The acclaimed French composer Michel Legrand, winner of three Oscars during a career spanning more than half a century, has died in Paris aged 86, his spokesperson has announced.
Legrand first won an Academy Award in 1969 for the song “The Windmills of Your Mind” from the film THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (also a Golden Globe winner for best song). He would also win Oscar for scoring SUMMER OF ‘42 (1972; also a BAFTA Award for best score) and YENTL (1984), out of 13 Oscar nominations, along with five Grammys.
Legrand’s musical style was rooted in popular jazz but he was equally adept at classically-styled orchestral scores and melodic romances. He wrote more than 200 film and TV scores, in addition to many memorable songs. His career afforded collaborations with Orson Welles, Jean Cocteau, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davies, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Edith Piaf, and James Bond. As a virtuoso jazz and classical pianist, Legrand was 22 when his first album, I Love Paris, became one of the best-selling instrumental albums ever released. An accomplished arranger and conductor, Legrand performed with orchestras all over the world; he has recorded classical piano pieces by Erik Satie and American composers such as Amy Beach, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, John Cage, and Conlon Nancarrow, with over one hundred jazz, popular and classical music albums to his credit.
Legrand was born in 1932 in the Bécon les Bruyères district of Courbevoie, a suburb of Paris, in musical a family. His father Raymond Legrand, absent from the family since Legrand was three years old, was a conductor and composer renowned for hits such as “Irma la douce,” and his mother was Marcelle Ter-Mikaëlian (sister of conductor Jacques Hélian), who married Raymond Legrand in 1929. His maternal grandfather was of Armenian descent and was considered a member of the bourgeoisie.
At the age of ten, Legrand entered the Paris Conservatory of music. “For me, who hated life, when I first came to the Conservatory I crossed the threshold into a magical world where the only question was music,” Legrand said.
“Since I was a child, my ambition has been to live completely surrounded by music, my dream was to not miss anything, which is why I have never focused on a single musical discipline,” he said, quoted in an online obituary in today’s The Natural.
“For me, he is immortal, through his music and his personality,” French composer and conductor Vladimir Cosma told global news agency AFP on hearing of Legrand’s passing. “He was such an optimistic personality, with a kind of naivety in optimism, he saw everything in rosy colors!”
Legrand is perhaps best remembered for working with French New Wave filmmaker Jacques Demy on the musicals THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964), THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (1967) and the musical fairy tale PEAU D'ÂNE (1970, aka DONKEY SKIN). He is also known for the James Bond thriller, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983, the last James Bond film to star Sean Connery), Richard Lester’s all-star THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973), an animated version of GULLIVER’S TRAVELS (1977), the Emmy-winning TV-movie A WOMAN CALLED GOLDA (1972, Ingrid Bergman’s final picture) and the derided SLAPSTICK OF ANOTHER KIND (1982), a comic adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s science fiction novel Slapstick.
In other honors, the asteroid 31201 Michellegrand was named in his honor in 2018.
Legrand, who had been scheduled to stage concerts in Paris in April, died early Saturday. He was with his wife, the actress Macha Meril, his spokesman told AFP.
Here are some examples of some of Michel Legrand’s memorable scores, from YouTube:
Randall D. Larson was for many years the publisher/editor of CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine, and a film music columnist for Cinefantastique magazine. A specialist on horror film music, he is the author of Musique Fantastique: 100 Years of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror Film Music and Music from the House of Hammer. He currently writes articles on film music and sf/horror cinema, and has written liner notes for nearly 300 soundtrack CDs.