Film Fest Gent honours French composer Philippe Sarde with Lifetime Achievement Award at 18th World Soundtrack Awards

Philippe sarde photo credit jerome nicod
News 30 May 2018
Within the framework of the upcoming World Soundtrack Awards Gala, Film Fest Gent will honour Philippe Sarde's impressive career with a Lifetime Achievement Award followed by a tribute to Sarde's film music. The French composer is known for an immense variety and richness in his scores, ranging from impressive symphonic work to pure jazz. Sarde has worked with several world-famous directors such as Claude Sautet, Bertrand Tavernier, Yves Boisset, André Téchiné, Roman Polanski, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Marco Ferreri, Jacques Doillon and even Robert Bresson.

Film Fest Gent's artistic director Patrick Duynslaegher on Philippe Sarde’s impressive film music career:
“When you think about his incredible output, the quality and variety of his music and the films he wrote music for, it’s a mystery why legendary French maestro Philippe Sarde isn’t more well-known and celebrated outside the film music community."

"Lots of great film music is the result of the unique partnership and understanding between a director and a composer, whereby the composer makes a crucial contribution to the artistic (and often commercial) success of the film. What would some of the best Hitchcock films be without the music of Bernard Herrmann? Or nearly the totality of the films of Blake Edwards or Steven Spielberg without the scores of Henry Mancini or John Williams? Can one think of the films of François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Joel and Ethan Coen, Sergio Leone, Neil Jordan, Pedro Almodóvar, Marco Bellocchio, Benoit Jacquot without hearing the sound of Georges Delerue, Pierre Jansen, Peer Raben, Carter Burwell, Ennio Morricone, Elliot Goldenthal, Alberto Iglesias, Carlo Crivelli, Bruno Coulais?"

Impressive career

"So prolific and versatile is Philippe Sarde that he can be called the favourite composer of at least a dozen directors with whom he had a creative collaboration, either during their whole career or for an intense shorter period: Claude Sautet ('Les Choses de la Vie'; 'César et Rosalie'; 'Max et les Ferrailleurs'), Bertrand Tavernier ('Le Juge et l’Assassin'; 'Coup de Torchon', 'Un Dimanche à la Campagne'), Yves Boisset ('Un Taxi Mauve'; 'La Clé sur la Porte'; 'La Femme Flic'), André Téchiné ('Barocco'; 'Rendez-Vous'; 'Les Témoins'), Roman Polanski ('Le Locataire'; 'Tess'; 'Pirates'), Jean-Jacques Annaud ('La Guerre du Feu'; 'L’Ours'), Marco Ferreri ('Liza'; 'La Grande Bouffe'; 'La Dernière Femme'), Pierre Granier-Deferre ('Le Chat'; 'La Veuve Couderc'; 'Le Train'), Jacques Doillon ('Le Petit Criminel'; 'Ponette'; 'Rodin'), Georges Lautner ('Mort d’un Pourri'; 'Est-ce Bien Raisonnable'), Alain Corneau ('Le Choix des Armes'; 'Fort Saganne'). And yes, he even worked twice ('Lancelot du Lac'; 'Le Diable Probablement') with Robert Bresson, the mythic French director who famously makes austere films without film music."

"Of Claude Sautet for whom he scored eleven films over a period of three decades, Sarde said: ‘we were partners in life.’ They met in 1968, when Sautet who was looking for a composer for 'Les Choses de la Vie', was forty-four and Sarde twenty. According to the struggling young composer ‘Sautet was brave enough to go against his producer’s advise and give me the job.’ Since then he has scored some 190 movies (television movies and shorts not included), mostly French but occasionally Italian, British and American co-productions."

