mfiles logo

Michel Legrand (1932-2019) - composer, songwriter, singer

Michel Legrand - Les Parapluies de Cherbourg soundtrack CD cover We describe many composers on mfiles as having been child prodigies, but how else would you describe someone who entered the Paris Conservatory at 9 years of age, studying with Nadia Boulanger. Michel Legrand's musical inclinations were always towards song-writing and he was a singer himself. Following the success of his first album "I Love Paris" he went on to work with many of the great Jazz names such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane on his next album "Legrand Jazz". When he moved into film work, it was no surprise that he was able to bring these skills into play not only in writing movie songs but also in composing orchestral material with a strong lyrical feel. In "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg" all the dialogue is actually sung in this unusual film (and it was the first French musical to be shot in colour). Many of his films are French language ones (e.g. some from director Jean-Luc Godard) but there are also a number of well-known English language movies such as "The Thomas Crown Affair" (with its theme "The Windmills of Your Mind"), "Summer of '42" and "Yentl" with Barbra Streisand.

Yet despite this particular focus to his career, Legrand also created a number of instrumental film scores such as "Ice Station Zebra", a cold war thriller based on an Alistair MacLean novel. This has a theme suggesting a great seafaring adventure but quite a lot of unconventional material too. The film uses a lot of extreme almost alien environments (in the submarine, on the ice, beneath the ice and satellite shots from space) and the music depicts these strange locations and uses this material to heighten the suspense and drama among the cast of spies and military men.

Michel Legrand - The Thomas Crown Affair soundtrack CD cover Although he has been less active lately as a film composer, Michel Legrand regularly performs in concert halls and jazz clubs across the globe, and 2008 saw the premiere in London of "Marguerite", Legrand's new stage musical created with the help of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg (who also created "Les Misérables" and "Miss Saigon"). This musical is based on Dumas' novel "La Dame aux Camélias". The composer is now 80 years old (like John Williams) and is reported to be working on a new movie called "Max Rose". Legrand's jazz scoring for the famous chess scene in "The Thomas Crown Affair" is absolutely masterful, so it is only right that we include the full scene from youtube: Chess Scene from The Thomas Crown Affair.

Despite our comment that the composer was apparently slowing down at least in terms of film scores, Legrand seemingly came out of retirement in 2014 (now well into his 80s) to score the French film "La rançon de la gloire" a comedy whose title translates as "The Price of Fame". This score will have a CD release in February 2015 - see the recommendations section below for details. And now in 2017 soon after the composer's 85th birthday John Caps has penned this interesting overview and collection of anecdates, observing that the composer is very much still active with other music projects: Michel Legrand is 85.

It is with deep regret that we report the death of Michel Legrand, a few weeks prior to what would have been his 87th birthday. The author John Caps who wrote the above article in Legrand's 85th year has penned the following Michel Legrand Obituary.

Films by Michel Legrand:

    Michel Legrand - Never Say Never Again soundtrack CD cover
  • Une Femme Est une Femme
  • Lola
  • Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrella's of Cherbourg) - music, song and voice and Oscar nominations for best music and best song, a typically French melancholy love song
  • Pretty Polly
  • Ice Station Zebra - highly recommended for its mix of moods and styles
  • The Thomas Crown Affair - with the aforementioned "Windmills of Your Mind" winning the best song Oscar and illustrating the cycle of complex machinations. Bill Conti scored the remake.
  • The Happy Ending - the title should give this away as a romantic movie, with slow lyrical themes and the song "What are you doing the rest of your life?" with lyricist duo Alan & Marilyn Bergman
  • The Picasso Summer
  • Pieces of Dreams
  • Wuthering Heights (1970)
  • Summer of '42 - best music Oscar, the theme being a wistful one moving between minor and major keys
  • Lady Sings the Blues - Diana Ross plays Billie Holiday in this story of the legendary jazz singer
  • The Three Musketeers
  • Le Sauvage
  • The Smurfs and The Magic Flute
  • Gulliver's Travels (1977)
  • Falling in Love Again (1980)
  • Bolero (1981) - both Michel Legrand and Francis Lai (best known for "Love Story") have composer credits and the soundtrack features songs by both men
  • Best Friends
  • Revenge of the Humanoids - animated movie
  • The Gift
  • Never Say Never Again - song and incidental music for this different Bond film
  • Yentl - song material written with lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Legrand as music director winning the best song score Oscar
  • Michel Legrand: La Rancon de la Gloire - soundtrack album CD cover
  • Eternity
  • The Jeweller's Shop
  • Fate
  • Dingo
  • Prêt-à-Porter
  • And Now... Ladies and Gentlemen...
  • Disco
  • Oscar and the Lady in Pink (Oscar et la Dame Rose)
  • La rançon de la gloire (The Price of Fame)

Television Music by Michel Legrand:

Michel Legrand has also contributed significantly to Television (for France and elsewhere), and in particular the animated children's series "Il était une fois" (Once Upon a Time). This long-running series explored various aspects of history and was split into different series called "l'homme" (Man), "l'espace" (Space), "la vie" (Life), "les Amériques" (The Americas), "les découvreurs" (The Discoverers), "les explorateurs" (The Explorers) and "notre Terre" (Planer Earth)

    Michel Legrand - Yentl soundtrack CD cover
  • Brian's Song - TV Movie with James Caan and Billy Dee Williams, the music was nominated for an Emmy and featured the theme song "Hands of Time" with lyrics by Alan & Marilyn Bergman
  • The Adventures of Don Quixote - a BBC play of the month
  • Il était une fois - Yasuo Sugiyama was also credited as composer for the first season of this long-running series
  • Les uns et les autres - French mini-series
  • A Woman Called Golda - award-winning TV Movie with Ingrid Bergman playing Golda Meir
  • Casanova - TV Movie
  • Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less
  • Mountain of Diamonds - another TV Movie
  • Coup de foudre - theme and some episodes of this series
  • The Ring - TV movie based on a Danielle Steel novel
  • La Bicyclette Bleue (The Blue Bicycle) - drama mini-series

Michel Legrand - Recommendations:

Some of Legrand's orchestral work is hard to find on CD but it's certainly possible to find some, especially the song material such as "The Windmills of Your Mind" and "Summer of '42" in various forms. For non-film music see our review of the composer's Piano and Cello Concertos which is now available. If you search the online stores you can also find a number of albums of the composer's work. Here are some links which are worth checking for availability: