Legendary French composer Georges Delerue finally won an Oscar in 1979. But that award is tainted—or sweetened, depending on how you look at it—by the delicate strains of Vivaldi.
A LITTLE ROMANCE is charming but slight, yet it yearns with the heartbreak of first love. Directed by Oscar-winner George Roy Hill (THE STING), Diane Lane (in her film debut) and Thelonius Bernard star as an American girl and French boy caught in the throes of adolescent love, who befriend a doddering old pickpocket (Laurence Olivier), who helps them run away to Venice to seal their love forever. Much of the film’s success is due to the unpretentious performances of the two young leads, Hill’s light touch in the director’s chair, and Delerue’s sweet score.
The score combines light jazz and Baroque-style chamber music. In the uptempo main title, a long-winded flute melody is paired with more classical stylings in the oboe and clarinet. Light jazz underscores the Paris montage and a lilting, Old World waltz is used as Julius’ (Olivier) theme.
The piano music used in the background for the party is appropriately loungy without sounding trashy. Delerue even provides original underscoring for the scene where the lovers hide in the movies, properly reverbed so that it sounds like it is bouncing off the walls of a movie theater.
But the music that most people remember (and what probably won Delerue the Oscar) isn’t Delerue’s at all.
The tender theme used for the two lovers is based on the Largo movement of Vivaldi’s Concerto for Lute, Violins, and Basso Continuo in D Major. The Allegro movement accompanies the trio as they join a bike race to cross the border from France into Italy. The music may put Delerue’s eligibility for “original” score into question, but it is memorable.
Most film music aficionados agree that Jerry Goldsmith was robbed of an Oscar for his classic score to STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE that year. There are better scores in the French master’s past and would be in his future. But the score is effective in the film, never intruding on or overwhelming the sweetness of the story. Plus, it is difficult to deny Delerue an Oscar somewhere along the way.