Legrand, Michel (Jean)

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Legrand, Michel (Jean)

Legrand, Michel (Jean), prolific French composer, pianist, and conductor; b. Paris, France, Feb. 24, 1932. Legrand wrote the scores for at least 142 feature films released between 1955 and 1998, earning Grammys and Academy Awards for his efforts. Lushly romantic, his music served as the basis for such songs as “The Windmills of Your Mind,”“How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” and “The Way He Makes Me Feel.” His best-known scores included The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the Thomas Crown Affair, Summer of ’42, and Yentl.

Legrand was the son of composer, pianist, and conductor Raymond Legrand. He entered the Conservatoire Nationale de Musique at the age of 11 or 12 and studied with Nadia Boulanger, remaining at the school until the early 1950s. He became an accompanist for various singers and also played jazz in nightclubs. He first gained international recognition for his album containing his arrangements of French songs, I Love Paris, which entered the U.S. charts in November 1954 and made the Top Ten, asdid its 1955 follow-up, Holiday in Rome; Vienna Holiday (1955) also made the charts, and Castles in Spain (1956) was his third Top Ten album in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Legrand had turned his attention to film scoring, and in the late 1950s and early 1960s he worked with many French directors associated with the nouvelle vague, or New Wave: Jean-Luc Godard (Une Femme est une Femme [A Woman Is a Woman]; 1960); Jacques Demy (Lola; 1961); and Agnès Varda (Cléo de 5 à 7 [Cleo from 5 to 7]; 1962). As of 1963’s Love Is a Ball, he also began to find work in Hollywood. He first gained broad American recognition for the Jacques Demy-directed musical Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, released in the U.S. in December 1964 under the title The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. It earned him three 1965 Academy Award nominations, for Scoring of Music—Adaptation or Treatment, for Music Score—Substantially Original, and for Best Song, “I Will Wait for You,” the last two shared with Demy. He also earned two 1965 Grammy nominations, for Song of the Year for “I Will Wait for You” (along with Demy and English lyricist Norman Gimbel) and for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or TV Show (with Demy).

The recognition increased Legrand’s opportunities to write for American films, and by the late 1960s he was working as frequently in Hollywood as in Paris. For the comedy How to Save a Marriage (And Ruin Your Life), released in January 1968, he wrote the song “Winds of Change,” which Ray Conniff and the Singers took into the Top Ten of the easy listening charts. April 1968 saw the American release of Jacques Demy’s 1967 follow-up to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort). It earned Legrand and Demy another Oscar nomination for Score of a Musical Picture—(Original or Adaptation).

But Legrand’s biggest success of 1968 came with the June release of Norman Jewison’s stylish crime film The Thomas Crown Affair, starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. The soundtrack album made the charts for several weeks during the summer and earned Legrand a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Arrangement for the song “The Windmills of Your Mind” (lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman). But his work on the film gained its greatest recognition at Oscar time in 1969, when the score was nominated for Original Score—for a Motion Picture (Not a Musical) and “Windmills of Your Mind” won the Academy Award for Best Song. In the wake of the award, Dusty Springfield’s recording of the song became a hit, making the pop Top 40 and the Top Ten of the easy listening charts.

Legrand’s film work brought more awards and more hits during the early 1970s. “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” (lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman) from the November 1969 film The Happy Ending brought another Oscarnomination, leading to an easylistening chart entry for Jaye P. Morgan. The May 1970 film The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart contained “Sweet Gingerbread Man,” an easy-listening chart entry for the Mike Curb Congregation. “Pieces of Dreams” (lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman) from the August 1970 film of the same name, was a Top Ten easylistening chart hit for Johnny Mathis, with an instrumental version by Ferrante and Teicher also in the easy-listening charts, before it brought Legrand a best song Oscar nomination for the third year in a row. April 1971 saw the release of Summer of ’42, with a soundtrack album that spent more than seven months in the charts, resulting in two Grammy nominations for Legrand: “Theme from Summer of ’42” for Best Pop Instrumental Composition and Best Pop Instrumental Performance. And the score brought him his second Academy Award, for Best Original Dramatic Score.

