Home > Reviews > TOURS DU MONDE, TOURS DU CIEL – Georges Delerue



Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Tours du Monde, Tours du Ciel was a groundbreaking 10-part French documentary series broadcast on the La Sept network in 1991. Like the similarly-themed Cosmos, which was presented by Carl Sagan on American television in 1980, it attempted to tell the history of astronomy, from the prehistoric era to the classical Greeks and Romans, through the work of Copernicus and Galileo and Kepler, to the present day, as scientists around the world continue to seek to unlock the secrets of the universe by observing the sky. The series featured interviews with numerous contemporary astronomers and scientists, interspersed with archaeological footage, and spectacular imagery of space; it was directed by Robert Pansard-Besson, and is still recognized today as one of the most important French-language scientific documentaries of all time.

The score for Tours du Monde, Tours du Ciel was by the great Georges Delerue and, even within his astonishing filmography, easily stands as one of the most overwhelmingly beautiful things the Frenchman ever wrote. Unlike narrative features, documentaries are often much more reliant on their scores to provide context and an emotional connection between the filmmakers and the viewer, and this is especially true of documentaries about science and space. As such, Delerue’s approach in conveying the majesty of the cosmos on Tours du Monde, Tours du Ciel was to treat it like a religious experience. The score was recorded with the strings of the Orchestre de Paris – no other sections are used – and sees Delerue writing five devastatingly gorgeous passages, each one overflowing with melody, lyricism, heart, and a sense of awe and wonder.

The first four cues – all called “Stellaire” – are essentially four movements of what could be considered a 20-minute string concerto, with each one containing a distinct thematic idea that is subject to numerous variations and developments across each movement. “Stellaire 1” is my favorite, a heartbreaking, longing, extraordinarily beautiful violin theme underpinned with undulating violas and cellos; the key change and introduction of a sweeping new melodic idea at 1:45 is one of the most effortlessly exquisite pieces of film music I have ever heard, and the fact that Delerue allows the heightened emotions of the theme to continue for another four minutes, drifting effortlessly across and within the strings, is nothing short of glorious. This piece was performed during a concert I attended at Royce Hall in Los Angeles in 2017, as part of a tribute to movie poster artist Drew Struzan, conducted by Brian Tyler, and with Delerue’s widow Colette in attendance. It was truly one of the most memorable concert-going experiences of my life.

“Stellaire 2” is perhaps a little more traditionally romantic and traditionally classical, and highlights a sumptuous solo violin performance during its middle section, beginning around the 3:25 mark. “Stellaire 3” is magical, wistful, and contemplative, and introduces a pair of harps into the ensemble, creating a mood of soft tenderness. “Stellaire 4” hints at some of the melodies heard in the first three movements, but is slower and more graceful, with a deeper tonal resonance that exudes a sense of scope and gravity as befits the awesomeness of our galaxy.

The 90-second “Générique Fin” is the end title melody of each episode, and is taken from the main harp pieces from the third movement. The six short cues named after each of the planets covered by the series – “Saturne,” “Jupiter,” “Terre,” “Mars,” “Vénus,” and “Mercure” – are brief stingers of between nine and nineteen seconds each, a series of sonorous string chords and scales that play over establishing shots of each planet.

The original soundtrack for Tours du Monde, Tours du Ciel was released in 1991 by the French label Les Productions Berthemont, but it has been out of print for many years and is now quite rare. In 2018 Music Box Records released an expanded and remastered edition, including as a bonus the 38-second “Générique Début” main title not heard on the original album, as well as a new recording of the four-movement string quartet Delerue wrote in 1948, performed by the members of the Traffic Quintet under the supervision of composer Alexandre Desplat and violinist Dominique Lemonnier. If you can find either of these releases, I recommend them unhesitatingly.

Georges Delerue was a wholly unique film composer. As a young man he was instrumental in crafting the sound of the French New Wave of cinema through scores like Jules et Jim for François Truffaut and Le Mépris for Jean-Luc Godard. During his most productive decade in the 1970s he mastered every genre imaginable. And then, after he won the Oscar for A Little Romance in 1979 and essentially relocated to Hollywood, he spent the last decade of his career mostly writing music for a series of movies that inspired him to greatness, but were not of the caliber a man of his talent demanded. However, throughout all this, the two constants in Delerue’s music were melody and beauty. It was effortless to him; whereas other composers struggled to write one theme like that in a lifetime, Delerue produced a half a dozen every year, for decades, as easily as breathing. And, amid all those timeless themes – Agnes of God, Joe Versus the Volcano, The Black Stallion Returns, Diên Biên Phu, Memories of Me, so many others – Tours du Monde, Tours du Ciel is one of the greatest things he ever wrote.

Buy the Tours du Monde, Tours du Ciel soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Stellaire 1 (6:04)
  • Stellaire 2 (7:42)
  • Stellaire 3 (2:10)
  • Stellaire 4 (3:08)
  • Générique Fin (1:40)
  • Saturne (0:09)
  • Jupiter (0:09)
  • Terre (0:10)
  • Mars (0:10)
  • Vénus (0:12)
  • Mercure (0:19)

Running Time: 21 minutes 53 seconds

Les Productions Berthemont 8039331 (1991)

Music composed and conducted by Georges Delerue. Performed by Orchestre de Paris. Orchestrations by Georges Delerue. Recorded and mixed by XXXX. Edited by XXXX. Album produced by Georges Delerue.

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