Maurice Jarre: The Classic

Maurice Jarre was born in Lyon, France in 1924.  Unlike many other film composers, Jarre didn’t start music early.  He eventually entered the Paris Conservatoire to study percussion and composition.  There he studied with composer Arthur Honneger.  After service in World War II, Jarre worked for the Renaud-Barrault Theater Company as music director and arranger.  Upon leaving Jean Louis Barrault’s theater, Jarre became the music director for Théâtre National Populaire.  He composed incidental music for the shows and through them composed music for his first short film Hotel des Invalides (1952) on the request of director George Franju.  He continued composing for short films throughout the 1950s and by 1958 worked on feature-length films.  Also in 1958 the Théâtre National Populaire performed on Broadway with Jarre as incidental music composer and music director.  

1962 started a whole new chapter for Jarre.  Producer Darryl F. Zanuck hired Jarre for two films, The Big Gamble and The Longest Day.  He also composed the music for the French film Sundays and Cybele.  But it was the epic David Lean film Lawrence of Arabia that brought Jarre to worldwide attention.  Its use of ethnic instruments, intriguing rhythms and a memorable theme led the score to be a favorite over the years.  It of course started the collaboration with David Lean.  For the score, Jarre won his first Academy Award, also making third on the AFI list of top film scores.  Following Lawrence of Arabia, Jarre collaborated again with David Lean on Doctor Zhivago (1965).  The epic score, featuring the well-known Lara’s Theme, gave Jarre his second Academy Award.  The theme, renamed Somewhere My Love, topped the charts and went gold.  There aren’t many instrumental movie scores that have even gotten close. In the late 60’s he worked on Is Paris Burning? (1966), The Night of the Generals (1967) and one of Alfred Hitchcock’s last films Topaz (1969).  He reunited with Lean for Ryan’s Daughter, which ended up with bad reviews and a failure at the box office.  

In the 1970s, Jarre began working with other directors, including John Huston: The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), The Mackintosh Man (1973), and The Man Who Would Be King (1975).  He composed the score for Elia Kazan’s last film The Last Tycoon (1976).
The 1980s began a new phase for Jarre, starting new collaborations with directors, returning to old ones, but mainly his diversion from orchestral scores and moving to electronic scores.  One of his first hits in this time was the hugely successful television miniseries Shogun for NBC.  He began scoring films for director Peter Weir, which collaborated on 5 films starting with The Year of Living Dangerously (1982).  In 1984, he also began working with Jerry Zucker (who had previously used Elmer Bernstein for Airplane!) for Top Secret!  That same year, Jarre and Lean collaborated for the last time on A Passage to India (1984), which earned Jarre his third Academy Award.  For one of the most famous composer/director collaborations (22 years), they only actually worked on 4 films – 3 of which received the Oscar for score.  

The late 80s continued to be a successful time for Jarre, with hits like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and the Oscar nominated electronic score Witness (1985).  Other films include The Mosquito Coast (1986), Fatal Attraction (1987); Oscar nominated Gorillas in the Mist (1988), Dead Poets Society (1989) for Peter Weir.  He returned with Jerry Zucker for the drama Ghost (1990) for which Jarre received his last Oscar nomination.

Jarre slowed down starting in the 1990s, but still composed.  Throughout his Hollywood career, he composed some concert works and conducted his scores in concert.  His last score was for 2000’s I Dreamed of Africa.  Jarre died in 2009 of cancer at age 84.

Maurice Jarre’s influence on film scores is evident in the long lasting appeal of his scores.  Steven Spielberg said in an interview with Laurent Bouzereau, “I went out and bought the Maurice Jarre soundtrack and for the next couple of months played the score over and over again.”  Jarre’s use of electronic instruments in his scores helped pave the way for future scores, having a mix of orchestra, synthesizers and electric instruments such as the Ondes Martenot.  His scores for David Lean remain his most popular and his scores contain some of the most recognizable film themes.    

Lawrence of Arabia - Overture (click here to listen)
Doctor Zhivago Suite - Maurice Jarre conducting (click here to listen)
Witness – Main Theme (click here to listen)

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  1. "The Man Who Would be King" - my favorite

  2. At the same time Maurice Jarre composed "The Message" (Mohammad Messenger of God-1976) and "Lion of The Desert" (Omar Mukhtar-1981). Both are Moustapha Akkad's film.