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Maurice Jarre (1924-2009) - classics old and new

Maurice Jarre - Doctor Zhivago soundtrack CD cover Maurice Jarre was of Russian descent, and was born in Lyon in France. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Arthur Honegger among others and following his graduation he composed music for a number of stage productions. Some of his initial film scores were for the director George Franju. He scored many other films for the French cinema for various directors, before becoming associated with a number of epic films in the early 1960s, particularly "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago". (In Doctor Zhivago note that Jarre used the Russian guitar-like instrument, the Balalaika, for the main "Lara's Theme".) The early international success of those 60s epic tales marked the start of a fruitful association with director David Lean, and he was to work with him again on "Ryan's Daughter" and "A Passage to India". However a brief look at the composer's major films will show a versatility which stretches across genres other than the historical epics. Indeed it is surprising to find that he has consistently produced memorable film scores throughout the 20th century including films such as "Fatal Attraction" and "Ghost". It is interesting to observe how his style has changed and adapted with the times so that his music seems to match the style of film making from the various decades.

Maurice Jarre - Lawrence of Arabia 2CD collector's Edition cover The name of Jarre may also be familiar from Maurice's son Jean Michel Jarre who is the well-known composer of synthesizer albums such as Oxygene, and more recently for producing huge dramatic open-air spectacles involving music, fire-works and lasers. Maurice himself has employed synthesizers for example in his score for "Witness". At first glance this appears to be an unusual choice of soundscape for a film such as "Witness", but it seems to enhance the otherworldliness of the Amish community. The simple thematic ideas come together in the contrapuntal barn building sequence, which weaves together subtle hints which emphasise feelings of early America, traditions and timelessness, and the way these hints are knitted into a complete tapestry seems to mirror the community work ethos where individuals contribute to a greater collective good. Synthesizers seem like a more obvious choice for "Tokyo Blackout" where a mysterious dark cloud covers the Japanese Capital, and it doesn't hinder the film that some of the synth sounds now seem dated to modern ears. "Ghost" also makes effective use of synthesised sounds for many of the supernatural moments in the film. The film also features Jarre's ever striving love theme, in addition to the cover version of "unchained melody".

Maurice Jarre - Witness soundtrack CD cover Jarre senior has also provided music for some significant television drama series, including the mini-series "Shogun" which again provided the composer with an opportunity to consider evocative ethnic instruments. For "Jesus of Nazareth", Jarre built upon the music of earlier biblical epics but avoided the heavenly choirs and overt mysticism. Instead he created a lot of simple pastoral music for woodwind and blended this with some Middle Eastern scales and instruments. The result supports the story without drowning the viewer in religious histrionics. Certainly the scoring of the scene with the Three Kings on their camels is far removed from "Lawrence of Arabia".

We were saddened to hear of the death of Maurice Jarre, on 29th March 2009 at the age of 84. Here is Jarre conducting his music from Doctor Zhivago in a concert tribute to the director David Lean in 1992 - Maurice Jarre conducting.

Films by Maurice Jarre:

    Maurice Jarre - Ghost soundtrack CD cover
  • The Longest Day - Conductor for music by Paul Anka, about the Normandy Landings in 1944: a long film with not much music, but some marches and timpani references to the opening motto of Beethoven's 5th Symphony (morse code for "V" for Victory)
  • Lawrence of Arabia - with that dramatic sweeping theme and plenty of desert drums, now available in a complete definitive 2CD set
  • Doctor Zhivago - set over a number of years, portraying tumultuous events during the Russian revolution, and amid some tremendous scenery, Jarre largely lets the movie speak for itself, but the memorable love theme (Lara's Theme) is a constant reference point throughout
  • Barbarella
  • Topaz - Hitchcock cold-war spy drama with some martial music for the opening as the Red Army displays its strength in Moscow's Red Square
  • El Condor
  • Ryan's Daughter - with David Lean again, the music has a detached almost whimsical feel to it somehow making it more poignant
  • The Island at the Top of the World
  • The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean - this offbeat Western includes a bear and a song sung by Andy Williams
  • Villa Rides
  • Great Expectations
  • The Man who would be King - more epic stuff
  • Firefox
  • The Year of Living Dangerously
  • A Passage to India - another David Lean epic
  • The Professionals - not the TV programme!
  • The Bride
  • Jacob's Ladder
  • Enemy Mine
  • Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome - gladiatorial yet retaining the offbeat quality of the Mad Max series
  • Dreamscape
  • Witness - with the memorable Barn Raising scene, and use of synthesizers
  • The Mosquito Coast
  • Tokyo Blackout - also known as "Shuto shoshitsu" with another symthesizer score from Jarre
  • Fatal Attraction
  • Buster
  • Gorillas in the Mist
  • Dead Poet's Society - the soundtrack also includes some music by Beethoven and even features bagpipes near the beginning
  • Ghost - Jarre's contribution was not as obvious as the song "unchained melody" by Alex North, but just as important
  • Jacob's Ladder
  • Almost an Angel
  • Only the Lonely
  • School Ties
  • Shadow of the Wolf (aka Agaguk) - an excellent score with seemingly authentic Eskimo music and some integrated synth music, and the song "Always and Forever")
  • Mr. Jones
  • Fearless
  • A Walk in the Clouds
  • The Sunchaser
  • Sunshine
  • I Dreamed of Africa

TV Music by Maurice Jarre:

  • Cimarron Strip - theme tune for the series, and incidental music one episode "The Battleground"
  • Jesus of Nazareth - the Lew Grade mini series directed by Franco Zeffirelli, starring Robert Powell in the title role and a writing credit for Anthony Burgess
  • Shogun - the lavish TV Mini Series starring Richard Chamberlain

Maurice Jarre - Recommendations:

You can find a number of Maurice Jarre's tracks on compilation albums of classic movie themes in addition to the following recommended soundtrack albums. Don't forget that Amazon let's you sample tracks before deciding whether you want to buy.

Maurice Jarre - Memorabilia:

The first CD cover below has been signed by Nic Raine (conductor) and James Fitzpatrick (producer) who brought us the first recording of the complete score for Maurice Jarre's Lawrence of Arabia. The second CD cover has been signed by Maurice Jarre himself. Our thanks to Petr Kocanda for permission to use his collection of autographed CDs. Click a thumbnail below to see the image full size in a separate window.

Maurice Jarre: Lawrence of Arabia - signed CD Maurice Jarre: Shadow of the Wolf - signed CD