Home > News > Remembering Georges Delerue, 1925-1992

Remembering Georges Delerue, 1925-1992

Composer Georges Delerue died ten years ago today, on March 20, 1992. He had a stroke, just hours after recording the last cue for the soundtrack to his last film, Rich in Love, and died two days later. He was 67.

Georges Henri Jean-Baptiste Delerue was born in Roubaix, France, in March 1925. A clarinet and piano player as a child, Delerue attended the Turgot Institute, the Roubaix conservatory, and the Conservatoire de Paris, where he studied composition with Darius Milhaud and Henri Büsser. His friends there included Maurice Jarre and Pierre Boulez, and together the three of them would make often make money on the side performing jazz in piano bars near the Paris Opera House.

He began writing stage music during the late 1940s, for the Théâtre National Populaire, the Comédie-Française, and the Théâtre Babylone, before being hired to direct the orchestra of the Club d’Essai for French National Radio and Television. His work for FRNT led directly to him scoring his first major project, television drama, Princes du Sang, in 1952.

During the 1950s Delerue scored numerous short films, and wrote music for Shakespeare adaptations for French television, and by the end of the decade had become one of the most acclaimed and sought-after young composers working in French cinema. His star began to rise further when he began working with acclaimed ‘New Wave’ directors like François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Alain Resnais, who brought a new style of contemporary, modernistic filmmaking, and gave Delerue the freedom to develop his unique personal style. For them, Delerue scored such landmark works as Hiroshima Mon Amour in 1959, Shoot the Piano Player in 1960, Jules et Jim in 1962, Le Mépris in 1963, Les Deux Anglaises et le Continent in 1971, Une Belle Fille Comme Moi in 1972, and La Nuit Américaine in 1973.

Delerue began writing for English language films in the late 1960s and continued throughout the 1970s, receiving Academy Award nominations for his work on Anne of the Thousand Days in 1969, The Day of the Dolphin in 1973, and Julia in 1977, and scoring popular and critical successes such as Fred Zinnemann’s A Man for All Seasons in 1966, Ken Russell’s Women in Love in 1969, and the thriller The Day of the Jackal in 1973, based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth.

Following his first and only Academy Award win for A Little Romance in 1979 Delerue relocated to Hollywood, and from then on split his time fairly equally between American and European films. He counted directors such as Oliver Stone, Mike Nichols, Bruce Beresford, Garry Marshall, Herbert Ross and John Hughes among his regular collaborators, and his most successful Hollywood projects included Silkwood (1983), Platoon (1986), Salvador (1986), Beaches (1988), Biloxi Blues (1988), Steel Magnolias (1989), Her Alibi (1989), Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) and Curly Sue (1991). He received his fifth and final Oscar nomination for Agnes of God in 1985, while in Europe he became the first composer to win three consecutive César Awards, for Bertrand Blier’s Get Out Your Handkerchiefs in 1978, and for Truffaut’s Love on the Run and The Last Metro in 1979 and 1980 respectively. One the whole, however, Delerue was undervalued by Hollywood, which never seemed entirely sure of how best to use his talents, and he scored far too many films which were ‘beneath him’ as an artist.

Away from film music, Delerue composed a great deal of concert music, including his Concert Symphony for Piano and Orchestra which premiered in 1955, and his opera The Snow Knight, which premiered in Nancy in 1957 and was a popular success. He composed the music for Flemming Flindt’s ballet Enetime , based on Eugène Ionesco’s play La Leçon, and collaborated with theater director Boris Vian on a number of projects, including theatrical adaptations of The Snow Knight and The Builders of Empire, an oratorio entitled A Regrettable Incident, and a ballet entitled The Barker. He also scored several ‘son et lumiere’ shows, including two famous ones in Egypt, at the Pyramids of Giza and at Philae. The French newspaper Le Figaro named him “the Mozart of cinema,” and he was named Commander of Arts and Letters, one of France’s highest honors.

Delerue is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. He left behind his wife, Colette, whom he married in 1959, and his daughter Claire.

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