Thursday 21 March 2019

Michel Legrand

Paris-born Michel Legrand, 76, is a composer, conductor and musician. An Oscar and a Grammy winner, he has composed scores for 'Yentl' and 'The Thomas Crown Affair'; one of his best known tunes is 'The Windmills of Your Mind'. He lives between Switzerland and Paris with his third wife, Catherine, a harpist

Ciara Dwyer

Usually, I don't get up very early because I work very late at night. So, every day I wake up around 9.30am. Most of the time I live in Switzerland -- which is where I am based -- but I may be in Paris or New York, London or Russia. I live in many different places. I wake up very aware of where I am.

Let's do a day where I am in Paris.

I live outside the city, 100km away from Paris, in the beautiful countryside. You can hear the trees, birds, wind and sometimes the rain.

I don't have an alarm because I want to wake up normally, naturally. There is a lady sleeping near me and sometimes she wakes up earlier than me. It's my wife, Catherine. She is a musician and she plays the harp.

It isn't very important that my wife is a musician because I was married twice before and those women weren't musicians, but with Catherine it's certainly different. Sometimes we play together in the evenings.

When I wake up I'm starving, so I jump up, run to the kitchen and fix myself a tea with lots of sugar, and some bread and butter and jam. It's a huge meal. I only drink Chinese tea, and I always have it in my pocket, so if I go to a hotel I can have it for my breakfast straight away. Then I go to shower and afterwards I do my gymnastics. I lie down on the floor and do exercises for about 20 minutes. For a long time I had problems with discs in my back, but so long as I do my gymnastics, I'm fine. Then I get dressed. I don't really care what I wear, I just grab the nearest trousers and shirt, whatever is comfortable, but sometimes my wife leaves my clothes out the night before.

Then I go to work. I am busy in the morning because my head is clear, my hand is fresh and my heart is lovely, as usual. I might be composing for a film, practising certain harmonies or working on an orchestration.

Because I am a composer, I am more sensitive to sounds than most people. When I write, the only thing that disturbs me is music. I cannot bear to hear any music around, not a radio, not a disc, not someone humming.

I don't care about noise. An atomic bomb could go off in the room and I wouldn't hear it, and if children are screaming that's fine with me too. But when I compose, I cannot hear a note because it distracts me from my work. I have perfect pitch, which means on my score, on paper, I might do an F-sharp, which I hear in my head, but if an imbecile in the room next door is singing a B-flat, I get my gun, open the door and kill the person. They won't do it again.

I wish I knew where the music comes from. I never use a piano when I compose -- on the piano I can play only 10 notes with each of my five fingers, but my imagination is endless: I can play 200 notes at the same time in my head. I create, I create. There is no explanation for that. I cannot explain my songs and inspiration for them. Inspiration is bullshit. I always work, and my music is all me. It comes from me, down to me. The music comes before the lyrics. I have written happy songs at the saddest times in my life and some sad songs at happy periods in my life. I am a very generous person in life but when it comes to my work I am selfish. I think you have to be that way to create.

I stop and have some lunch. It's just me and Catherine in the house. She has a special room where she plays her harp. I watch the news. It's very important to know what's happening in the world. It's terrible what's happening now in the Middle East. I don't see any way to get out of it.

I have met so many great people over the years. Once I had the chance to sit near Igor Stravinsky. He told me that when he wrote The Rite of Spring, he didn't know why he wrote it, he just did. He said that he didn't know what he was doing and yet the critics were trying to explain everything and dissect everything. He said he didn't make sense of what he was doing, he just did it. That changed my life. I have never forgotten it.

I listen to a lot of different music; a lot of classical and jazz, very few rock and pop songs. But I'm such a technician of the music, that when I listen to music I can read the notes that they are playing at the same time. I know it's terrible, but it's the way I am constructed.

After lunch I get back to work. I don't care about success, trophies or money because you have no control over that. I just write what comes out of me and it makes me happy to put it out of me. If it's a success, fine; if it's a fraud, fine, but I'll never change a note.

I go to bed when I start to be tired, which is usually around 1am. Sometimes I watch a little film on television or a DVD that I want to see again. I always have three or four books that I'm reading at the same time. I read a lot. I think it's very important. So I get one of those books and I read it for an hour and then, after that, I'm so tired that sleep comes by chance.

A long time ago I had a dream that I was writing the most extraordinary melody in the whole world. When I woke up in the morning I couldn't remember it. I knew it was extraordinary, but, Jesus Christ, how could I get it back?

After I dreamt like this two or three times, I slept with a little piece of music paper by my bed, and I said: 'The next time I will dream about the best melody in the whole world.' So when I dreamt of the most extraordinary melody that nobody has thought about, the masterpiece of the universe, I wrote it down on a piece of paper, half asleep. I said: 'Great, in the morning I will be able to play it.' Next morning when I woke up I jumped to the piano and it was a piece of shit. My melody was lousy.

So I can dream anything now, but I don't give a shit about it.

L

'An Evening with Michel Legrand and his Orchestra, with Special Guest Vocalist Alison Moyet', tonight at the National Concert Hall, 8pm. Tickets €80-€65, choir balcony, €45. Tel: (01) 417-0000, or see www.nch.ie

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in this section