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  • Composed by Georges Delerue

Directed by Philippe de Broca and starring Sophie Marceau, Philippe Noiret and Lambert Wilson, Chouans! is an historical epic set during the French Revolution. Marceau’s two best friends find themselves on opposing sides of the conflict and she is left to choose between them. The film was the seventeenth (!) and final collaboration between de Broca and the wonderful Georges Delerue, for whom films like this were meat-and-drink (what a shame he didn’t get to do more of this sort of thing in Hollywood rather than endless romantic comedies – mind you, he did those endless romantic comedies incredibly well).

His score was the first of two he did in relatively quick succession covering this period of history (the magnificent La Révolution Française followed a couple of years later) and is essentially everything you hope and expect it to be: a sweeping, epic main theme, some stirring drama, a lilting love theme and all sorts of typical Delerue baroque period music thrown in between all that.

Georges Delerue

Said main theme opens the score in the most portentous way – while perhaps not quite as rousing as his “anthem” for the later project (is anything!?) it certainly packs a powerful punch. He explores it further shortly afterwards during “The Births” and, in a slowed-down arrangement, in “The Chouans Before the Chateau”: the effect of the slower pace is to give the theme a sense of grand tragedy and in its final section the composer introduces new melodic material which is quite exceptional.

The love theme is introduced in “Aurele and Celine” – tender, gently prodding romance rather than extravagant opulence, the piece is nevertheless full of the delightfully light feel for which the composer was so famed and its contrast to the heavyweight dramatic material makes the effect all the greater.

The period music – which, in the interests of full disclosure, I have to say takes up quite a chunk of the album – won’t be for everyone. Delerue loved exploring the style and there are all sorts of little flourishes through the dances, marches and formal pieces, the composer cleverly moving from source to score sometimes within the same track. There’s a lot of intricate touches dotted through them, some quite exquisite melodies and a very authentic feel.

The final third of the album is dominated by a return to the more serious orchestral drama of the earlier parts. “The Departure of Tarquin” is another tragic take on the main theme and then “Let Me Dream” an absolutely gorgeous little piece of romance (but with an undoubted sadness running through it). The lengthy “The Future of Celine” offers some really potent drama: it opens with muted suspense, Delerue using subtle horns alongside strings and oboe to create a real sense of foreboding before he shifts the mood when a new theme – full of hope – emerges and sets the pulse racing.

After this comes some more tender tragedy in “The Lost Letter”, an oboe solo delicately nudging at the emotions over a bed of strings before the main theme makes a dramatic return; then the slower version of the theme is heard once more in the moving “The Death of Viviane”. Delerue turns the main theme into action music in the grand “The Battle” before the particularly touching “After the Battle in the Night” brings the body of the score to a close. As he so often did, the composer saves the best for last, and boy is it worth the wait – the gloriously epic end title arrangement of the main theme is truly one for the ages, enough to stiffen any sinew.

The score was released at the time of the film and became a real collectors’ item for a number of years, such was its rarity. In 2003 Disques Cinemusique made it available once again, with the same tracks but rearranged into a much better order (this is the version I have); then in 2018 Music Box released a greatly-expanded version to coincide with the film’s thirtieth anniversary. It’s an essential part of any Georges Delerue collection, grand in scope and execution, with one of his most stirring main themes.

Rating: ***** | |

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  1. Luc Van der Eeken (Reply) on Monday 13 September, 2021 at 13:56

    This is a fantastic score that I’ve played even more than La Révolution Française. I don’t think anybody did drama and sadness better than Delerue (and I’m Williams biggest fan…).

  2. Rory (Reply) on Monday 13 September, 2021 at 21:36

    Have to say I really appreciate the “composer showcase” angle you’ve been working on with these last few posts. I’ve listened to basically none of Delerue’s body of work up to this point, but now I’ve got a couple ideas of where to start…