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date: 10 April 2020

Legrand, Michelfree

  • Mark Brill

(b Paris, France, 24 Feb 1932; d Paris, France, 26 Jan 2019). French composer, pianist, and arranger, son of the composer Raymond Legrand (b 1908) and brother of the singer Christiane Legrand (b 1930). A musical prodigy he enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 11. He attended from 1943 to 1950, studied conducting with Nadia Boulanger and harmony with Henri Chaland, and graduated as a first-prize winner in composition. A Dizzy Gillespie concert in Paris in 1947 awakened his passion for jazz. In the 1950s he became a popular bandleader, singer, and songwriter, and wrote and conducted ballets for Roland Petit. In 1954 he became the bandleader and conductor for Maurice Chevalier and traveled with him to New York. That same year he recorded the album I Love Paris. In the late 1950s his arrangements for the album Legrand Jazz (1958, Col.) featured the playing of Miles Davis, Ben Webster, Art Farmer, Hank Jones, Bill Evans, and John Coltrane.

In the 1950s he also began writing film music. His first important collaborations were with some of the masters of French cinema, notably Marcel Carné, but he is indelibly linked with the emergence of the French New Wave, writing scores for directors such as Jean-Luc Godard (seven films), Agnès Varda (six films), and Jacques Demy (ten films). He appeared and performed in Varda's Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962). He achieved his greatest success with Demy's Les parapluies de Cherbourg (1964), which brought worldwide recognition to both the director and the composer, including the Palme d’Or at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival. Hollywood took notice, and Legrand began working for American directors; he made four films for Joseph Losey, whose The Go-Between won the Palme d’Or in 1971. In 1968 he had his biggest American success with the score for Norman Jewison's The Thomas Crown Affair, which included the hit song “The Windmills of your Mind.” Thereafter Legrand had a number of successes including Summer of ’42 (1971), and his jazz score for Lady Sings the Blues (1972), the biographical film of Billie Holiday. In the late 1960s Legrand moved to the United States and for the next three decades divided his efforts equally between France and Hollywood, not always with the same measure of success.

Legrand's career alternated between contemporary subjects and period pieces, and he used many different styles in his scores. From an early age Legrand's style leaned towards light popular music and jazz, and he often emphasized thematic unity, although many scores are overshadowed by a central popular theme. Les parapluies de Cherbourg met with considerable critical acclaim. The director's vision was to make a musical film in a completely different vein from the Hollywood musical tradition, a “mixture of poetry, color, and music.” The film is entirely sung, in free verse; the lyrics were written by Demy. The direction was regulated by the music, and all aspects of the productions were subordinate to the musical rhythm. The score contains a wide range of styles, from haunting ballads such as “I will wait for you,” to jazz, tangos, mambos, and several light popular melodies.

In recent years Legrand struggled to adapt his craft to contemporary musical styles. His popular idiom, well received in the 1960s and 70s, subsequently lost some of its appeal and was often modified to reflect evolving aesthetics. Subsequent achievements include the Barbra Streisand film Yentl (1983), the jazz score for Dingo (1992), co-written with Miles Davis, and the sweeping, dark music of Les Misérables (1996). In 1997, at age 65, Legrand scored his first musical, Le passe muraille, which then became the Broadway show Amour in 2002, for which Legrand won a Tony Award nomination. This was followed by the musical Marguerite which premiered in London in 2008.

Legrand composed more than 220 film and television scores and recorded more than 100 jazz, classical, and popular music albums. His jazz highlights include the album Paris Jazz Piano (1959) with Guy Pedersen and Gus Wallez, followed by At Shelly's Manne-Hole (1968, Verve) with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown; Jazz le grand (1979) and After the Rain (1982, Pablo), both with Phil Woods and Zoot Sims; Grappelli & Legrand (1993) with Stephane Grappelli; and Michel Plays Legrand (2002). He was nominated for Academy Awards for his contributions to Les parapluies de Cherbourg, Les demoiselles de Rochefort, The Happy Ending, Pieces of Dreams, Best Friends, The Thomas Crown Affair, Summer of ’42, and Yentl, winning Oscars for the last three.

Works

(selective)

Film scores

Love is a Ball (dir. D. Swift), 1963

Les parapluies de Cherbourg (dir. J. Demy), 1964

The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean (dir. J. Compton), 1965

Les demoiselles de Rochefort (dir. J. Demy), 1967

Pretty Polly (dir. G. Green), 1967

How to Save a Marriage and Ruin your Life (dir. F. Cook), 1968

Ice Station Zebra (dir. J. Sturges), 1968

Sweet November (dir. R. Miller), 1968

The Thomas Crown Affair (dir. N. Jewison), 1968

Castle Keep (dir. S. Pollack), 1969

The Happy Ending (dir. R. Brooks), 1969

The Picasso Summer (dir. R. Sallin and S. Bourguignon), 1969

Play Dirty (dir. A. de Toth), 1969

A World in Music (Champion), 1969

The Go-between (dir. J. Losey), 1970

The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (dir. A. Litvak), 1970

The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart (dir. L. Horn), 1970

Pieces of Dreams (dir. D. Haller), 1970

To Catch a Pebble (dir. J. Collier), 1970

Wuthering Heights (dir. R. Fuest), 1970

Brian's Song (dir. B. Kulik), 1971 [television film]

Le Mans (dir. L. Katzin), 1971

Summer of ’42 (dir. R. Mulligan), 1971

Lady Sings the Blues (dir. S. Furie), 1972

One is a Lonely Number (dir. M. Stuart), 1972

Portnoy's Complaint (dir. E. Lehman), 1972

A Time for Loving (dir. C. Miles), 1972

The Adventures of Don Quixote (dir. A. Rakoff), 1973

A Bequest to the Nation (dir. J. Jones), 1973

Breezy (dir. C. Eastwood), 1973

Cops and Robbers (dir. A. Avakian), 1973

A Doll's House (dir. J. Losey), 1973

F for Fake (dir. O. Welles), 1973

40 Carats (dir. M. Katselas), 1973

Impossible Object (dir. J. Frankenheimer), 1973

The Nelson Affair (dir. J. C. Jones), 1973

The Three Musketeers (dir. R. Lester), 1973

It's Good to be Alive (dir. M. Landon), 1974

Cage without a Key (dir. B. Kulik), 1975 [television film]

Our Time (dir. P. Hyams), 1975

Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York (dir. S. J. Furie), 1975

Gable and Lombard (dir. S. J. Furie), 1976

Ode to Billy Joe (dir. M. Baer), 1976

Blind Sunday (dir. L. Elikann), 1976 [television episode]

Gulliver's Travels (dir. P. Hunt), 1976

Jalousie (dir. N. Trintignant), 1976

The Other Side of Midnight (dir. C. Jarrott), 1977

Michel's Mixed up Musical Bird (dir. M. Legrand), 1978 [television episode]

Blind Love (Legrand), 1979

Lady Oscar (dir. J. Demy), 1979

Les fabuleuses aventures du légendaire Baron de Munchausen (dir. J. Image), 1979

Falling in Love Again (dir. S. Paul), 1980

The Hunter (dir. B. Kulik), 1980

Melvin and Howard (dir. J. Demme), 1980

The Mountain Men (dir. R. Lang), 1980

Atlantic City (dir. L. Malle), 1981

Your Ticket is no Longer Valid (dir. G. Kaczender), 1981

Best Friends (dir. N. Jewison), 1982

Friends of the Family (dir. Y. Abolafia), 1982

A Woman Called Golda (dir. A. Gibson), 1982

Never Say Never Again (dir. I. Kershner), 1983

Yentl (dir. B. Streisand), 1983

The Jesse Owens Story (dir. R. Irving), 1984

Slapstick of Another Kind (dir. S. Paul), 1984

Micki & Maude (dir. B. Edwards), 1985

Promises to Keep (dir. N. Black), 1985 [television film]

Secret Places (dir. Z. Barron), 1985

As Summers Die (dir. J.-C. Tramont), 1986

Crossings (dir. K. Arthur), 1986 [television series]

Casanova (dir. S. Langton), 1987 [television film]

Children and the White Whale (dir. J. Kerchbron), 1987

The Jeweller's Shop (dir. M. Anderson), 1988

Switching Channels (dir. T. Kotcheff), 1988

Eternity (dir. S. Paul), 1989

Grand Piano (Coulson), 1989

As Summers Die (dir. J.-C.Tramont), 1986

Fate (dir. S. Paul), 1990

Inspiration (dir. O. Rojas), 1990

The Jeweller's Shop (dir. M. Anderson), 1990

Mirage (dir. M. Wyn), 1990

Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less (dir. C. Donner), 1990

The Return (Dayan), 1990

Sunday Pursuit (Zetterling), 1990

Tropical Gamble (dir. M. Wyn), 1990

Dingo (dir. R. de Heer), 1991

Mountain of Diamonds (dir. J. Szwarc), 1991 [television film]

The Pickle (dir. P. Mazursky), 1993

Prêt-à-Porter (dir. R. Altman), 1994

The Ring (dir. A. Mastroianni), 1996 [television film]

Madeline (dir. D. von Scherler Mayer), 1998

Doggy Bag (dir. F. Comtet), 1999

Cavalcade (dir. S. Suissa), 2005

The Legend of Simon Conjurer (dir. S. Paul), 2006

Disco (dir. F. Onteniente), 2008

Oscar and the Lady in Pink (dir. E. Schmitt), 2009

The Price of Fame (dir. X. Beauvois), 2014

The Guardians (dir. X. Beauvois), 2017

The Other Side of the Wind (dir. O. Welles), 2018

Bibliography

  • F. Porcile: “Collaborateurs de création du jeune cinéma français,” Cinéma 64, no.89 (1964), 50–66
  • P. Cook: “The Sound Track,” Films in Review, xvi (1965), 170–72; see also xx (1969), 308–10; xxii (1971), 225–8; xxii (1971), 425–8; xxvii (1976), 308–10; xxxv (1984), 48–50
  • L. Lyons: “Profile: Michel Legrand,” DB, xliii/3 (1976), 34
  • R.S. Brown: “Music and ‘Vivre sa Vie’,” US Quarterly Review of Film Studies, v/3 (1980), 319–33
  • D. Rabourdin: “Entretien avec Michel Legrand,” Cinéma 81, nos.271–2 (1981), 68–71
  • P. Sweeney: “The man who always knew the score,” The Independent, (27 Sept 1999)
  • R. Hill: “Donkey Skin (Peau d’âne),” Film Quarterly, lix/2 (2005–6), 40–44
  • M. Bennett: “Does the Song Really Remain the Same? The Windmills of Your Mind as Narrational Vehicle in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968 and 1999),” The Soundtrack vii/2 (2014): 79–88
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