CD Review: La rançon de la gloire (The Price of Fame)

I’m breaking one of my cardinal rules with this post in reviewing a score for a film I haven’t seen. LA RANÇON DE LA GLOIRE only recently opened in France and has yet to arrive in the U.S. But the chance to hear and discuss a new Michel Legrand score was just too good to pass up.

The film is based on the true story of two bumbling crooks who dig up the body of Charlie Chaplin for ransom money. Given that I’m working on my book about Chaplin’s film music, it’s obvious why the subject matter would appeal to me. And since Legrand weaves Chaplin music into the score, even better. But since I haven’t seen the film yet, I can’t discuss how the score fits within the film itself. So I’ll be commenting on Legrand’s music as a standalone listen.

My primary interest initially was how Legrand uses Chaplin’s music in his score. Chaplin’s main theme from his 1952 film LIMELIGHT serves as the foundation, though a subtle one, from which much of the score is based. This particular film was a poignant choice given that Chaplin was denied re-entry into the U.S. when he went to London for the premiere of LIMELIGHT, after which he lived the rest of his life—and was buried—in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland.

“Chaplin” begins with a straight statement of Chaplin’s theme (also known as “The Terry Theme” in the cue sheet for LIMELIGHT or “Eternally” in its later vocal version), which Legrand also interpolates into one of the main original themes in the score. As the cue progresses, a rousing brass fanfare enters and Chaplin’s theme becomes the countermelody. Legrand even scores some charming piano-only silent film music in “La cure,” which I assume (but may be mistaken) accompanies a scene of Chaplin’s 1917 short THE CURE.

La rançon de la gloire – Chaplin

Click Track: Chaplin

In “Un moment de grâce,” the fanfare gets a lovely religious choral treatment until Legrand piles raucous trumpet and saxophone jazz licks on top. The combination creates controlled chaos that reminds me of Legrand’s memorable main title to THE HAPPY ENDING. In “Crooker,” Legrand turns the fanfare into a minor-key call to action associated with Peter Coyote’s portrayal of the Chaplin family’s butler. Legrand’s love of jazz is also featured in the driving bebop of “Guet-apens” (“Ambush”). Then there are those wonderful Legrand trademarks such as unexpected modulations and scalar sequences of slurred eighth notes that can be found in tracks like “Rosa et Samira”.

La rançon de la gloire – Rosa and Samira

Click Track: Rosa and Samira

Beyond the joys of this particular score, it’s nice to hear a new Michel Legrand (who turns 83 next month) work in which the master has not lost an ounce of his distinctive voice. Without having seen the film, this review is perhaps a complete waste of Internet space. But Legrand’s glorious music deserves attention. What a wonderful way to start 2015!

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