Growing up in Istanbul—which straddles the two continents of Europe and Asia—in a certain time period—the 1950’s and 60’s—it was impossible not to be hugely influenced by everything that touched on continental Europeanism. So, it was impossible for my wife Tiraje NOT to be intimately familiar with the movie music written by Michel Legrand, the prolific French film composer.
It is possible that you are familiar with Michel Legrand’s music without knowing his name. That was certainly the case for me until Tiraje came along. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was one of her favorite movies, and Legrand—whose jazz-tinged movie scores were known all over Europe, and who wrote the “Umbrellas” music—was one of her favorites as well. Through Tiraje, I became familiar with Legrand’s name—even though I had been hearing his music for years at that point without even knowing it. Legrand is kind of like France’s John Williams, but more elegant, more prolific—he’s written 200+ movie scores—and, as a composer, more self-reliant.
Michel Legrand (b. 1932) was just 22 when his I Love Paris album became one of the biggest selling instrumental albums ever released. Interestingly, he had studied at the Paris Conservatoire during his teen years, studying composition with Nadia Boulanger, the (very) famous teacher of dozens—scores, really—of great 20th century composers, including Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, and Astor Piazzolla. By the time Legrand was 20, he was both an outstanding jazz and classical pianist, and a budding composer.
During Legrand’s younger years—in the 1950’s and 60’s—he frequently collaborated with jazz greats Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and Stephane Grappelli. At various times of his life since then, he has also been conductor for the St. Petersburg (FL.), Vancouver, Montreal, Atlanta, Denver, and Pittsburgh symphonies. His musical pedigree, in both jazz and classical music, is impressive. He has worked—so it seems—with all the “big names” in both fields for his entire life. In addition to his composing, his arranging, and his work in jazz, he has also recorded over 100 albums, including many solo classical piano releases of such diverse composers as Satie, Gershwin, Amy Beach, and John Cage.
Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Jacques Demy’s 1966 movie in which all the dialogue of the movie is sung—an innovation at the time—was Legrand’s ticket to huge international success. Other Legrand film scores, for movies you may already know:
Cleo from 5 to 7
My Life to Live
The Young Girls of Rochefort
How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life
The Thomas Crown Affair
Ice Station Zebra
The Picasso Summer
Pieces of Dreams
Summer of ‘42
Brian’s Song (for TV)
The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing
Ode to Billy Joe
Other Side of Midnight
The Mountain Men
Falling in Love Again
Never Say Never Again
Angels in the Outfield
An impressive life’s work, isn’t it? And this list is just a fraction of his creative output. Legrand is still writing movie scores, and shows no signs of slowing down. He divides his time between France and the United States.
Equally incomplete is the following list of “greatest hits”. These are the Legrand tunes known to all, and which I have found to be touching and beautiful. A melancholy sadness pervades much of Legrand’s music—a sadness that, inexplicably, feels good to vicariously experience.
I WILL WAIT FOREVER (in French)
from Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo
Still the best of the best? It tears your heart out…
from Summer of ’42 (1971)
WINDMILLS OF YOUR MIND
from The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE? from The Happy Ending (1969)
I slept in an attic during the summer of 1975, and listened to Barbra’s The Way We Were LP—with “What Are You Doing”—so many times. A really pleasant memory. How great Streisand is at conveying the sentiment of a song.
IT IS HARD TO BELIEVE…that I started these music posts a year ago this week. I hope they have acquainted, or re-acquainted, many of you with some great music. With this post—number 300—I am going to take a break. I intend to return. Happy listening, everyone.