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Vladimir Cosma Biography

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cosma_smallOne of France's and Europe's most distinguished film composers, Vladimir Cosma has scored more than 150 films and TV productions. Though he enjoyed almost immediate success in comedies, he continued experimenting with different styles and genres and this versatility brought him wide international acclaim. Born on April 13, 1940, in Bucharest, Romania, to the family of a renowned conductor and concert pianist, Cosma studied music from his early years onward, eventually attending the National Conservatory in Bucharest (from which he graduated with two first prizes, for violin and composition).

The name of Vladimir Cosma may not elicit much reaction in this country, but in Europe, and particularly in France where he has been residing since 1963, he is considered one of the best and most important film composers, a creator whose wide range of themes have been heard in some of the most successful big screen and television productions in the past years. His vast output during these years has included the scores for more than 150 films, many of them light comedies, a genre in which he has particularly distinguished himself. Recognition has come in the guise of two Cesars, the French equivalent of the Oscar, for his music for Le Bal in 1982, and Diva in 1984: a Sept d'or, the highest French television award, for his score for L'ete 36 in 1986; and last but not least a Grand Prix at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival for the entire body of his works.

The honors do not seem to have heightened Cosma's self-importance. In fact, when talking about himself and his achievements, he shows a casual modesty that proves quite endearing. "They are nice to have," he says of the awards, "but I've never considered that receiving one was all that important. What really matters is to be successful with the public. Let's face it: awards often go to a certain type of film, and very seldom are comedies and comedians rewarded for their efforts. Great directors like Yves Robert, Francis Veber or Gerard Oury, and great actors like Louis de Funes or Jean-Paul Belmondo, have never won a Cesar, because they work in comedies. The two Cesars I have won were for very special films, not for comedies. The fact that I won was rewarding because I don't usually work in a genre that gets awards, but my true reward comes when I have written a score that I know is good, and the public responds positively to it."

The son of a famous concert pianist and conductor, Cosma was born in Bucharest on April 13, 1940. He spent his formative years studying music, eventually attending the National Conservatory in Rumania from which he graduated with two first prizes, for violin and composition. In 1963, he moved to Paris to further his studies at the French Conservatory, and was tutored by the celebrated Nadia Boulanger. "In addition to studying the classics, I also became passionately interested in jazz, in film music and in all sorts of folk music," he says. Between 1964 and 1967 he toured the world as a concert violinist, notably visiting the U.S., Central and South America and the Far East. A chance encounter with Michel Legrand, the reputed film composer, provided the first step toward the career he would eventually adopt for himself. "I first met when I arrived in France", he says: "later on, I worked with him for several years. If anyone influenced me and my style, he did, though at the time I was also influenced by the works of other composers like Henry Mancini and Burt Bacharach."

In 1968, Cosma received his first film assignment when director Yves Robert asked him to score Alexander, starring Philippe Noiret, Marlene Jobert "and a charming little dog." The film, an international success, marked the start of a long-term artistic relationship with Robert, which has extended to many other comedies, including Le grand blonde avec une chaussure noire (The Tall Blonde with a Black Shoe, 1972), Salut, l'artiste (1973), Le retour de grand blonde (1974), Un elephant ca trompe (1976), Nous irons tous au Paradis (1877), Courage, fuyons (1979), and La juneau (1984), many of them starring Pierre Richard, one of France's best-known funnymen. Robert and Cosma worked again on the critically-acclaimed My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle, based on the childhood memories of writer and cinematographer Marcel Pagnol. The two films also marked of artistic direction for both men, whose creative bent moved away from straight comedies to adopt a style more suffused with nostalgic impressions. Characteristically, Cosma used this opportunity to deliver two scores that were strongly melodic and filled with romantic, albeit attractive tunes. "Any working relationship with a director that extends over a long period of time is bound to generate satisfying results," he says. "Writing a score for a film means that you bring to the task your taste, your talent, your know-how, but you blend these with a director's own vision. If I'm working with a director who stimulates me, who gives me confidence, and who expresses similar likes and dislikes, the resulting score will be a great deal more effective than if I have to work with a director who knows nothing about music, or who does not share my feelings or ideas about how a score should work within the concept of the film.. "Because I am well known in the industry, and because sometimes what I do appeals to their general concepts at that time, some directors have come to me to compose the scores for their films without having a clue as to what it takes to be creative. "Personally, I prefer long-term relationships with a director," he adds, "because in the long range you develop a greater understanding about the interplay between music and image. Working with the same director over a period of years means that we know each other better, we have greater exigencies toward one another, and at the same time we have greater freedom of expression because we understand better each other's creative sensitivities."

