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Maurice Jarre

02.04.2009 By: Volker Schlöndorff

When I was looking for a composer to do the music to the TIN DRUM my fabulously intuitive editor, the late Suzanne Baron, suggested Maurice Jarre.
- Are you kidding! - was my reaction, this is not exactly going to be a Zivago type movie.
Suzanne insisted: - You dont know him. Maurice is a percussionist by trade, a drummer, as such he worked in Boulez orchestra, he made fantastic scores, using African drums and pipes, for Jean Rouch's anthropological Musée de l'Homme.
Next I found out that Maurice Jarre, whom we all associated with David Lean's huge productions and with the Hollywood establishment, which had bestowed three academy awards, plus a number of nominations upon him, that this very same Maurice Jarre had written the stage music for about 70 theatre productions of Jean Vilar's TNP, plays with such glories as Gerard Philippe, Jean Louis Barrault and Madelaine Renault, with Silvia de Montfort et Jean Rochefort, he had even composed a real "musical", LOIN DE RUEIL, based upon a story by Raymond Queneau, which I remembred very vividly, since I had seen it as a student - remembering even the tunes, but not - shame on me! - the composer's name Maurice Jarre.
Music at a show, be it theatre, opera or film, has to act upon the audience "like an electro-choc" said Maurice Jarre when first working with Franju on LA TETE CONTRE LES MURS. He will come back, decades later, to this "electro-choc" music for JACOB'S LADDER: To achieve this choc, he used not only drums and extreme variations of percussion, but distorted piano strings, out-of-tune banjos, loose strings on a bass and electronic devices at a time, when electronical music was widely unknown.
It was around this time that producer Sam Spiegel called him and asked him to help out with some secondary music writing, to fill in the space between major orchestral parts for LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. When Maurice Jarre played some of his supposed to be "minor filling in music", David Lean had the main composer sent back to Hollywood and entrusted him with the entire score, an immense task, since there where 40 hours of film and only a few once left to achieve it all.
THE REST IS LEGEND - as the saying goes.
David Lean spoke about working with Maurice and praised the incredible dedication of the composer, who for weeks on end would never desist himself from the characters, who would literally creep under their skin, share their every emotion, following the intonations of the dialogue, as if he were working on an opera.
EMOTION, INTELLIGENCE and DISCRETION "discrétion" is how I would call his main qualities.
Emotion one cant explain, it comes from the heart and it goes straight to the heart, a goal Maurice Jarre achieved many a time, as millions of spectators can certify. And it is because of the very discreet way he does it, never preceding the emotion of the characters, never announcing to the audience, what is to come, but waiting for the very last moment before sneaking in his theme, in such a way that the audience has the feeling, they themselves composed what they are hearing, that's how much in sync it is. His themes, by the way, are never "folklorique", after all he did work long enough on anthropological films to avoid such facilities. Famous Lara's theme is not a Russian folksong, nor is Laurence' theme coming from some oriental, bedouin shepard tune, nor is MAD MAX using aborigines songlines, nor does the strange opening of the TIN DRUM come from some Kashubian tradition. He told me, in fact, that he wanted to celebrate the potatoe, die Kartoffel was his inspiration (not in a culinary way!).
Maurice Jarre is finding his themes on his piano, actually he says his fingers are finding themes, his mind is rejecting them, one by one, until suddenly his fingers propose a few notes touching both his heart and his mind. It's only now that the "couleur locale", the exotic touch is allowed in, not into the composition, but into the orchestration: harmonies from other musical cultures are incorporated, exotic instruments (of which he has a large collection) are mixed with traditional orchestra, and such even Scottish pipes and .... can celebrate all of a sudden the DEAD POETS' SOCIETY.
A few words, to round it up, on his intelligence. Can music be intelligent? Of course, just listen to all the stupid music we are exposed to. First it's intelligent not to do the obvious, never deliver what everybody is expecting. Secondly, think about the function of the score: which side are you on, which is the character you root for, how to you cope with his mistakes, what exactly is his tragedy or his bliss, if there is any. How can we enhance these crucial moments in such a way, that the audience will go through the exact same experience and never ever forget that moment of devastation - or elevation. Lawrence rescued from dehydration in the desert, a rider appearing at the horizon, Lara finding the one she thought dead, what makes these moments great? Not only the score, but the silence surrounding the music. Maurice Jarre has composed for hundreds of films, but never too much of it.
Without SILENCE there could be no sound. In french : "silence" for Maurice Jarre, and then APPLAUSE.