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Voices -- Maurice Jarre, 1924-2009

March 30, 2009 |  7:33 am



Ode to David Lean

August 8, 1993


Oscar-winning composer Maurice Jarre leads the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a special salute to his frequent collaborator, the late director David Lean, in "Great Performances: Lean by Jarre," premiering Monday on PBS. Highlighting the hourlong concert are suites from "Lawrence of Arabia," "Dr. Zhivago"--including the famous "Lara's Theme"--"Ryan's Daughter" and "A Passage to India." Recorded at London's Barbican Hall, the special features clips and behind-the-scenes footage from those classic films.

Jarre, 69, had composed the music for more than 40 films, including "The Longest Day," before he was hired by "Lawrence of Arabia" producer Sam Spiegel to compose that film's now-legendary score.

Lean, who died in 1991 at age 83, encouraged Jarre in the use of electronic and ethnic instruments in film music. Today, the French composer is recognized as a pioneer in that field. Jarre has received 10 Academy Award nominations and received Oscars for "Lawrence," "Zhivago" and "India." His most recent screen credits include "Witness" and "Ghost."

Jarre discussed Lean and the art of film music with Times Staff Writer Susan King.

Was the tribute to Lean your idea?

Yes. When he died I wanted to do a concert, a tribute to him, in London. When we recorded "Passage to India" it was with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. We decided to do this tribute to David Lean with the orchestra. Exactly eight days before the concert somebody from a video company said why not try to videotape this concert because it will definitely be something we should have an account of. In one week, they managed to organize the thing. I think everybody was very concentrated, very professional. These musicians wanted to play better than just for a normal concert. We did it for David.

You got very emotional at the conclusion.

Yeah, because when I heard all of this applause, I knew that was not only for the orchestra and me, but it was for David Lean. So at that point I almost broke up. His work was really applauded as much as mine.

Is it true you had very little time to compose the music for "Lawrence of Arabia"?

It was real panic time. I had six weeks to compose two hours of music and record it. The problem was David was editing the second part of the movie before the first part, so when I was doing the music I couldn't start the music in a chronological order. I had to start the second part imagining what I was to do in the first part. That was really another challenge. To make a working schedule perfect, I managed to sleep every three hours for 10 minutes. I could go just days and nights without stopping. After that, I had three or four months to recuperate just sleeping and doing nothing.

I hope your schedule was easier with the other Lean films.

In the first place, with "Lawrence of Arabia," I arrived at the end of the picture. With "Dr. Zhivago," I was involved from the beginning and that was much better. I read the book and the script. I went on location with David. He was always insisting after "Lawrence of Arabia" for me to be involved from the beginning and to go on location to have a little flavor of the artist's concept for the film. I went to Ireland for three months for "Ryan's Daughter" to work on the music there. "Passage to India," unfortunately ... I couldn't go to India but I was not too keen on going to India. I like to see India from photos and films, but it's not a country I am very interested to see because I don't feel comfortable in a tropical climate.

Do most directors you work with want you to go with them on location?

Sometimes when you work for the first time with the director, the film is finished and they decide to hire a composer. If I work with a director more than once, the second time, if he likes what I did with the first collaboration, he asks me to go on location with him. That's what I did sometimes with Peter Weir or Visconti or even John Huston. That's much better. When they ask you when the film is finished, you are confronted with the problem that you have to digest the concept of the director and the story in a few weeks. Sometimes they work on the film for two years. How can you in a few weeks be on the same wavelength as the director and the producer?

Music always seemed to play such an important part in Lean's films, even the ones you weren't involved in like "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "Brief Encounter.

Absolutely. Also with David, it was very interesting. When he was writing the script with Robert Bolt or by himself, he always put the music cues in the script. These notes about the music are extremely thorough and precise. David Lean never had a big musical culture. He loved music and had tremendous intuition about music, but he never really had musical references like Visconti or Peter Weir. By the way, Peter Weir, I think, has the largest spectrum of musical culture I have ever met in a director. He knows very well classical music, modern music, electronic, new wave, opera. It's amazing.

What's your favorite score you composed for a Lean movie?

Well, sentimentally I think it's "Lawrence of Arabia." I met David because of that. I liked very much "Ryan's Daughter" because we tried a lot of little experiments in the sound, music and concept.