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GERARD SCHURMANN describes his involvement with the music score for ‘Lawrence of Arabia”

Based on an article first published in The Cue Sheet Vol.7, No.3, July 1990


Previous requests for an account of my involvement with the music score for Lawrence of Arabia have never tempted me in the slightest. It all happened a long time ago, my professional life has developed in a direction largely away from films, and I generally believe subjective reminiscences of this kind to be defensively slanted towards self-aggrandisement. Lawrence, now splendidly restored to its original version, has acquired a life of its own, while the orchestral full scores are preserved in Columbia’s music library, available for inspection to anyone who might be interested. Isn’t this enough?

Apparently not, judging by published accounts of interviews with the composer Maurice Jarre in the French press and elsewhere. So extraordinary and far reaching are the inaccuracies, compromising not only me, but also other musicians who were my friends, that I seem to have no alternative but to try and set the record straight on at least a few points, according to verifiable documentation and the best of my recollection. In mitigation, it may be true that Jarre’s extremely poor command of English at the time prevented him from knowing precisely what was going on. However, the idea that Benjamin Britten for example, as claimed by Jarre, would have agreed under any circumstances to collaborate with him is absurd. Ben told me later that he had indeed been tentatively approached by someone via Boosey and Hawkes, his publishers at the time, to compose the score. The subject interested him, and he suggested that he might, in principle, be prepared to take on the assignment if he was given a year’s notice!

The original joint plan of David Lean and Sam Spiegel had been to ask William Walton and Malcolm Arnold to write the score together, a fact well remembered by Susana, Lady Walton, in her biography Behind the Façade: ”…after seeing the rushes and drinking a fair amount over lunch, they (William and Malcolm) decided that it (Lawrence) was a travelogue needing hours of music, and declined. This deeply offended David Lean, an old friend of William’s, and provoked an irate phone call from Paris from Sam Spiegel, the producer, who berated William for his failure to understand commercial cinema.”…

When Jarre and I first met, he told me a disarmingly personal story of how he had come to Sam Spiegel’s attention, involving the French actress Juliette Greco and American film producer Darryl Zanuck. I for my part was both surprised and delighted to receive a call from my agent David Conyers at MCA with the message that Sam Spiegel wanted to see me at his office about the music for Lawrence of Arabia and would offer me a contract as co-composer with a Frenchman. All went smoothly at the meeting. Sam, at his most charming and encouraging, assured me that I would get on well with Jarre, who was then in Paris. He invited me to meet David Lean the following day and see a few edited reels. The sheer beauty of what I saw bowled me over, and David, noticing my response, asked me to dinner at the Berkeley Hotel where he was staying. During the meal I brought up the question of how, after Walton and Arnold, Sam had finally come to choose Jarre and me, both still in our thirties, for the music. David explained that, to him, Sam was like an international fur dealer who travelled the world feeling out samples and reputations.

After Jarre’s return to London, we had about a week to get acquainted. Our time was spent in daily visits to the viewing theatre in North Audley Street, often followed by dinner and stimulating conversation with David in the evening. On a personal level I found Jarre to be all Sam had promised, charming and easy to get on with. It was important that we got to know each other’s musical style, and he played me some recordings of his music for films and theatre productions. I could not help noticing an elaborate and resourceful use of percussion – he told me that he had at one time been a drummer in the famous Régiment du Chambre et Meuse – but I began to suspect that he had never previously had experience of composing or orchestrating anything appropriate for the kind of large symphony orchestra of close to 100 players that we were going to employ. Indeed, after I had orchestrated a few of his sketches, my suspicions were abundantly confirmed, and there was obviously no way in which the division of labour was going to be shared equally if the score was to get done in time. It should here perhaps be said that there were no professional orchestrators as such in England in those years. Composers did their own orchestration, and any help needed had to be supplied by another composer. When I explained my view of the situation to Sam, he was shocked at first. He then asked me if I would be prepared to take full charge of the orchestrations, and reduce my input of original music. Reluctantly, I agreed, and he proceeded to question me further about my own abilities in that direction. After I told him that, apart from my composition credits which he knew about, I had supplemented my income by doing the orchestrations for The Cruel Sea, The Vikings and, most recently the Oscar winning score for Exodus, he heaved a sigh of relief and seemed reassured.

The next hurdle was a financial one. Jarre’s various explanations on this matter make no sense at all. The trouble arose because MCA advised me not to sign the revised contract which reduced my role from that of co-composer to “the Arranger who shall also compose music as may be reasonably required by the Company.” The new deal meant that I would be giving up a considerable potential source of income from royalties for which MCA felt I should be compensated. This claim was being resisted by Horizon Pictures when I mentioned it, in Jarre’s presence, to David Lean over dinner. David was very supportive, advised me to see Sam personally at his office the next day, and make sure that I use the words “I resent….” with appropriate conviction. It did the trick immediately, and Sam soothed me down with his expressed belief that I would in any case still be required to contribute a fair amount of original music.

In the event, I did not compose any themes for the film. Jarre is proud to have done all of this himself. On the other hand, he seems blissfully unaware that inordinate repetition, however expedient, almost broke the camel’s back – no pun intended! – not to mention the arranger’s neck which suffered a slipped disc and a harnessed existence for many months to come.