A prime example of how the relationship with Yves Robert resulted in a better musical approach can be found in the theme Cosma created for Le grand blond, their second film together. The film, about an innocent musician who becomes an unwilling pawn in the power struggle between two police secret services, was viewed by Robert as a mild spoof of the James Bond thrillers. "I didn't like the idea of writing a pastiche," says Cosma, "of creating a theme for the central character that might recall someone else's music. I felt it lacked imagination. I thought it would be much more interesting to bring to it an original color. That's why I came up with the idea of using unusual instruments, like the Syrinx played by Gheorghe Zamfir or the cimbalum, all of which suggest the idea of a spy who comes in from the cold, say Russia or one of the Eastern European countries. Yves Robert and I talked at length about it, and we finally agreed on the general concept, but then it was up to me to find the instrument or instruments that would give the music its unusual coloring."

The working relationship with Yves Robert is not the only one that found Vladimir Cosma involved with a director over several projects. In fact, Cosma's success with Robert may have initially prompted other well-known directors to approach him, but soon his scores were prominently heard behind the comedies by Gerard Oury (The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob, 1973); Le coup du parapluie in 1980; Levy and Goliath in 1987, Francis Veber (La chevre, 1981; Les comperes, 1983; Les fugitifs, 1986), and Claude Zidi (L'aile ou la cuisse, 1976); L'animal, 1977; La zizanie, 1978), many of them written for popular comedians like Louis de Funes, Pierre Richard, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Gerard Depardieu. "Scoring a comedy is always a very difficult thing to do," comments Cosma, "particularly if you want to write something that's not cheap, with effects that sound rehashed. In the first place, music is seldom meant to be funny per se. Look at the works of the great composers, or even at the songs that are written today; they might make you cry, they might make you dream, but they seldom if ever make you laugh. In fact, what most people like about music is that it moves them, and optimally it brings them close to tears. Writing music for a comedy is to go against the grain, and for that reason it is extremely difficult. When I began writing for the movies, the scores I composed seemed to be all for comedies; I didn't look for them, it just happened that way. As a result, I became pigeon holed. I became known as a composer who specialized in comedies. Even though I have written for quite a few, I always find it difficult to come up with fresh ideas, and much prefer writing serious scores like those I did for Kidnapped or Mistral's Daughter, or even La boum or Diva, which have different requirements and are much easier to handle."

Fortunately, the opportunity to write "serious" scores has also often presented itself to Cosma, who includes among his many works of music for thrillers like L'affaire Crazy Capo (1973), costume films like Michel Strogoff (1975) and Kidnapped (1978), and even soap operas like the television series Chateaouvallon (1985) and Mistral's Daughter (1985). Interestingly, both these series yielded pop songs which tremendously added to his visibility in the public eye, the first with "Puissance et gloire", the second with "Only Love", a major hit for singer Nana Mouskouri. Cosma's popularity also received a boost when the theme he composed for Le bal (1982) proved a major instrumental hit throughout Europe and most of the world, a feat he repeated two years later with the gorgeous "Promenade sentimentale", heard in Jean-Jacques Beineix's film Diva.

"If I were to sum up my career so far," Cosma says, "and perhaps express a personal opinion about the scores I wrote that I like best, I probably would choose My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle, possibly because they are the ones that I had the most pleasure composing recently. Otherwise, I've always been fond of another score Salut l'artiste, which I wrote in 1973, because there was so much understanding between the musicians and me when we recorded it. Sometimes, when I write a score for a given picture, and when I record it, there is an osmosis that develops between the film's director, the musicians and myself, an overall perfection that pervades everything. That was one such case."

(Text taken from the compilation album "The Very Best Of Vladimir Cosma", written by Didier C. Deutsch in 1991.)

