Maurice Jarre



With the passing of our Advisory Board member Maurice Jarre, the composing community has lost a giant and our organization has lost a respected colleague. I have asked his friend and SCL Board Member, Charles Bernstein to reflect on the life of this great talent, which he has done with the eloquence that his friend would have been very proud of.


MAURICE JARRE 1924 – 2009
by Charles Bernstein

It is with great sadness that the SCL community mourns the loss of our dear friend, SCL Advisory Board member and legendary film composer, Maurice Jarre. With such amazing film scores as LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and PASSAGE TO INDIA (all three Oscar winners), Maurice stands as one of the most beloved and deeply gifted composers of film music. Before any of his scores brought him to worldwide attention, I remember being enamored by a sparse, evocative score for the French film, SUNDAYS AND CYBELE. The score received an Oscar nomination for the little-known French composer. Within a few short years, he had become a household name among lovers of film music.

One of the measures of Maurice Jarre’s enduring greatness is the fact that all of us can still remember and hum so many of his indelible themes decades after they were written. In my conversations with Maurice over the years (including an interview for THE SCORE), he was always wise, witty and very generous in appraising the people he worked for and with. His list of director collaborators is certainly impressive, including David Lean, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, Luchino Visconti, Franco Zefirelli, Volker Schl√∂ndorff, Peter Weir, Arthur Hiller, and Michael Apted, to name only a few. He seemed to get along with everyone, which is rare in the film business. In a recent interview Maurice noted, “I don’t think I can say that I ever worked with a bad director. There were never any real problems; there were discussions … a bit of diplomacy here and there.” This is borne out by a conversation I just had with the wonderful director, Michael Apted, who reminded me how Maurice was “never remotely grand, always self effacing considering how lofty his place was in the world of film scoring.” Maurice ended up giving Apted two completely different scores for GORILLAS IN THE MIST, one version was sparse and minimalist–combining the composer’s research recordings in tribal Africa with the director’s creative vision; and then, the conscientious composer supplied a final score with enhanced orchestral treatment just to make the studio happy as well. I guess that’s what Maurice meant by “a bit of diplomacy.”

I also recall Maurice’s ease and generosity of spirit toward his fellow composers, including his appreciation for craftsmen like Leon Arnaud, the quiet Frenchman who orchestrated so many of his celebrated scores. More recently, his warmth and support of colleagues was evident in a final interview for CNN, in which he shared his enthusiasm for the work of a very gifted younger Frenchman and Oscar nominee, Alexandre Desplat. Maurice told Alexandre that he hoped he would win an Oscar. The reason, he explained, was not because awards are important, but because it would have “sentimental value for you, because I respect your work.” That is great praise coming from someone with so many Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTA, Grammy, and countless Lifetime Achievement Awards, culminating in last month’s honoring at the Berlin Film Festival. Yesterday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke for music lovers everywhere when he lauded Maurice as “a great composer who produced majestic and full-bodied works.”

Maurice Jarre was a passionate devotee of the cinema, a man of the theater, a scholar of ethnomusicology, an explorer and pioneer of new and electronic music (along with his old friend Pierre Boulez and extending to his son, the talented Jean-Michelle Jarre), a lover of life and of his family and of his wife Fong of the past 25 years.

We will certainly miss his smile, his wit, those sparkling blue eyes, and the joy of his company. Thank God we will always have that immortal melodic part of him that remains close to us, playing on in our minds, and in our hearts.


Services will be private; a public memorial will be scheduled later.


THE SOCIETY OF COMPOSERS & LYRICISTS (SCL) is the non-profit and primary organization for professional film, TV and video game composers and lyricists, with a distinguished 60-year history in the fine art of creating music for motion pictures and television. The predecessor organization, the Screen Composers Association, began in 1945 with such legendary icons as Max Steiner, Bernard Herrmann, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Dimitri Tiomkin and David Raksin among others. Current SCL Members include the top creative professionals whose experience and expertise is focused on many of the creative, technological, legal, newsworthy and pressing issues of the film/television/game music industry today.