I am afraid that Jarre’s faulty memory has led him deep into the realm of pure fantasy where Sir Adrian Boult is concerned. The facts are that, unusually, the recording schedule with the London Philharmonic Orchestra was spread over an extended period, while part of the score was still being written. Sessions were booked at irregular intervals depending on the orchestra’s availability. Sam confided to me that he needed another British citizen on the list of credits to be sure of qualifying the film as a British product. This brought certain tax advantages and would allow Lawrence to fall within the 50% of the British films quota system that cinema chains in the UK had to abide by. To that end he had asked the conductor John Pritchard to record the unsynchronized music, i.e. a planned Overture which was also largely going to double as interval music before Part 2, but Pritchard’s agent Basil Horsfield had apparently demanded a huge fee which Sam was not prepared to pay. It was I who suggested asking Sir Adrian Boult, whom I knew well, and Sam readily agreed when I proposed that we should offer him a fee of 250 guineas to conduct the Overture in the course of one session sometime in the middle of the recording schedule.

I was able to send Sir Adrian a copy of the score a few days in advance, but on the morning of his session at Shepperton Studios I had been working more than 48 hours at a stretch without sleep, one of many such stints during Lawrence. Having remembered to arrange for his customary pint of milk to be handed to him at the studio, I myself arrived late and, to Sam Spiegel’s dismay, missed a publicity photo session which Sam thought important. Sir Adrian recorded the piece as planned and returned the score accompanied by a charming little note complimenting me on the orchestration.

I have left the recollection of my struggles with Jarre’s musical material until last, because it was heartbreaking to discover that his audio-dramatic gifts were coupled to an astonishingly inarticulate musical technique. This combination has tended over the years to make Jarre’s film scores stand out as recognizably his, at least for me.

I questioned him very closely in the beginning as to what he had in mind, since there was never even the slightest indication of either dynamics or instrumentation, beyond a detailed lay-out for percussion. However, I do remember, and he never fails to mention it in his interviews, that he did once specifically ask for three piccolos instead of two in a military march!"

At the end of a week, I decided there was really nothing further to be gained from our regular meetings, and his sketches were thereafter delivered to my home by hired car. Jarre’s indications continued to be lamentably vague, or lacking altogether, but I had learned to use my initiative to an extent unprecedented in my experience in the role of arranger and orchestrator. The percussion parts were always written out in full, sometimes taking up five or six staves, while the rest of the music had to content itself with merely one or two. During the last few weeks the sheer pressure of getting the notes down in full score became so great that Phil Jones, the chief copyist in charge, arranged for one or two copyists to stay and work at my house in relays.

In an attempt to lift my spirits I used occasionally to speculate idly whether the word “orchestration” had some unfathomable connotation in French which was responsible for my agony. It was not until many years later that friends at the O.R.T.F. in Paris told me about the case of a well-known French conductor from Lyon who had undertaken to “orchestrate” a ballet composed by Maurice Jarre, and was subsequently found wandering the streets in a suicidal condition.

I don’t know what it is that Jarre is supposed to have played to Sam and David on the piano before I joined the team, but I remember very clearly, after the first couple of orchestral sessions had taken place, that there were still doubts to be resolved. We changed harmonies and broadened some of the main themes to make them more suitable for big orchestral treatment. It was not until after Jarre and I had played these somewhat rearranged versions of the material together on the piano, four hands, to an audience of David Lean, Sam Spiegel and Robert Bolt at the offices of Horizon Pictures in Berkeley Street, that the musical ship was well and truly launched.

I know that at the end of it all Jarre was nervous and uncertain about my orchestral arrangements. He had never produced such a big sounding score before and seemed genuinely worried that he would be heavily criticized for it in France where, he told me, such rich orchestration would be frowned upon as being a typical product of Hollywood.

At the end of the last music session Jarre called me over and asked if, for the sake of the film, I would agree to present a united front at all times, and not betray any past difficulties between us. I readily concurred, but found within a few days that he had complained about me at a press conference in London, and when he arrived in Hollywood and met Ernest Gold, composer of the Oscar winning music for the film Exodus with whom I had enjoyed a happy working relationship as his orchestrator, Jarre began the conversation to Ernest’s consternation with, “Only you and I know how bad Gerard Schurmann is!” In more recent times, however, he appears to have radically changed his opinion. He now seems proud to claim all of the credit for himself.

Ah well, I could not help being mildly curious when I read an advertisement for a subsequent Silva Screen CD release of Lawrence of Arabia announcing “New and revised orchestrations made under the direction of the composer.” When I saw the film again, in its restored version many years later, I felt rather proud of my work, and I cannot think of a better way to demonstrate the full extent of my personal input than to invite a comparison between the music as heard in the film and these “revised” scores, supposedly made under Jarre’s personal direction, by someone else.

Finally, after Lawrence had won an Oscar for its music, and a short time before the production of Dr. Zhivago got underway, David Lean, who liked to work with the same people around him, wrote to me from Venice to say that we would soon all be together again on the new film. Unfortunately, nothing on earth could ever have persuaded me to repeat the experience of my stressful musical collaboration on Lawrence.

© Gerard Schurmann


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