Versatile composer

"Philippe Sarde has said that to him the cinema is more interesting than music. Bertrand Tavernier indeed remembers the young Sarde as a great cinema buff who’s also a magnificent spectator. ‘He knows how to see a film, analyse it, and make judgments that are precise and warm. And he does so whatever the aesthetic, from Bresson to Lautner.’ Tavernier also admires Sarde’s film music for the lack of psychological explanation. ‘It’s never a comment on the characters’ state of mind but rather an exploration of the secret soul of the film. Listen to 'Le Juge et l’Assassin': there’s no theme that personalises each protagonist, no theme that illustrates their opposition to one another. The musical intention is situated at another level – above all, it conveys the notion of travel, of regions crossed, wanderings that are both geographical and mental.’"

"The amazing thing is the variety and richness of Philippe Sarde’s scores, going from symphonic to pure jazz, from beautiful melodic compositions to harmonic themes with no apparent melody, from diabolical rhythm sections to folk instruments from all horizons. Like a chameleon Sarde is able to compose in any style the film demands."

"After the romanticism of 'Les Choses de la Vie', he composed for Sautet’s next film, 'Max et les Ferrailleurs', a strangely arranged tune with a rhythm section as obsessive as the tormented Max character in the film."

Love for musical contrasts

"Close friend Tavernier said that over the years, from film to film he ‘flattered Sarde’s naturel tendency to create dialogues between instruments from opposite horizons: baroque ensembles with African percussion in 'La Fille d’Artagnan', a diatonic accordion in the middle of a dissonant orchestra in 'Le Juge et l’Assassin', a viola da gamba with rock percussion for 'L.627', over music that’s constantly breaking with the keys and rhythms.’ For Lautner’s 'Sains de Glace' Sarde wrote a sad ballad on electric violin. For another film of Lautner, 'Mort d’un Pourri', a violent political thriller starring Alain Delon as he idealistic hero, Sarde put the famous tenor saxophonist Stan Getz in front of the London Symphony Orchestra. In the words of the director, ‘real magic was born between the look of Delon and the timbre of Getz. The saxophone softens Alain’s face, brings something else to it, tenderness, and fragility. Nostalgia too.’"

"Yves Boisset confirms Sarde’s love for extreme contrasts in scoring for film. ‘From one film tot the next he could go from a hundred musicians in the London Symphony Orchestra (for his romantic score, with the participation of the Irish folk group The Chieftains, for 'Un Taxi Mauve') to just two soloists, like he did on 'La Femme Flic': a sad, lyrical score with a dialogue between an accordion and a classical saxophone.’"

Memorable scores

"As Boisset experienced with the score for 'Le Juge Fayard dit le Sherif', Sarde’s radical creative choices weren’t not always easily accepted by producers working in a conservative film industry. ‘The producers tried to get rid of the original score: too dissonant, too frightening, too destabilizing. They wanted music that was more lyrical, more descriptive, something to paraphrase the aerial photography. I had to get involved: “Sarde’s right, and nobody else!” Decades later it’s one of the pieces that people talk to me about most.’"

"It’s an impossible task to name every memorable score that Sarde has written, but among his best work is his deliciously creepy score for the supernatural thriller 'Ghost Story'; his wonderfully epic and other-worldly score that evokes the primitive, austere and brutal pre-historical world of 'Quest for Fire' ('La Guerre du Feu'); his lush, dark and mysterious Bernard Herrmann homage for 'Barocco'; and last but not least his discrete, understated music for Jerry Schatzberg’s 'Reunion', a subtle film about remembrance and the tricks it plays."

The World Soundtrack Awards concert will also host the world premiere of multi-award winning Carter Burwell's film scores (known for collaboration with Coen Brothers & Todd Haynes amongst others) and music by Academy Award-nominated composer, pianist and producer Nicholas Britell ('Moonlight').

Quotes from interviews by Stéphane Lerouge

18th World Soundtrack Awards Gala
In presence of Philippe Sarde, Carter Burwell & Nicholas Britell
Brussels Philharmonic conducted by Dirk Brossé
17 October 2018 - Capitole Ghent

Tickets available here