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Michel Legrand, 1932-2019

January 26, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

Composer Michel Legrand died on January 26, 2019, in hospital in Paris, France, after a short illness related to a pulmonary infection. He was 86.

Michel Jean Legrand was born in Paris, France, in 1932, the son of composer-conductor Raymond Legrand and his wife, Marcelle Ter-Mikaëlian, who was the sister of conductor Jacques Hélian. Legrand studied music at the Conservatoire de Paris from age 11, working with Nadia Boulanger among others, and as both a composer and a pianist. He achieved early career success in 1954 age 22 when his original jazz album I Love Paris became a surprise hit in Europe. He released numerous more albums in the 1950s, including the popular Paris Jazz Piano in 1959, and then established himself as a jazz composer, pianist, and bandleader in the United States, working with jazz stars such as Miles Davis, Stan Getz, and Lena Horne.

Legrand dabbled in film music from the mid 1950s onwards, but achieved his first significant success in 1960 when he scored director Jean-Luc Godard’s groundbreaking A Woman Is a Woman (Une Femme Est Une Femme) in 1961. Legrand quickly became a key musical component of the French New Wave, working for Godard and other directors such as Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda, among others, on such classics as Lola (1961), Vivre Sa Vie (1962), Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962), La Baie des Anges (1963), Bande à Part (1964), and La Chinoise (1967). His score for Demy’s 1965 musical film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg earned him his first Academy Award nomination, and from that point on Legrand split his time between Hollywood and Europe, working on both big-budget American and films and more artistic French fare.

Legrand received additional Academy Award Best Score nominations for The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), The Young Girls of Rochefort (1968), Summer of ’42 (1971, winner), and Yentl (1983, winner), and received Best Song nominations for “I Will Wait for You” from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, “The Windmills of Your Mind” from The Thomas Crown Affair, “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” from The Happy Ending (1969), “Pieces of Dreams” from Pieces of Dreams (1970), “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” from Best Friends (1982), and both “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” and “The Way He Makes Me Feel,” both from Yentl.

He received Golden Globe nominations for the scores for The Thomas Crown Affair, The Happy Ending, Wuthering Heights (1970), Le Mans (1971), Summer of ’42, Lady Sings the Blues (1972), Breezy (1973), and Yentl, and won Grammys for Best Instrumental Composition in 1971 for “Theme from Summer of ’42 (The Summer Knows), Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist in 1972 for Sarah Vaughan’s What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?, Best Instrumental Composition in 1972 for Brian’s Song, Best Instrumental Composition in 1975 for “Images,” and Best Jazz Performance by a Big Band in 1975, also for “Images”.

Other successful and popular works by Legrand include Ice Station Zebra (1968), The Go-Between (1971), The Three Musketeers (1973), Atlantic City (1980), The Hunter (1980), the James Bond film Never Say Never Again (1983), Prêt-à-Porter (1994), and Madeline (1998).

Legrand was married three times; to Christine Bouchard from 1958-1992 with whom he had three children; to producer Isabelle Rondon from 1994-200, and to actress Macha Méril from 2014 until his death. His son Olivier is also a musician and songwriter. Legrand remained active until his death and had concerts scheduled to take place in the spring of 2019 that never came to fruition.

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