For French film composer Alexandre Desplat, 2007 is already a pretty sweet year. He has just received his first Oscar nomination for his tightly paced score for The Queen, starring Helen Mirren as the current English monarch who falls from public favor following the death of Princess Diana. And in mid-January the Hollywood Foreign Press Association handed him a Golden Globe for the more romantic soundtrack he composed for The Painted Veil, a film based on a Somerset Maugham short story set in China in the 1920s starring Ed Norton and Naomi Watts.Although east is east, and west is west in terms of the two films’ subject matter, the twain meet in Desplat’s transparent but sophisticated scoring and his tendency to work on films with challenging subject matter. His music has previously graced over 50 films including Girl with a Pearl Earring, about Dutch painter Vermeer and his model, and the geo-political thriller Syriana. “I’ve done less lofty movies,” he laughs, but acknowledges he’d “rather score an intelligent movie, as opposed to an intellectual movie or a stupid movie. I think intelligent movies are good for your brain and more inspiring.” Desplat’s music for The Queen adds an appropriate urgency to the events that unfold in the immediate aftermath of Princess Di’s death in Paris. “There is an emerging suspense that I tried to put into the music,” says the composer. “Day after day, over the course of a week, the less Queen Elizabeth shows an interest in Diana’s death the more the public tension grows.” A second theme “also moving forward is the ghost of Diana floating above the country.” The Queen had been largely locked when Desplat was called in to do the score. “The ‘emergency’ of getting it done so quickly maybe added to the feeling of urgency in the music,” he speculates. He quickly found that he and director Stephen Frears agreed on the key elements. “We were on the same page when we started,” he recalls, “trying to be restrained, and sophisticated—fun but not funny, light in the sense of light comedy, but also with a deep sense of drama and tragedy.”Desplat scored The Queen for a chamber orchestra, consisting of members of the London Symphony, with the emphasis on the strings, which he says “having this amazing potential to either play with a lot of intimacy or to be violent, lush and noisy.” He also created “a sense of formality, but not too pompous,” with a mandolin, harpsichord and harp ensemble. Finally, he mixed in some synthesizers to add an electronic feel to the extensive documentary footage where a multitude of microphones was frequently a feature.For The Painted Veil score, Desplat avoided imitating Chinese music or attempting a 1920’s pastiche. Instead he came up with a more sweeping contemporary score that harked back to the soundtracks of Maurice Jarre, a fellow Frenchman who has influenced Desplat along with Georges Delerue, who scored many of FranÃƒÂ§ois Truffaut’s films. Other favorites he points to include Nino Rota, Bernard Herrmann and classical composers Mozart, Debussy and Ravel.Next up for the multilingual composer, whose Greek mother and French father met when they were students at the University of California at Berkeley, is a score he’s working on for Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, which stars Dustin Hoffman as the 243-year-old owner of a magical toy store he’s about to bequeath.2007: Nominated, Academy Award for best original score, The Queen; Won, Golden Globe for best original score in a motion picture, The Painted Veil; Nominated, BAFTA Anthony Asquith Award for Music, The Queen. 2006: Nominated, Golden Globe for best original score for a motion picture, Syriana. 2004: Nominated, Golden Globe for best original score for a motion picture, Girl with a Pearl Earring; nominated for BAFTA Anthony Asquith Award for Music, Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Written by Jack Egan