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Listening to the French New Wave

The Film Music and Composers of Postwar French Art Cinema


Orlene Denice McMahon

As perhaps the most studied film movement in cinematic history, the French New Wave has been analysed and criticised, romanticised and mythologised, raising the question of whether it is possible to write anything new about this period. Yet there are still gaps in the scholarship, and the study of music in New Wave films is one of the most striking.
Listening to the French New Wave offers the first detailed study of the music and composers of French New Wave cinema, arguing for the need to re-hear and thus reassess this important period in film history. Combining an ethnographic approach with textual and score-based analysis, the author challenges the idea of the New Wave as revolutionary in all its facets by revealing traditional approaches to music in many canonical New Wave films. However, musical innovation does have its place in the New Wave, particularly in the films of the marginalised Left Bank group. The author ultimately brings to light those few collaborations that engaged with the ideology of adopting contemporary music practices for a contemporary medium.
Drawing on archival material and interviews with New Wave composers, this book re-tells the story of the French New Wave from the perspective of its music.
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List of Figures


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1 Top: Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina in Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou (1965) © Studiocanal Image. Bottom: Composer Antoine Duhamel (1925–) © Jerôme Witz.

2 Musical Theme ‘Ferdinand’ from Duhamel’s score for Godard’s Pierrot le fou. Reproduced with the kind permission of Duhamel © 1965 Sido Music.

3 Top: Photo of Georges Delerue with François Truffaut on the set of Le dernier métro (1968) © Photo courtesy of Colette Delerue. Middle: Photo of Pierre Jansen, 2007 © Marion Kalter. Bottom: Photo of Michel Legrand, 1962 © La Cinémathèque française.

4–7 Excerpts and Compositional Sketches from Jean-Claude Eloy’s score for Jacques Rivette’s La religieuse. Reproduced with the kind permission of Eloy.

8–9 Excerpts from Eloy’s score for Jacques Rivette’s L’amour fou.

10–12 Three piano pieces by Pierre Barbaud dedicated to the three Left Bank Filmmakers: Agnès Varda, Chris Marker, and Alain Resnais © L’Association Pierre Barbaud.

13 The ‘Tcherepnin Scale’.

14–16 Excerpts from Pierre Barbaud’s score for Agnès Varda’s La pointe courte. Reproduced with the kind permission of Nicolas Viel © L’Association Pierre Barbaud.

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