Michel Legrand (1932-2019) was one of the most important names in contemporary music. In 1965, he received three Academy Award nominations for his score adaptation and the song “I Will Wait For You” from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; he was subesquently nominated thirteen times and won three Oscars. He received his first Oscar in 1968 for Best Song, “The Windmills of Your Mind” from The Thomas Crown Affair; his second Oscar for Best Original Dramatic Score for Summer of ’42 and his third came in 1984 for Best Original Song Score for Barbra Streisand’s movie Yentl, called by Time Magazine “the most romantic, coherent and sophisticated original movie score since Gigi a quarter-century ago.”
In 2018 Michel Legrand scored Orson Welles’s last film, The Other Side of the Wind. Welles finished filming the movie in the mid-1970s but never completed the editing of it due to money issues. After decades of sorting out the rights, the film was finally completed in 2018. During the shooting, Welles wrote in his notebook, “Call Legrand for the music.” Call they did in 2018 and Legrand delivered one of his best scores. It also turned out to be his last score.
He made his Broadway debut as the composer of the Tony Award-nominated stage musical Amour, which opened at The Music Box Theater in October 2002. Time Magazine named Amour one of the 10 best theatrical productions of 2002. He made his West End debut in May 2008 with his new musical Marguerite.
Legrand first came to the attention of Americans when, at the age of 22, he arranged and conducted the Columbia recording “I Love Paris,” which became one of the best-selling instrumental records ever released. He subsequently won five Grammy Awards and an Emmy nomination for his score to the television movie Brian’s Song.
Beginning in 1953, Legrand scored more than 200 films, including Ice Station Zebra, The Go-Between, F For Fake, Wuthering Heights, Le Mans, Lady Sings the Blues, The Three Musketeers, The Other Side of Midnight, Atlantic City, The Hunter, Never Say Never Again, Micki & Maude and Ready to Wear, among many others. He collaborated with directors like Norman Jewison, Orson Welles, Jacques Demy, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Lelouch, Richard Lester, Joseph Losey, Robert Mulligan, Clint Eastwood, Robert Altman and Sydney Pollack.
Songs written by Legrand have become worldwide standards, including “I Will Wait for You” and “Watch What Happens” and, with Alan and Marilyn Bergman, “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?,” “The Windmills of Your Mind,” “The Summer Knows,” “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” and “On My Way to You.”
As a virtuoso conductor, pianist, composer and arranger, Legrand made well over 200 albums and collaborated with such stars as Maurice Chevalier, Miles Davis, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Johnny Mathis, Neil Diamond, Sarah Vaughan, Maurice André, Stan Getz, Aretha Franklin, Jack Jones, James Galway, Ray Charles, Lena Horne and Barbra Streisand. He was also a classical recording artist of note, having recorded the Fauré and Duruflé Requiems and the piano music of Erik Satie. In 2011, he wrote ballet music for John Neumeier’s production of Liliom at the Hamburg Opera and, in 2016, two concertos (one for piano, one for cello), released on Sony Classical. In 2016, he recorded the oratorio Between Yesterday and Tomorrow with soprano Natalie Dessay, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman.
His compositions have also been recorded by the best – from Frank Sinatra to Jessye Norman, Barbra Streisand, Cleo Laine, Oscar Peterson, Blossom Dearie, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Evans, Dusty Springfield, Nina Simone, Henry Mancini, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, George Benson, Michael Jackson and Sting, to name a few.
Legrand was also a conductor of renown. He conducted and appeared with orchestras such as the London Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, and symphony orchestras of Vancouver, Montreal, Atlanta, Denver and New Orleans, among many others.
Legrand was a jazz pianist of renown playing in jazz clubs around the world. He made numerous jazz albums either as a soloist or in collaboration with other jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz and Stephane Grappelli. Michel’s music is a favorite of jazz artists.
Legrand was married to French actress Macha Méril and lived in Switzerland. He passed away in Paris in January 2019. Alan and Marilyn Bergman said of Legrand, “He was a reservoir of music and the reservoir was always full. He was music personified.”
Sheldon Harnick, Miche...
Sheldon Harnick, Michel Legrand
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