There are many film music composers that I feel do not get the full attention of collectors, in many cases these are composers that work steadily and more often prolifically within the area of music for film. But maybe because they are not from the United States or even the UK they don’t seem to get the full recognition that they so richly deserve. Philippe Sarde, I feel is one such composer, yes, we as film music collectors all know his name and I for one love his varied and innovative sounding soundtracks. Sarde, is a composer who cannot be letterboxed or type cast, because his styles are many-fold and he always will rise to the occasion creating interestingly original and highly melodic soundtracks. His music is melodic, beautiful, affecting, at times up-beat and contains a richness that extends and develops into becoming epic, exhilarating, and grandeur.
The composer is also well known for his use of a more contemporary style within his film scores, utilising jazz and a pop orientated sound for example. Maybe we should examine or look at a handful of his scores, I thought I should select four or five, but this remember does not even scratch the musical surface of this eloquent, talented, and original composer. He is considered as being one of the most versatile Maestro’s working on film scores within his generation and also is revered by younger generations of composers who also write for the cinema and television. The composer has worked on well over two hundred projects, these include feature films, shorts, television programmes as in miniseries, and has on numerous occasions been nominated for as well as receiving an array of awards for his unrelenting and highly unique approach to scoring these.
His beautiful score for Roman Polanski’s TESS for me still stands out as one of his best, as well as his music for THE JUDGE AND THE ASSASSIN and BAROCCO.
Born in France on June 21st, 1948, his Mother was a singer at the Paris Opera, and it was because of her encouragement that he became interested in music. At the age of just four years old, Sarde conducted a short piece from the opera CARMEN which was being performed at the Opera house in Paris, Sarde was drawn towards both film and music and at the age of five began to experiment with sound and producing his own short films. So, when it came to choosing a career path the composer was torn between the two mediums that he loved, thankfully for us he chose music. During his illustrious career the composer has collaborated with filmmakers such as Bertrand Tavernier, Pierre Granier-Deferre, Georges Lautner, André Téchiné, and Jacques Doillon, to name but a few. However, it was director and screenwriter Claude Sautet, who asked Sarde to write the music for his film THE THINGS OF LIFE in 1969. That was the beginning of the composers’ career as a film music Maestro, with this first collaboration leading to a life-long partnership that spanned nearly three decades and involved eleven movies.
The composer has also worked with many renowned recording artists, at times often composing pieces of music for a film with a particular performer/artist in mind to perform it. On the recording of PRINCESSES and UN FRERE for example, we hear the artistry of musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Raphael Pidoux, and Ron Carter. Sarde is a gifted musical tour de force, and a composer who never fails to deliver, mesmerising via his lilting melodies his up-tempo compositions and his grand and powerful musical statements that are at times neo-classical in their sound and construction. I think if I were asked to select my favourite, Phillippe Sarde film score, I would be hard pressed to select a solitary title, as there are so many that I have discovered grown with and savoured.
So maybe I could choose four, FORT SAGANNE, QUEST FOR FIRE, LORD OF THE FLIES, and LA FILLE DE D’ARTAGNAN. But there are so many others, all of which contain something that is memorable or has had an impression upon me.
THE MANHATTAN PROJECT and GHOST STORY for example. The endless list of credits is impressive to say the least, with QUEST FOR FIRE in my opinion being one of many masterpieces that the composer has penned. The music for QUEST FOR FIRE created essential atmospheric moods for the movie which aid its development and support the storyline and images, giving them more weight and substance. The central theme is magnificent and emotive, the composer fashioning an apprehensive but at the same time wonderfully lyrical piece, that is filled with a rich thematic persona and has to it a haunting aura. It is moody and poignant and possesses an eloquent and enriching quality.
The score is overflowing with varying distinctive pieces, again the composer enhancing, supporting and underlining the events on screen, the music in QUEST FOR FIRE is more of an integral component of the movie, rather than just a film score, it conveys fear, uncertainty, sadness, solitude, despondency and romance, plus a multitude of emotions that are being felt by the main characters within the film. The composer utilises choral performances within the score, which also bring forth a style that is at times foreboding, and evoked the music of composer Gyorgy Ligeti, Sarde bringing to fruition a mixture of raw emotions and creating sounds and music that befit the harsh and unknown landscapes in which the film is set. He combines the vocal performances at times with music that could be referred to as atonal, but even in the most dramatic sections there are still fragments of themes that shine through.
