Synchronization by the Grace of God? the Film/music Collaboration of Jean Cocteau and Georges Auric

By Deaville, James; Wood, Simon | Canadian University Music Review, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Synchronization by the Grace of God? the Film/music Collaboration of Jean Cocteau and Georges Auric

Deaville, James, Wood, Simon, Canadian University Music Review


Jean Cocteau's relationship with music has never been explored in detail with regard to his films. Given his well-known statements against synchronization, Cocteau appears upon first glance not to have paid much attention to the relationship between image, word and music, entrusting the music to his long-term friend Georges Auric. However, a closer examination of Auric's scores in the context of their films reveals a much closer corraboration of music and film than previously thought by specialists (or admitted by Cocteau). Analysis of musical and filmic elements in Le Sang d'un poète (1932), La Belle et la Bête (1946) and Orphée (1949) presents a complex and rich yet traditional approach to film scoring both by Auric and Cocteau.


La place qu'occupe la musique dans les films de Jean Cocteau n'a jamais fait l'objet d'une étude approfondie. En effet, le parti pris ouvert de Cocteau contre la synchronisation fait penser qu'il accordait peu d'importance aux liens entre l'image, la parole et la musique, d'autant plus qu'il confiait celle-ci à son fidèle ami Georges Auric. Toutefois, un examen attentif des partitions d'Auric en regard des films correspondants permet de révéler qu'il existe, entre musique et film, une relation beaucoup plus étroite que ce que les spécialistes avaient cru jusqu'ici (ou que Cocteau admettait). Une analyse des éléments musicaux et filmiques des productions Le Sang d'un poète (1932), La Belle et la Bête (1946) et Orphée (1949) suggère une approche riche et complexe, quoique conventionnelle, de la composition de musique de film, à la fois par Auric et Cocteau.

... one must let the film act like Auric's noble accompanying music. Music gives nameless nourishment to our emotions and memories ...l

The most important musical collaboration of Jean Cocteau's film career was that which he shared with composer Georges Auric (1899-1983). Auric contributed original scores for four of the six films directed by Cocteau between the years 1930 and 1960, including: Le Sang d'un poète (1930), La Belle et la Bête (1945), Les Parents terribles (1948), and Orphée (1949). Auric was also called upon to contribute music for several films in which Cocteau was involved as a writer, such as L'Éternel Retour and Ruy Blas (1947). His music is a constant and powerful presence in Cocteau's films; however, a review of the literature on this collaboration constantly reaffirms, unquestioned, Cocteau's claim that he randomly "reordered" Auric's music in an effort to avoid any musical and narrative synchronization, save that which happens "by the grace of God."2 Does the evidence of the films themselves support this claim, or do they reveal a higher level of intent on the part of Auric and Cocteau than the latter would care to admit? Following a brief historical introduction, we will compare the literature surrounding the collaboration between Cocteau and Auric with the music of the films, in an investigation that will bring this accepted view into question.

Georges Auric was born on 15 February 1899 in Lodève, France. Following early musical studies at the Montpellier Conservatory, he attended the Paris Conservatory and the Schola Cantorum. In his early twenties, he found himself in the company of Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Louis Durey and Germaine Tailleferre, an informal collection of Parisian composers whom the critic Henri Collet called Les Six Français-an epithet that they did not reject, even though the members of this group had little in common with each other. Interested in the promotion of French over foreign (in particular German) art, Cocteau anointed himself spokesman for the group, promoting them in his pamphlet-format manifesto entitled Le Coq et l'Arlequin.

After Durey, Auric was the least well-known of Les Six, possibly because he seemed most comfortable working in the genre of the film score (he wrote music for 40 French, 40 American and 15 British films), which undoubtedly contributed to his marginal ization and relative obscurity up to the present.

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