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Les Visiteurs
  • Composed by Georges Delerue
  • Music Box Records / 2013 / 56m

I remember quite a lot about my French lessons at school, including the delectable Miss Horden speaking the beautiful language with an incredibly pronounced Black Country accent (the weekly “Asseyez vous” at the start of each lesson was a joy to behold, sounding like it was being spoken by a slightly higher-pitched Noddy Holder).  And I remember Mr Overend sometimes walking around the school corridors playing the accordion, for no particular reason.  Oh, and Mr Akroyd throwing a desk out the window after someone particularly upset him.  Best of all, Mr Davies (“The Veg”, who used to walk around with his thumbs stuck in his belt, frantically wriggling his other fingers around) and his unique teaching style, where he’d write something in French on the blackboard and then slam his hands against the blackboard trying to conceal it and ask you if you could remember how to spell it.  At one point I remember him saying to me: “Doucement means gently.  What does doucement mean?”  I probably still got the answer wrong.

Another thing I remember is that during one glorious period, lessons consisted of nothing other than watching a television series called Les Visiteurs.  This possibly took place during a period when teachers were on strike, which frankly doesn’t rule out much of my school-going years (no doubt the nasty government wanted them to have to work beyond 3pm or some such horror).  Anyway, Les Visiteurs was made in 1980 (I wouldn’t have seen it until a few years later) and was about some aliens who came to Earth in human form and then tried to get lost so they could avoid detection by their compatriots and stay living here undetected – because they liked it so much.  I don’t suppose for a moment that I realised this at the time, but the music was by the great Georges Delerue, making one of his 150 forays into television.

Georges Delerue

Georges Delerue

His score opens with a delectable main theme, which reminds me a bit of Debussy – the melody line and indeed the orchestration are rather sparse, but it’s quite something, an entirely sumptuous piece that has an otherworldly air to it and yet also somehow manages to evoke a shimmering, glorious sunrise.  It’s yet another Delerue classic, an Austrian zither carrying the melody, harp and strings providing the accompaniment.  There is an immediate contrast in the dark, percussive “Reka, Le Dernier Survivant”, a far bleaker piece which includes a frantic passage of brassy action music, charged with desperate emotion.  Then the eclectic score takes another total change of pace in the light jazz “Arkim et Tolrach”, whose melody line is actually the score’s main theme, but barely recognisable as such.

This is not music which sticks in one place for long.  After the diversity of the first three tracks, the fourth brings another about-turn – “Les Jeunes Mariés” is a beautiful accordion-led waltz, then “Zarko, Chevalier de l’Espace” sees a dramatic brassy fanfare followed by spooky layered strings which could easily be from a horror score.  “Le Procès” sees the mood continue, Delerue exploring a very harsh, cold soundscape with clanking percussion driving it along at a furious pace.  “La tour du monde” is perhaps the score’s melodic highlight, a sweeping orchestral version of the main theme which is enough to send shivers down the spine.

“Jalousie” brings yet another new direction – this time, a beautiful tango.  Light jazz returns in “L’expérience” (if I recall correctly from Mr Davies, that means “the experience”) and there’s a certain beauty even in that; then comes an opulent, ravishing string quartet piece, “Soirée au château” – only Georges Delerue could write such a piece for a science fiction television series!  “La vie sur Terre” returns again to the main theme, this time with the haunting orchestration of the opening cue.  There’s a delightfully (unsurprisingly) Parisian atmosphere to the accordion-led “Retour à Paris”, gleefully romantic in that uniquely French way.  “Renate et Jean-Louis” offers a different kind of romance, a relaxed piano solo still carefree, but perhaps a little more substantial.

There’s one final surprise twist from Delerue with the South American style of “La prison de San Diego”, a rich soup of Hispanic flavours.  The score ends with the gloriously upbeat, sweeping “La révélation”, one of those wonderful pieces Delerue so often wrote with a real life-affirming feel to it, a quite fantastic ending.  Les Visiteurs is an unusual score in some respects, flitting between styles freely and frequently, but Delerue’s skill was such that he held it all together in a way that it never feels even remotely disjointed.  It’s great to finally have it available on album.

The album doesn’t end there, however – there’s an 18-minute bonus in the form of the complete 1972 score L’Homme qui revient de loin.  It’s perhaps not quite on the level of the feature attraction but still has a lot going for it – the mournful main theme, for one thing.  The television film is a supernatural mystery, and that comes through in the music – the lonely flute solo of “Marthe et André” leads into some dark, somewhat emotionally detached music (not something I commonly say about Delerue), but very effective.

There’s some lighter material too – the lovely “La Roseraie” particularly rich, followed up by “Jacques et Fanny” which features one of those dancing flute solos which were such a gorgeous trademark of the composer over the years.  Like in Les Visiteurs, the zither has a role to play, this time providing that haunting quality it has so often been used to provide in film scores.  This is a terrific album from Music Box Records, featuring one good and one great score from Delerue which hopefully marks the start of a new series of releases featuring his music for television.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Chris Caine (Reply) on Monday 7 October, 2013 at 21:22

    I like the movie version scores by Eric Levi.