Composer. Nationality: French. Born: Paris, 24 February 1932; son of the musician Raymond Legrand. Education: Attended the Paris Conservatory, 1943–50: studied with Henri Chaland and Boulanger. Family: Married Christine Bouchard, 1958, two sons, one daughter. Career: Band leader, light music arranger, and conductor for Maurice Chevalier; 1955—first full-length film score, Les Amants du Tage; also composer for TV mini-series A Woman Called Golda, 1982, and The Jesse Owens Story, 1984. Awards: Academy Award, for song "The Windmills of Your Mind," 1968, Summer of '42, 1971, and Yentl, 1983; British Academy Award, for Summer of '42, 1971; inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame, 1990.
Films as Composer:
Beau fixe (Loew—short)
Les Amants du Tage (Lovers' Net) (Verneuil)
Le Triporteur (Pinoteau); Raffles sur la ville (Chenal)
Charmants garçons (Decoin)
Chien de pique (Y. Allégret); Terrain vague (Carné); Les Portes claquent (Poitrenaud and Fermaud); L'Amérique insolite (L'Amérique vue par un français) (Reichenbach)
Lola (Demy); Cause toujours mon lapin (Roitfeld); Le Cave se rebiffe (The Counterfeiters of Paris) (Grangier) (co); Une Femme est une femme (A Woman Is a Woman) (Godard); Me faire ça à moi (Grimblatt)
Une Grosse Tête (de Givray); Cléo de 5 à 7 (Cleo from 5 to 7) (Varda) (co); "Envie" ep. of Les Sept Péchés capitaux (Seven Capital Sins) (Molinaro); Vivre sa vie (My Life to Live) (Godard); Eva (Losey); Le Coeur battant (The French Game) (Doniol-Valcroze); Comme un poisson dans l'eau (Michel); L'Empire de la nuit (Grimblat)
Love Is a Ball (Swift); Les Amoureux du France (Gimblat); La Baie des anges (Bay of the Angels) (Demy); Le Gentleman d'Epsom (Grangier); Le Joli Mai (Marker)
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) (Demy); Bande à part (Band of Outsiders) (Godard); Une Ravissante Idiote (Ravishing Idiot) (Molinaro)
Monnaie de singe (Robert); L'Or et le plomb (Cuniot); Qui êtes vous, Polly Magoo (Klein); Quand passent les faisans (Molinaro)
La Vie de château (A Matter of Resistance) (Rappeneau); Tendre voyou (Tender Scoundrel) (Jean Becker)
Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort) (Demy); L'Homme à la Buick (Grangier); Pretty Polly (A Matter of Innocence) (Green); Le Plus Vieux Métier du monde (The Oldest Profession) (de Broca and others)
How to Save a Marriage—and Ruin Your Life (Cook); Sweet November (Miller); Play Dirty (De Toth); The Thomas Crown Affair (Jewison); Ice Station Zebra (J. Sturges)
Castle Keep (Pollack); The Happy Ending (R. Brooks); La Piscine (The Swimming Pool) (Deray)
Pieces of Dreams (Haller); Wuthering Heights (Fuest); The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (Litvak); The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean (Compton); Le Décharge (Deray); Les Mariés de l'an II (Rappeneau)
Peau d'âne (Donkey Skin) (Demy); Summer of '42 (Mulligan); Le Mans (Katzin); Brian's Song (Kulik—for TV); The Go-Between (Losey); A Time for Loving (Miles); Un Peu de soleil dans l'eau froide (Deray); La Poudre d'escampette (French Leave) (de Broca)
One Is a Lonely Number (Stuart); The Picasso Summer (Sallin); Barbe-Bleue (Bluebeard) (Dmytryk); Portnoy's Complaint (Lehman); Les Feux de la chandeleur (Hearth Fires) (Korber); La Vieille Fille (The Old Maid) (Blanc); Lady Sings the Blues (Furie); Pas folle la guêpe (Delannoy)
A Bequest to the Nation (The Nelson Affair) (Jones); Un Homme est mort (A Man Is Dead) (Deray); Impossible Object (Frankenheimer); A Doll's House (Losey); L'Evenement le plus important depuis que l'homme a marché sur la lune (A Slightly Pregnant Man) (Demy); The Adventures of Don Quixote (Rakoff); 40 Carats (Katselas); Cops and Robbers (Avakian); Breezy (Eastwood); Le Gang des otages (Molinaro)
The Three Musketeers (Lester); It's Good to Be Alive (Landon—for TV); Our Time (Death of Her Innocence) (Hyams)
F for Fake (Welles); La Sauvage (The Savage) (Rappeneau); Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York (Furie)
Gable and Lombard (Furie); Gulliver's Travels (Hunt); La Flûte à six schtroumpfs (The Smurfs and the Magic Flute) (Peyo or Dutillieu); Jalousie 1976 (Le Voyage de noces; The Honeymoon Trip) (Trintignant); Ode to Billy Joe (Baer)
The Other Side of Midnight (Jarrott); Hinotori (Ichikawa)
Les Routes du sud (Losey); Lady Oscar (Demy); On peut le dire sans se fâcher! (La Belle Emmerdeuse; One Can Say It without Getting Angry; The Beautiful Nuisance) (Coggio); Mon premier amour (Chouraqui); Michel's Mixed Up Bird (+ co-sc, d, ro)
Blind Love (+ d); Je vous ferai aimer la vie (Korber); The Fabulous Adventures of the Legendary Baron Munchausen (Image)
Falling in Love Again (Paul); The Hunter (Kulik); Melvin and Howard (Demme)
Atlantic City (Malle)
Le Cadeau (The Gift) (M. Lang); Best Friends (Jewison); Qu'est-ce qui fait courir David? (What Makes David Run?) (Chouraqui)
Eine Liebe in Deutschland (A Love in Germany) (Wajda); Never Say Never Again (Kershner); Yentl (Streisand)
Train d'enfer (Hanin); Paroles et musique (Chouraqui); Slapstick of Another Kind (Paul)
