Maurice Jarre

Creator of memorable melodies, usually simple compositions that sound almost predictable, follow clear descending or ascending line; his name is listed in more than 120 films and television productions, his work honored with 3 Oscars, Grammy and BAFTA Award for best music composer – Maurice Jarre (1924 – 2009) gave us divine variety of tunes – romantic, poignant, glorifying or intimate. He composed brilliant anthems for two masterpieces by David Lean – Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.

Maurice Jarre –making music for both epics and intimate stories
Maurice-Alexis Jarre, French composer was born in Lyon, France, 1924. He is widely known for collaboration with Sir David Lean, one of the greatest British filmmakers. From Lawrence of Arabia every single Lean’s film (four of them) were scored by Jarre.

Against his father’s will, as a teenager he enrolled at the Conservatoire de Paris and, alongside composition, Jarre have chosen percussions as his major instrument. “At the age of 15 I knew nothing about music”, once he said. In 1951 he met filmmaker Georges Franju who asked him to compose music for his documentary Hotel des Invalides (1952). Franju and Jarre collaborated again on two projects, one was Franju’s most acclaimed film – Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face, 1960).

Two years later the career of Maurice Jarre took a spectacular turn – it was 1962 when he composed the score for war epic The Longest Day, but more important was that producer Sam Spiegel considered him to be second choice for upcoming film by David Lean. Composer Malcom Arnold won an Oscar for Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and he was expected to do the work for Lawrence of Arabia (1962); Spiegel wanted to use at least two composers for the job, considering the film story takes place in various continents. But when both Spiegel and Lean heard Jarre’s main theme, they decided French composer will score the whole film – “The first time I met David Lean was when he, Sam Spiegel and I were in a London studio; I sat at the piano and while I played the theme for ‘Lawrence’, I could hear David Lean behind me saying ‘Sam, this young chap has exactly what I want”, Jarre recalled.

The rest is history, Jarre won an Oscar for best music and one of the most succesful colaborations started, similar to one of Hitchcock and Herrmann – between David Lean and Maurice Jarre. Their next film was another period epic, Doctor Zhivago (1965), melodrama set in whirlpool of Russian communist revolution. Jarre can be proud that many couples have fallen in love while listening to his most popular tune, ‘Lara’s Song’ from Zhivago – this legendary song holds both the pain of separation and hope of romantic reunion. Besides, the famous twenty balalaikas chorus performing dreamy waltz is unforgettable. Maurice Jarre won his second Academy Award as the best composer for this film.

Maurice Jarre
Julie Christie and Omar Sharif – Doctor Zhivago (1965)

At the time, Jarre collaborated with legendary auteurs such as John Huston (The Man Who Would Be King and two more films), William Wyler (The Collector, 1965), Alfred Hitchcock (Topaz, 1969). In 1964 Jarre left Paris and immigrated to the United States of America. There he continued his string of splendid themes for films. In 1970 David Lean was making Ryan’s Daughter, romantic story set in Ireland and of course Maurice Jarre was in charge for music. The score for Ryan’s Daughter has detached, almost whimsical feel to it; the touch of irish traditional music is present and the general impression was that Lean didn’t make great film, but Jarre made great music once more. He won Grammy Award for this one.

Maurice Jarre’s notable work was with German director Volker Schloendorff – famous Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum, 1979, Palme D’Or at Cannes Film Festival) in which he used drums and obscure Slovak flute and another film, Die Falschung (1981). Jarre composed music for several Peter Weir’s films – The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), Witness (1985), Dead Poet’s Society (1989); he scored for hilarious comedies (Top Secret! 1984), adventures like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) in which exhilaratingly over-the-top score features choir, full orchestra, a battery of percussion and four pianos (!), action movies (Firefox, 1982) or science fiction films such as Enemy Mine (1984), prominently using percussions and/or electronic instruments. He composed the music score for Franco Zeffirelli’s tv epic Jesus of Nazareth (1977), as well as Shogun (1980) mini-series.

In 1984 David Lean made his last film, A Passage to India and Maurice Jarre composed the score, naturally – he won his third Oscar with Lean’s film. Jarre wrote passional love theme for Fatal Attraction (1987) directed by Adrian Lyne; in 1988 he composed music for Gorillas in the Mist; his score for Ghost (1990), nominated for Academy Award, was partly based on “Unchained Melody” composed by his fellow composer Alex North. In the same year (1990) Jarre wrote haunting music theme for Adrian Lyne’s psycho drama Jacob’s Ladder.

In 90’s Maurice Jarre continued to write music themes, his name is on the credits of some 15 films from that period – Shadow of the Wolf, The Setting Sun, Fearless, A Walk in the Clouds, The Sunchaser are some of them.

His music for Lawrence of Arabia was named No. 3 on the list of the greatest film scores by American Film Institute. “Lara’s Song” (from Doctor Zhivago) is surely one of the most beautiful movie themes ever written. The 50 years long splendid career of French artist is true treasure, ultimate achievement in the history of cinema.