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VLADIMIR COSMA – THE PORTRAIT OF A COMPOSER

Vladimir Cosma, a French composer of Romanian origin, is the author of some famous motion picture soundtracks, like ‘The Tall Blonde Man with One Black Shoe’, ‘The Party’, ‘Diva’, some productions like ‘Asterix’ or “The Mad Adventures of ‘Rabi’ Jacob”, one of Louis de Funes classic movies. Composer of more than 300 movie soundtrack and of the opera ‘Marius et Fanny’, which had the world premiere in 2007, Vladimir Cosma was to tell the story of his life and to perform his best known songs on the stage of the Byzantine Hall in the Behague Palace. He was to be accompanied by Richard Sanderson (voice and piano), Sarah Pagin (voice), David Galoustov (violin) and Philippe Catherine (guitar).

Vladimir Cosma was born in a family of Romanian Jews, originating from Craiova. His father, Theodor Cosma was a renowned pianist and conductor, his mother, a composer as well, his uncle Edgar Cosma conducted the Bucharest Cinematography Orchestra, and his grandmother, the well-known pianist, studied with Ferrucio Busoni. Vladimir Cosma has been living in France since 1963, where he settled down, earning his living as a violinist in symphonic orchestras, continuing his studies with Nadia Boulanger, at The Normal School of Music in Paris.

While he was living in Romania, Vladimir Cosma had a great admiration for Michel Legrand. The latter had listened to his recorded music and entrusted him the orchestration of the pieces broadcast live on ‘Discorama’. It was the time when Michel Legrand was composing the soundtrack of ‘The Young Girls of Rochefort’. A year later he proposes him to compose the music of ‘Alexandre le bienhereux’ (‘Alexander’) by Yves Robert, starring Philippe Noiret and Marlene Jobert, released in 1969. It is the debut of a brilliant career…

He composed the scores of films like ‘The Dinner Game’, ‘Child’s Play’ and ‘The Jaguar’, created by Francis Veber, ‘The Gold seekers’ by Gerard Oury, ‘The Favour, The Watch and the Very Big Fish’ by Ben Lewin, ‘Asterix le Breton’, the credit titles of the animated series ‘Rahan’, “C’est pas moi, c’est lui” and “Je Suis Timide Mais Je Me Soigne”, starring Pierre Richard, ‘To Each His Hell’ by Andre Cayatte, ‘Dracula father and son’, ‘The Intimate Confessions of an Exhibitionist’ by Jesus Franco… He is inspired by Romanian music and especially by Gheorghe Zamfir’s panpipe. Together they compose the soundtrack of ‘The Tall Blonde Man…’ for which he is awarded at the Cannes Festival.

He was also rewarded with two ‘Cesar’s for best film music of the motion pictures ‘Diva’ by Jean-Jacques Beineix in 1982 and Ettore Scola’s ‘Le bal’ in 1984. He also set to music the opening and closing credits of TF1, broadcast from 1975 to 1976, and the new versions from 1976 to 1984 as well.

The melody is like the plot of a book

After 30 years of film music, Cosma got interested in writing symphonic suites, most often based on famous melodies composed for the cinema. He worked for many years, composing music for ‘The Marseillaise Trilogy’ by Marcel Pagnol, creation presented at the Marseille Opera in 2007.

“When we speak about ‘contemporary music’ or ‘the 20th century music’, everyone systematically thinks about the Vienna School, forgetting that the 20th century also means Ravel, Debussy, Shostakovich, Bartok, Prokofiev… I was not interested in the Vienna School except inasmuch as it came up with something new to the traditional musical language, and not as a pattern of reference composition. I used to play pieces by Bartok or Hindemith, but I had been feeding more on the popular music of my country and later, when I got into the West, on jazz.

In a few centuries we shall see what will have come of the serial experiments and of these composers. I think that all this decadence of the Viennese romantic music is an end, and not a beginning, as for such a long time Boulez and the promoters of New Music wanted to make us believe. The end of the great era of German romanticism took place at the same with the end of the German Empire. As far as I am concerned, I have been attracted more by the French, Spanish and American music. American jazz influenced me at a great extent: Coltrane, Ellington… “ confessed Vladimir Cosma, speaking about his musical preferences.

What Vladimir Cosma appreciates in music is the melody. ‘To me, the melody is like the plot of a book. There is no book without a plot, just as there shouldn’t be any music without melody. Without melody, the music of a film is but improvisation. There are pieces that do not have either structure or a backbone. The good film music shouldn’t be descriptive only, but it should have its own life. It should be like a poetic annotation reported to image. There are movies which can do without music, just as music can do without images. But the cinematographic art is real when it reunites all arts and of course, music.’

To Vladimir Cosma music has to stimulate dreaming and the joy of living. ‘The cinema imposes certain limits and restrictions to the composer, among which the most important is the minute timing. Comedy pictures don’t have anything degrading, those of Funes are classic pictures today, loved by the public. Nowadays laughter is taken seriously, but when you compose music for Godard’s or Resnais’ films, this will propel you amongst the intellectuals and the films subsidized as authorship films.’

Vladimir Cosma has successfully introduced folkloric music to the cinema, reviving Romanian themes, with popular instruments, like the panpipe or the cymbal, just as in the ‘The Tall Blonde Man…’, but during the last years he also composed symphonic music. “When the trumpeter Bernard Soustrot commissioned ‘The trumpet concert’ in 1996, I was just about to start concentrating on Spanish, Gypsy and Flamenco folklore, which I had been studying for the soundtracks of ‘The Sands of Time’ and ‘Kitchen and annexes’. The folklore is rich both rhythmically and melodically.’ When asked by a Metz University journalist whether he was going to compose other symphonic pieces, he replied: “Some years ago I wrote ‘Oblique’, a concert for cello and orchestra, marked by the ‘60s writing where you could rediscover the influences of Spanish music. I wrote ‘Court-Metrage’, a quintet for the brasses, created at Narbonne, which resumes the theme of the picture ‘Montparnasse Pondicherry’. I have also composed a ‘Symphonic suite for concert’, adapted after the theme of ‘La gloire de mon pere’ and ‘Le chateau de ma mere’ and a ‘Triptych’ of Romanian influence on the theme of ‘Le bal’. The cymbal provides originality to this piece. For the concert version I did not try to recreate this colour but rather to rewrite the life this instrument was emanating.”

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