibi has some of the vivacity of the Truffaut scores although, regrettably, the film is not in the same class.

But Georges wrote a delightfully light and witty score that made this rather dull film appear much better than it was. For Mister Johnson, I asked him to write an English violin concerto and he produced one which Elgar would have been proud to write. There was another drama set in Canada in 1630, Black Robe, and finally the dramatic comedy Rich in Love, his last score, in which his music hit the exact tone we had never been able to find with any of the temporary tracks used for test screenings.  

Georges Delerue's command of English improved (though it was always colorfully bizarre), to the point where we dispensed with the interpreter (my earnest study of French helped a little), but language was curiously unimportant with a man of so much instinctive human understanding, so much wit, so much charm. Every film he saw he appeared to comprehend immediately in every detail. If, during the editing, the most minor changes were made, he would instantly notice. Even a major reshuffling of scenes appeared not to bother him. He would seemingly calmly and effortlessly rearrange the music cues to fit once again, as seamlessly as ever. He worked like a demon with a brilliant flair for organization. I would say that Georges was the best-organized person I've ever met.

Every appointment was kept, every piece of music was ready exactly when he said it would be, every recording session worked precisely as he predicted. Yet he did all this with no apparent effort and with cordiality. If the start was nine a.m., you could be sure his baton would be coming down for the first note exactly on time. He was courteous to the musicians, encouraging and appreciative. 

Every section of music was flawlessly prepared and always precisely fitted the scene. He invariably cleverly changed the orchestration during dialogue passages, so that the music never struggled against the words.

From a human point of view, Georges was very kind by nature, very amiable (I never saw him lose his temper even to a minor degree) and had that relaxed manner that I tend to associate, perhaps naively, with French friends. He was intensely musical and appeared to know absolutely everything about music from every country in the world. During my career, I’ve collaborated with many gifted composers but Georges will always be my favourite. Today, when I look at old films of his on TV, I am captivated all over again by his music.

It never seems to date and always enhances the mood. He could go from comedies to drama with equal skill. I think his music for Black Robe is one of the greatest film scores ever written, so much of the film is without dialogue that it was left to the images and music to convey mood and character. As well as film scores, Georges wrote numerous classical pieces (he trained with Darius Milhaud) that fascinatingly revealed a darker side to his personality. His total output places him among the astonishing number of gifted French composers the twentieth century has produced.

Physically, Delerue was a small and somewhat misshapen man because of a childhood spinal deformity. He had a huge head and a thick mane of blonde hair. Despite his ungainly appearance, I always imagined he was tremendously attractive to women, just as he was to men. He was greatly loved by all who knew him, all of whom will always miss him.

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