As a new language was invented for the actors to speak in the movie, Sarde constructed a sound and a style that complimented and gave life to the storyline, his use of pan pipes, inventive percussive elements, subtle woods, solo trumpet, faraway sounding horns and other brass combined with the soaring and surging strings is genius.
I remember buying the gatefold LP record which was on the Phillips label in the UK, and playing it over and over, it is a score that I never tire of and the theme is something that has to be listened to regularly, because of its sheer brilliance and grandness. Thankfully, Universal France released the score onto Compact disc, in their LISTEN TO THE CINEMA series, which is something that they should be congratulated for. This is a gem and treasure, a pleasurable listening experience, and a brilliant score in the context of the movie and a resounding and accomplished work. From one beautiful and affecting score to another in the form of FORT SAGANNE.
This is another Sarde classic in my opinion, it is overflowing with a richness and totally absorbing air, the opening theme itself is gracious and consuming, the composers use of cello bringing an overwhelming sense of both romance and melancholy to the proceedings, I am of the opinion that the music is so touching and so beautiful it is very difficult to put into words the emotions and the feelings it conveys and creates. It is a score I never ever tire of because there is so much melodic content and poignancy within it. I do not think that I use the word Masterpiece lightly when describing the musical stature and the prolific output of Philippe Sarde, he touches peoples emotions and fashions delicate and fragile musical nuances that are effective within the films they are employed in, but when listened to as just music are also highly affecting. FORT SAGANNE is an outstanding work, with the compositions, MADELINE, FANTASIA, ROMANESQUE, L’ERG CHECH, JULIET, and the principal theme (FORT SAGANNE) that opens the recording of the score, being particularly effectual. The composer weaves this haunting theme throughout the remainder of the score and presents it in various guises by arranging and orchestrating it differently, thus keeping it fresh and maintaining its effectiveness.
LORD OF THE FLIES (1990) is yet another example of intelligent and precise scoring from the composer, the music compliments and supports aswell as enhancing the story unfolding on the screen. The cue THE ISLAND is grand and impressive, the composer employing choristers andfaraway sounding horns to open the cue, which are then joined by strings and crashing timpani, setting the scene for most of the score.
Sarde, utilises a jaunty and at times scratchy sounding violin or fiddle solo, which is also highly affecting creating tantalisingly mischievous sounding passages. As with QUEST OF FIRE the composer presents us with a daunting and overwhelmingly powerful work, performed to perfection by the London Symphony Orchestra, the score oozes apprehension, uncertainty and also is filled with a mood of hope and mystery both at the same time as the story unfolds, and the group of schoolboys that are marooned on an island revert to being savages. Sarde’s musical score perfectly underlines and punctuates the storyline, with rasping brass flourishes, choir and expressive driving strings that are bolstered by timpani throughout.
LA FILLE DE D’ARTAGNAN. Is a score that I have to admit I did not add to my collection until about two years ago, I had always seen it in shops and online but would always side step it for some reason, finally I purchased it and am so glad I did. Again, the composer displays a unique talent and an adept connection with the subject matter. The score is classical as in renaissance sounding, with the composer employing a string ensemble or chamber orchestra, or at least it sounds as if this is who is performing. I love the use of solo trumpet in certain places and the added inclusion of organ, authentic period woodwinds and choir with subtle but effective and inventive percussion. There are also performances from guitar, or maybe it is a lute, either way it perfectly suits the movie, its storyline and the period in which it is set. An enjoyable listen.
Philippe Sarde, has fashioned, created and brought to fruition, scores for movies that have become a part of cinema history, his intricate tone poems lacing and ingratiating scenes and passages from films, making them more memorable because of the placing and the impact of his music. He is a specialist, a Maestro and a music-smith of immense talent.