“The world of film music is more complex than people imagine”

Marianne: Film music has long been scorned by classical actors, great translators and composers of “art” music: all were considered a subgenre of film soundtracks. deserves recognition. curiosity… Is this music finally starting to get better reviews?

Alexandre Tharaud: You’re right, disrespect has long been in order, and the big names in film music suffer from it, feeling trampled by the classical music scene. I think first of all of Michel Legrand and Vladimir Cosmas, it was more brutal for them because they came from classical music. The first passed the Paris National Conservatory, the second previously studied at the Bucharest Conservatory and improved his skills at the National Conservatory. Such discredit by their peers was painful for both of them.

Why was film music frowned upon for most of the last century?

First of all, because the composer of film music works quickly and in a wide variety of aesthetic genres: on Monday he is asked to compose a minuet in the style of the 17th century for a costume film, then on Tuesday a piece in the spirit of rock, and then to compose a minuet in the style of the 17th century from him can be requested. epic symphony the next day. However, he does all three perfectly! It is very difficult for classical musicians to understand that a composer who can write in different styles can be great…

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Fortunately, connections were made thanks to the soprano Nathalie Dessay, who has done so much for Michel Legrand for ten or twenty years, the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, who made a record with John Williams, or again, thanks to her. around the work of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as well as John Williams. It’s a start and I’m part of that momentum. With an idea in mind: creating desire in other musicians. Playing all the music collected on the double album CinemaI try to tell them: “Now, fellow musicians, it’s up to you to accept it. These songs deserve your full attention! »

Are musicians of your generation more sensitive to these soundtracks because they watch more movie theaters? Especially in the 1970s and 1980s, when film music gained particular brilliance?

It works, that’s for sure. When I was young, I loved going to the movies. We didn’t have a TV in our house, so watching a movie on the big screen was really fun time. I have kept the taste and smell of this holiday at home, even when I watch a movie on the computer. This special feeling still accompanies me… I was 14-15 years old when I came out ET alien (Steven Spielberg, 1982) and I remember very well that in my seat in the cinema I was as attentive to the music as to the pictures and the story: both completely captivated me! When I came home, I tried to repeat the piano themes written by John Williams from memory. And that was gratifying. And at the same time, there was a slightly forbidden side! By the time I was 14, I had already been at the Conservatoire for three years, and if I had dared to talk about Michel Legrand during class, people would have laughed at me. It wasn’t really a name to be mentioned…

“A good film score is often a ritornello: something short, simple, and pleasing to the ear. »

In fact, the great composers of film music, be it Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota or Vladimir Cosma, never imagined that their music would one day be played again by others. They had no idea. They also thought that their music would have absolutely no chance of being heard again, because no one had home movies until the rise of the VHS tape… For them, their work would forever lie in metal boxes, that is. recording reels.

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In recent years, things have changed a little, but slowly and very incompletely: even today you will not find a hundredth of what is recorded and played for cinema on music platforms. It is a repertoire that is not listened to and is not printed in the score. Take the example of Philippe Sarde, whom I am currently helping with a specific project: I am publishing some of this creation in piano score. This is something that has never been done before. And so the Sarde is rarely played today… And we might add that many of the original notes that have existed since the 20th century have been lost.

In a few simple words, how would you describe the power of a complex subject for cinema? The English language introduced us to this term “hook” for something that catches the ear. But in French, what would you say?

The best word for me is ritornello. A good film score is often like that: something short, simple, and that goes well with the ear. But refrain is an art, even a science. When it’s very successful, like Ryuichi Sakamoto or Claude Bolling, when we think of a film, it’s the music that comes to mind more than the visuals or a certain scene…

“It is more difficult to play three notes than to play a thousand notes. »

But there are film music composers who work in a different way: I think of Philippe Sarde, himself a composer of atmospheres. He does not pass by the attractive subject, which he may give up here and there: on the contrary, he writes the set, the whole, in color. Same thing with John Williams: it’s not a theme that Williams rejects, but an extremely ambitious set that he puts in place. In fact, the world of film music is much larger and more complex than most people think.

And at the same time, the melody, restraint, delicacy of the few notes that we keep in the first place. So, like the topic of beauties Hate Georges Delerue and his majesty, of life things By Philippe Sarde. Are there so many tunes that are easy for a virtuoso like you to play?

Let me tell you something important: playing three notes is harder than playing a thousand notes. By the time you go to the conservatory, you’ve usually mastered technique by the time you’re in your twenties. Thus, there are tens of thousands of musicians in the world who can play fast and loud. But this is not necessarily enough to play well a delicate and moving theme like Bach’s adagio. Asceticism, the sense of precision in interpretation is not given to all musicians. For this we need healthy material that we do not have yet when we are in our twenties.

Cinema double album, Erato/Warner.
And in concert in Paris, at the Champs-Elysées Theater, Tuesday, November 30 at 8 p.m.

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