By that time Legrand had enjoyed his next major success, his score for the 1971 television film Brian’s Song. His “Brian’s Song” instrumental theme made the pop and easy-listening charts and won him a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition, and he had his first chart LP in 16 years with “Brian’s Song” Themes & Variations. He returned to the charts less than four months later with Sarah Vaughan/ Michel Legrand, which brought him another Grammy for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) for “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” as well as two Grammy nominations for “The Summer Knows” (lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman; a song featured in Summer of’42), for Song of the Year and for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s). By the end of the year he was back in the charts with Bobby Darin’s recording of his collaboration with Smokey Robinson, “Happy,” the love theme from the film Lady Sings the Blues.

In addition to his extensive film work, Legrand also found occasion to write and perform jazz, and in 1975 he won two more Grammys, for Best Jazz Performance by a Big Band for the album Images, on which he led the orchestra backing Phil Woods, and for Best Instrumental Composition for “Images.”

Legrand again began to pick up airplay and awards in the early 1980s. His score for the 1982 film Best Friends featured “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” (lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman), which earned an Academy Award nomination, leading to a recording by James Ingram and Patti Austin that made the pop charts and the adult contemporary Top Ten in the spring of 1983. That fall saw the release of Barbra Streisand’s film musical Yentl, with a song score by Legrand and the Bergmans. Streisand topped the adult contemporary charts and made the pop Top 40 with “The Way He Makes Me Feel” from the score, and “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” also reached the adult contemporary charts. The soundtrack album reached the Top Ten and sold a million copies. Legrand and the Bergmans won the Academy Award for Original Song Score or Adaptation Score, and they were nominated for best song for both “The Way He Makes Me Feel” and “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” The soundtrack album was nominated for the Grammy for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or TV Special, and Legrand earned a nomination for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocal(s) for “Papa, Can You Hear Me?”.

Legrand continued to work on several films a year through the 1980s and did not slow down until the mid-1990s. In 1989 he made his directorial and screenwriting debut with the autobiographical Cinq Jours en Juin (Five Days in June), which recalled his youth during World War II. He earned a 1991 Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocal(s) for the track “Nature Boy” on Natalie Cole’s album Unforgettable.


(only works for which Legrand was a primary, credited composer are listed): film scores:Les Amants du Tage (Lovers’ Net; 1955); Rafles sur la Ville (Sinners of Paris; 1958); L’Amérique Insolite (1960); La Chien de Pique (1960); Les Portes Claquent (1960); Terrain Vague (1960); Une Femme est une Femme (A Woman Is a Woman; 1960); Les Sept Péchés Capitaux (Seven Capital Sins; 1961); Le Cave se Rebiffe (The Counterfeiters of Paris; 1961); Lola (1961); Me Faire Ça à Moi…(1961); Cleo de 5 à 7 (Cleo from 5 to 7; 1962); Comme un Poisson dans l’Eau (1962); L’Empire de la Nuit (1962); Le Gentleman d’Epsom (1962); Un Coeur Gros Comme Ça! (1962); Une Grosse Tête (1962); La Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels; 1963); Le Joli Mai (1963); Les Amoureux du “France” (1963); Love Is a Ball (1963); Maigret Voit Rouge (1963); Vivre Sa Vie (My Life to Live; 1963); Bande à Part (Band of Outsiders; 1964); Les Plus Belles Escroqueries du Monde (The Beautiful Swindlers; 1964); Fascinante Amazonie (1964); Les Pieds- Nickelés 1964 (1964); UneRavissante Idiote (Ravishing Idiot; 1964); Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; 1964); Corrida pour un Espion (1965); Eva (1965); L’Or et le Plomb (1965); Quand Passent les Faisans (Les Escrocs; 1965); Monnaie de Singe (1965); Et la Femme Créa l’Amour (1966); La Vie de Château (A Matter of Resistance; 1966); The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean (1966); Tendre Voyou (Tender Scoundrel; 1966);Qui Êtes-Vous, Polly Maggoo? (Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?; 1966); L’Homme à La Buick (1967); Pretty Polly (aka A Matter of Innocence; 1967); Le Plus Vieux Métier du Monde (The Oldest Profession; 1967); Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort; 1967); How to Save a Marriage (And Ruin Your Life) (1968); Ice Station Zebra (1968); Play Dirty (1968); Sweet November (1968); The Thomas Crown Affair (1968); Castle Keep (1969); The Happy Ending (1969); The Picasso Summer (1969); La Piscine (The Swimming Pool; 1969); La Dame dans l’Auto avec des Lunettes et un Fusil (The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun; 1970); Les Mariés de l’An Deux (1970); The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart (1970); Pieces of Dreams (1970); Wuthering Heights (1970); Peau d’Ane (Donkey Skin; 1971); The Go-Between (1971); Le Mans (1971); La Vieille Fille (1971); Les Feux de la Chandeleur (Hearth Fires; 1971); Summer of ’42 (1971); A Time for Loving (aka Paris Was Made for Loving; 1971); La Poudre D’Escampette (Touch and Go; 1971); Un Peu de Soleil dans l’Eau Froide (1971); Le Gang des Otages (The Hostage Gang; 1972); Lady Sings the Blues (1972); One Is a Lonely Number (1972); Pas Folle la Guêpe (1972); Portnoy’s Complaint (1972); 40 Carats (1973); Breezy (1973); Cops and Robbers (1973); A Doll’s House (1973); Vérités et Mensonges (F for Fake) (1973); A Bequest to the Nation (aka The Nelson Affair; 1973); Un Homme Est Mort (The Outside Man; 1973); L’Evénement le Plus Important depuis que l’Homme a Marché sur la Lune (A Slightly Pregnant Man; 1973); L’Impossible Object (Impossible Object [aka Story of a Love Story]; 1973); Our Time (aka Death of Her Innocence; 1974); The Three Musketeers (1974); La Ville Bidon (1975); Le Sauvage (The Savage [aka Lovers Like Us]; 1975); Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York (1975); The Smurfs and the Magic Flute (1975); Section Spéciale (1975); Gable and Lombard (1976); Le Voyage de Noces (1976); Ode to Billy Joe (1976); Black Joy (1977); Gulliver’s Travels (1977); The Other Side of Midnight (1977); Semi-Tough (1977); Ça Fait Tilt! (1978); La Belle Emmerdeuse (1978); Le Baratineur (1978); Mon Premier Amour (1978);On Peut le Dire sans Se Fcher (1978); Les Routes du Sud (The Roads to the South; 1978); Je Vous Ferai Aimer la Vie (1979); Lady Oscar (1979); Les Fabuleuses Aventures du Légendaire Baron de Munchausen (1979); Atlantic City (1980); Falling in Love Again (aka In Love; 1980);The Hunter (1980); Melvin and Howard (1980); The Mountain Men (1980); Les Uns et les Autres (Bolero; 1981); Finishing Touch (1981); Hi No Tori (The Phoenix) (1980); Best Friends (1982); Le Cadeau (TheGift; 1982); Qu-Est-Ce Qui Fait Courir David?(What Makes David Run?; 1982); La Revanche des Humanoides (1983); Never Say Never Again (1983); Yentl (1983); Eine Liebe in Deutschland (Love in Germany; 1984); Micia + Maude (1984); Palace (1984); Partir Revenir (1984); Slapstick (Of Another Kind) (1984); Train d’Enfer (1984); Parking (1985); Secret Places (1985); Paroles et Musique (Love Songs; 1986); Club de Rencontres (1987); Spirale (1987); Switching Channels (1988); Trois Places pour le 26 (1988); Cinq Jours en Juin (Five Days in June; 1989); Eternity (1990); Dingo (1991); Fuga dal Paradiso (Escape from Paradise; 1991); The Pickle (1991); Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993); Ready to Wear (1994); Les Misérables (1995); Les Enfants de Lumière (The Children of Lumiere; 1995); Die Schelme von Schelm (Aaron’s Magic Village; 1995); The Truth About Cats and Dogs (1996); Madeline (1998). television film scores:Brian’s Song (1971); It’s Good to Be Alive (1974); A Woman Called Golda (1982); The Jesse Owens Story (1984); As Summers Die (1986); Casanova (1987); Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less (1990); The Ring (1996).

—William Ruhlmann