Palace (Molinaro); Parking (Demy); Partir, revenir (Going and Coming Back) (Lelouch); Secret Places (Barron); Micki and Maude (Edwards) (song)
Club de rencontres (M. Lang); Spirale (Frank); The Jeweller's Shop (La Boutique de l'Orfèvre; The Goldsmith's Shop) (Anderson)
Switching Channels (Kotcheff)
Cinq jours en juin (Five Days in June) (+ d, sc); Grand Piano (Coulson) (+ ro); As Summer Dies (As Summers Die) (Tramont)
Gaspard et Robinson (Gatlif); Eternity (Paul)
Les Demoiselles ont eu 25 Ans (The Young Girls Turn 25) (Varda); The Pickle (Mazursky)
Ready to Wear (Prêt-à-Porter) (Altman)
Les Enfants de lumière (Asseo and others); Les Misérables (Lelouch); Die Schelme von Schelm (Aaron's Magic Village) (Benousilio and Kaminski)
Le Monde est un grand chien (Kaminski); The Ring (Armand Mastroianni—for TV)
Madeline (von Scherler Mayer)
Doggy Bag (Comtet); La Bûche (Season's Beatings) (Thompson)
La Bicyclette bleue (for TV)
By LEGRAND: articles—
Radio Times (London), 24 February-2 March 1979.
Film Français (Paris), 16 January 1981.
Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1981.
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 438, December 1990.
On LEGRAND: articles—
Film Français (Paris), 2 February 1979.
Soundtrack! (Hollywood), December 1983.
Film Français (Paris), 1 March 1985.
Film Dope (Nottingham), March 1986.
Down Beat, January 1990.
Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), July 1997.
Billboard, 9 May 1998.
Sweeney, Phil, "The Man Who Always Knew the Score," in The Independent (London), 27 September 1999.
* * *
Michel Legrand's ability to write melodic themes that could be successfully marketed beyond the films for which they were written made him a popular favorite of studios seeking "hit" songs. Although Legrand was in demand for contemporary subjects, he also began in the early 1970s to score lyrical period works. While many of his works showed a facility with jazz, the period pieces also demonstrated a background in a variety of musical styles.
Legrand scored a number of French films, including works by Jean-Luc Godard beginning in the mid-1950s, but he gained international attention with his scores for the ambitious homages to Hollywood musicals created by Jacques Demy. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort provided Legrand with an opportunity to write extended scores based on recurring themes and showed his ability to create memorable light popular tunes. Although his association with Demy continued on subsequent films, they have not been on the same grand scale.
Legrand's score for The Thomas Crown Affair began an association with the lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman, with whom the composer collaborated on a number of projects ranging from Wuthering Heights to more recent films such as Best Friends and the song score for Yentl. The use of a central theme song has at times led to a tendency toward monothematic scoring with the results being more redundancy than variation. Somewhat more varied have been the composer's scores for period works such as The Three Musketeers in which Legrand has been able to apply his light flowing melodic approach to a greater variety of styles.
Legrand's song writing skills have at times led to his being selected for projects for which his style is not wholly suited. Despite his background in jazz, his overly romantic approach did not always mesh well with the songs in the Billie Holiday biography, Lady Sings the Blues, particularly when the score swells lushly during a heroin-shooting scene. The 1960s-style Latin beat provided for scenes in Never Say Never Again may have been appropriate on some level to the nostalgic feeling the character of James Bond creates, but it did little to enhance the dramatic action of the film.
Legrand continues to be as prolific as ever. In 1989 he directed Five Days in June, an autobiographical story of the teenaged Legrand's love affair with a woman twice his age. He composed the music for, and acted in the film The Young Girls Turn 25. In 1994, Legrand provided the score for Ready to Wear, a movie exposing what goes on behind the scenes at the Paris fashion shows. Since then, he has composed music for several other films: Les Misérables, Les Enfants de lumière, and Le Monde est un grand chien.
With the move toward more and more contemporary sounds in films as an attempt to keep up with changing musical styles, Legrand's own brand of pop music, once very much in vogue, now seems somewhat outdated. Not surprisingly his most successful work of late has been for noncontemporary subjects which require a more gentle lyricism. As with many of his contemporaries who were in demand in the 1960s and early 1970s, Legrand has found it necessary to modify his approach, and ironically the move has been back toward the more traditional symphonic style for which artists such as himself were originally intended as an alternative. As the twentieth century became the twenty-first, Legrand was devoting most of his professional efforts to writing music for the stage and did very little composing for films.
—Richard R. Ness, updated by Justin Gustainis