The memorable piano and strings theme to the film ‘Love Story’ won Francis Lai an Oscar for best original music score in 1971 – but he almost turned down the chance to compose the soundtrack which became his greatest success. The actor Alain Delon persuaded Lai, who has died aged 86, to postpone his summer holiday to work on the score, which embellished Erich Segal’s poignant romantic drama starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal.
Indeed, where does one begin with Lai? He belonged to that so-called ‘silver age’ of film music, with composers such as Elmer Bernstein, Maurice Jarre and Jerry Goldsmith. His movie soundtracks were openly romantic and melodic: “His music was not just beguiling, but it conveyed a charming seductiveness,” American film music expert Jon Burlingame told The Washington Post. “There was something sexy about it.” Lai only composed at night.
Starting out as an accompanist on the piano and accordion for Edith Piaf in Paris, Lai began working in film in 1964, when he wrote music for ‘La Ronde’, directed by Roger Vadim. Two years later he began a long and fruitful collaboration with director Charles Lelouch, his lilting theme to ‘Un Homme et Une Femme’ (A Man and a Woman) earning his score an Oscar nomination and two Golden Globes.
Lai composed regularly for Lelouch, covering many musical styles and writing scores for over 35 of his films, including ‘Edith et Marcel’ and the sequel ‘Un Homme et Une Femme Vingt Ans Deja’. At the time of his death last week Lai was working on a third instalment of ‘Un Homme et Une Femme’, again featuring the original stars Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant.
Lai was in demand with many directors, including Michael Winner, Terence Young, Peter Hall and memorably Bryan Forbes, on ‘International Velvet’. Aficionados of soft-core erotica will remember his scores for ‘Emmanuelle II’ and ‘Bilitis’.
As well as composing so many recognisable scores for more than 100 films, Lai’s diverse career saw him work in radio and television and write hundreds of songs for international stars, including Carly Simon, Petula Clark and Nana Mouskouri, and for his compatriots Mireille Mathieu, Yves Montand, Johnny Hallyday, Francoise Hardy, Charles Aznavour and Jean-Paul Belmondo.
The Record Album has a fine selection of Francis Lai soundtracks, from ‘International Velvet’, ‘Un Homme et Une Femme Vingt Ans Deja’ and ‘Love Story’ to ‘Dark Eyes’, ‘I’ll Never Forget Whats’isname’ and ‘The Legend of Frenchie King’. Come in and enjoy the romance of our superb film soundtracks.