Composer Jean-Claude Petit was born in Vaires St Mark in France, on November 14th 1943, he began to play the piano at the very early age of 5 years, and he also at this time began to learn the rudiments of music and composition. At ten years of age, Petit began studying at the Conservatoire National Supereur de Musique inParis. Whilst attending the Conservatoire he received a first place medal in Solfa, and also three first prizes in harmony, counterpoint and fugue. By his sixteenth birthday Petit had become an accomplished pianist, and would perform on stage with American jazz artistes such as Kenny Clarke, Johnny Griffin and Dexter Gordon. By the end of the 1960,s Petit had become a much sought after arranger within French show business circles, and was responsible for writing and also producing recordings etc, for Julien Clerc, Joan Baez, Michel Saradou, Mort Shuman, Gilbert Becaud, Claude Francoise, Serge Lama and Mink De Ville, also contributing songs to repotoire of artistes such as Juliette Greco, Alain Souchen and Marie Laforet. The composer was also responsible for the musical comedies, LA REVOLUTION FRANCAISE, MAYFLOWER and 36 FRONT POPULAIRE, and composed numerous jingles for advertisements etc. So he did not begin in music as a film music composer, but did he have film music in mind when he started to study music ? ” No, I dont think that I actually wanted to write for the cinema, aswell as my involvement with shows etc., I have contributed to all types of music. I have played on and also produced rock-jazz albums, these have included BABEL, which was with guitarist Philip Catherine, and a keyboard album which was called THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS. I did not become involved with the composition of music for film until, 1979 when I scored a movie entitled TUSK for director Alexandro Jodorowski. I followed this in 1982 with VIVE LA SOCIALE which was directed by Gerard Mordillat”. Jean-Claude Petit, has also conducted a number of the worlds most well known orchestras, including The London Symphony Orchestra, The Munich Symphony Orchestra, The National Orchestra of France, L’Orchestre de Paris and the Orchestra of the Paris Opera. I asked if the composer always conducted his music for the cinema, and did he think that any composers had influenced him at all ? ” I conduct all of my own music, I could not hand it over to somebody else to conduct, that would be unthinkable, I also orchestrate all of my own music, again I do not think that I could endure somebody else working on my music. As for being influenced by other composers, my influences I think range from, J.S.Bach to G.Ligeti, also Theolodios Monk and Bill Evaks. I do not actually listen to a great deal of film music”. You have conducted your film music in concerts in various countries, have you ever considered coming to Englandfor a concert, and if the opportunity arose would you consider it ? ” You are right, I have conducted concerts which have contained symphonic suites from my film scores, but I have never been invited to come toEngland to do this. I would be extremely happy to conduct a concert in your country”.
When recording a score for a movie, do you have a preference for any particular orchestra ? ” Yes, I do prefer The London Symphony, for the sound that they are capable of achieving, and also The Orchestre de L,eperade Paris for their flexibility”.
Also when working on a score, how do you work out your musical ideas, and have you ever turned down an assignment, or had a score rejected ? ” No thankfully I have never had a score rejected, and I have also never refused to work on a film. When working on a score, I use a pencil paper and also I chew gum”.What about favourite scores had the composer any particular favourite from his own works ? ” Yes, I do like very much the music that I composed for the movie ” DUEX “, this starred Gerard Depardie and was directed by Claude Zidi”. On THE THREE MUSKETEERS, you utilised two orchestras, why was this ? ” For this particular film, I needed two styles of music, one was baroque, and for this I used The members of theAcademy of Ancient Music,and for the fully symphonic and contemporary music I utilised The London Symphony Orchestra”. The composer has also worked on a number of television scores, one in particular for the BBC called SEAFORTH. I enquired how the composer became involved with this particular project ? ” At that time my American agent, Jeff Kaufman approached the BBC and proposed me for the film, and I was lucky enough to get the job”. The composers scores for JEAN DE FLORETTE and MANON des SOURCES are probably his better known works for the cinema, and are the most widely known amongst collectors of film music, what size orchestra did the composer use for the scores, as they sounded intimate yet at times grandiose ? ” I used the Orchestra of Paris on these scores, and this consists of some 80 musicians”.When writing a score for a movie, did the composer have any set routine of working, i.e.; did he start at the main titles and work through to the end or did he sometimes tackle smaller or larger cues first ?
” I always begin with the main theme, and work through the scenes in order of appearance, this helps me develop the thematic properties within the score”. What was the maestro’s opinion of the standard of film music today, and also what did he think of the new generation of composers that have begun to work in film ? ” There has always been excellent film music composers around, in the past and also today there are some very talented people working in film. I am nevertheless concerned and worried about the power of the big recording companies, because of the way in which they impose the practise of the use of trendy songs and tunes on soundtracks, some of which appear on the soundtrack album, and have not actually been used in the film, they do this I think to get as much revenue out of the film as they possibly can”.
The composer has written the scores to a number of movies that are set within a time period, i.e.: THERETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS, CYRANO DE BERGERAC etc., etc. Did the maestro feel that he had been somewhat typecast at all, and was he happier working within one particular genre ?
” No, I do not think that I have been typecast at all, my cinema name (reputation) is born with a symphonic score, JEAN DE FLORETTE then CYRANO DE BERGARAC, but I can also write for a jazz quartet, a rock and roll orchestra or even do disco music “. And what was the composer working on at the moment ?” For cinema I have just completed two films, LUKUMBA and SEXES TRES OPPOSES, and for television a series LES MISERABLES which stars John Malkovich and Gerard Depardie.