 

Filmography

1960s

  • Very Happy Alexander (1969)

1970s

  • C'est pas moi c'est Lui (1979)
  • Courage Fuyons (1979)
  • Ils sont grands ces petits (1979)
  • Cause toujours... tu m'interesses! (1978)
  • Confidences pour confidences (1978)
  • Je suis timide, mais je me soigne (1978)
  • La Raison d'etat (1978)
  • La Zizanie (1978)
  • L' Animal (1977)
  • Nous irons tous au paradis (1977)
  • Un Oursin dans la Poche (1977)
  • Dracula Pere et Fils (1976)
  • Le Jouet (1976)
  • Pardon Mon Affaire (1976)
  • A chacun son enfer (1976)
  • Catherine et Cie (1975)
  • La Course a l'echalote (1975)
  • Le Telephone Rose (1975)
  • Les Felines (1975)
  • Les Oeufs Brouilles (1975)
  • The Return of the Tall Blond Man (1975)
  • Dupont Lajoie (1974)
  • La Moutarde me monte au nez (1974)
  • La Viree Superbe (1974)
  • Le Chaud Lapin (1974)
  • Le Retour du Grand Blond (1974)
  • Jalut L'Artiste (1973)
  • Les Grands sentiments font les bons gueuletons (1973)
  • Pleure pas la bouche pleine (1973)
  • Salut l'artiste (1973)
  • The Adventures of Rabbi Jacob (1973)
  • La Raison du plus fou (1972)
  • Neither By Day Nor By Night (1972)
  • The Le Grand Blond avec une Chaussure Noire (1972)

1980s

  • Der Aten (1989)
  • L' Etudiante (1988)
  • La Vouivre (1988)
  • Levy et Goliath (1988)
  • Coeurs croises (1987)
  • Corps z'a corps (1987)
  • La Petite allumeuse (1987)
  • Le Moustachu (1987)
  • Nitwits (1987)
  • Promis... jure! (1987)
  • Someone to Watch Over Me (1987)
  • Asterix in Britain (1986)
  • Asterix in Britain (1986)
  • Les Fugitifs (1986)
  • Mort un dimanche de pluie (1986)
  • Asterix et la Surprise de Cesar (1985)
  • Drole de Samedi (1985)
  • La Galette du Roi (1985)
  • Just the Way You Are (1984)
  • La Tete dans le Sac (1984)
  • Le Bal (1984)
  • Le Jumeau (1984)
  • Le Septieme Cible (1984)
  • Les Comperes (1984)
  • Les Rois du Gag (1984)
  • Petit Con (1984)
  • Banzai (1983)
  • L' Etincelle (1983)
  • Retenez moi... ou je fais un malheur (1983)
  • Tout le monde peut se Tromper (1983)
  • The Le Prix du Danger (1983)
  • Diva (1982)
  • L' As des As (1982)
  • La Boum 2 (1982)
  • La Chevre (1982)
  • Le Pere Noel est une Ordure (1982)
  • Une Affaire d'Hommes (1981)
  • Inspecteur la Bavure (1980)
  • La Boum (1980)
  • La Femme-Enfant (1980)
  • Le Bar du Telephone (1980)
  • Le Coup du Parapluie (1980)

1990s

  • Le Fils du Francais (1999)
  • The Dinner Game (1999)
  • Les Palmes de M. Schutz (1997)
  • Le Jaguar (1996)
  • Le Plus beau metier du monde (1996)
  • Cache Cash (1994)
  • L'affaire (1994)
  • Cuisine et Dependances (1993)
  • La Soif d'or (1993)
  • Montparnasse - Pondichery (1993)
  • The Supper (1993)
  • Ville a Vendre (1992)
  • The Favour, the Watch, and the Very Big Fish (1992)
  • The Favour, the Watch, and the Very Big Fish (1992) Song ("Air 'Delight'")
  • La Gloire de mon pere (1991)
  • La Neige et le feu (1991)
  • La Pagaille (1991)
  • La Totale! (1991)
  • My Mother's Castle (1991)
  • Il gele en enfer (1990)

2000s

  • Le Temps Des Porte-Plumes (2006)
  • The Closet (2001)
  • The Closet (2001)

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