Maurice Jarre A Tribute

Created on 13/4/2009

Last week the film composer Maurice Jarre died. He was 84 when he passed away, and it was many years since I worked with him. I can’t pretend to an intimate knowledge of the man, but I well remember his sparkling ability and Gallic charm.

The major film compositions of his career were the David Lean films he created the music for. Amongst his master works was the wonderful Lawrence of Arabia the poignant and unforgettable Doctor Zhivago and Passage to India.

He also wrote the music for more than 150 films, and included amongst these was a film I Line Produced, Shout at the Devil, which starred Lee Marvin and Roger Moore.

I remember the first days of the recording sessions at De Lane Lea studios in Wembley, London, for several good reasons. First amongst these was the strange behavior of the film director, the late Peter Hunt. As was customary on the first day of a new major film music recording the studio boss invited the film and music honchos to a set lunch in his very luxurious boardroom. Peter told me that he had a previous appointment and wouldn’t be able to attend and asked me to forward his apologies to the studio boss. I did so. It would be nearly 25 years before I saw Peter Hunt again. I later found out that he had gone to Rome to interview for a directing job for Carlo Ponti, the Italian producer husband of the wonderful Sophia Loren, and decided to never return.

Ponti then telephoned me for a private reference for Mister Hunt, and I refused to make any comment, to which Carlo said, “You have told me everything I need to know!” He never employed Peter.
Back to Maurice and that first day of our sessions. As usual our music fixer was the extremely experienced and knowledgeable Jack Fishman, and present was an entire symphony orchestra of British session musicians, amongst the best in the world. I looked from our glass booth down onto the hundred or so musicians and noticed that there were five grand pianos lined up next to one another. I couldn’t understand the need for any more than the normal complement of the single grand piano so asked Jack Fishman why there was a need, on this occasion, for more. He shrugged his expressive and world weary shoulders and told me; “Maurice feels he needs five, believe me, I had to talk him down from seven or eight!”

I had expressed what others were thinking, as I could see others nodding their heads in agreement. Taking my producer duties seriously I presumed there had to be some kind of mistake and went down to the studio to question the maestro himself. The scene the first piece of music was being recorded for was the approach of the mighty German First World War battleship, the Blucher. Maurice Jarre smiled at my approach, as he interrupted his preparation to conduct the huge orchestra. “There is a problem?” he asked, I told him of my concerns. He shrugged and explained to me that he needed all these pianos to play together, tightly synchronized with the action. He showed us all what he meant as the first music cue appeared on screen. All the pianists hit the same few notes in perfect time with one another. It did sound wonderful, but as I pointed out gently to Maurice, the same effect could easily, and much less expensively, have been achieved by our recording the notes on one piano and duplicating this as many times as he liked thereafter. “But” Maurice insisted, “It certainly would not have the same quality!”

Some times we producers just have to shake our head and withdraw, making sure we learn the lessons, and make sure they don’t happen again.

I hope Maurice Jarre has as big an orchestra as he wants wherever he now resides.