(b Lyons, 13 Sept 1924). French composer. He studied engineering at the University of Lyons and at the Sorbonne, then attended the Paris Conservatoire, studying percussion with Passerone and composition with Honegger. He served in the army during World War II, and in the late 1940s played percussion in the navy band, with the Orchestre Radio-Symphonique, and with the Compagnie Renaud-Barrault, where he became friends with Boulez and Delerue. When Jean Vilar became director of the Théâtre National Populaire, he made Jarre his musical director, resident composer and conductor. In 1952 Georges Franju asked him to write the score for Hôtel des invalides. The film went on to become a minor classic, and Jarre turned henceforth almost exclusively to film music, writing scores for many French directors, including Jacques Demy, Alain Resnais and Jean-Paul Rappeneau. In 1962 David Lean commissioned the score for Lawrence of Arabia, inaugurating a collaboration that would produce four films and three Academy Awards for the composer (for Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, 1965, and A Passage to India, 1984). After the immense success of this film, Jarre moved permanently to the USA, where he worked with some of the greatest directors in Hollywood, notably John Frankenheimer, Joseph Hardy, John Huston, Paul Mazursky and Peter Weir. Jarre became, along with Delerue, France's most prominent and sought-after film composer of the second half of the 20th century. In addition to his three Academy Awards, he received Oscar nominations for his contributions to Cybèle (1961), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), Witness (1985), Gorillas in the Mist (1988) and Ghost (1989). He received British Academy Awards for Witness and Dead Poets Society (1989), and a special César Award in 1985. He is the father of the composer Jean-Michel Jarre.
Jarre has written over 170 scores for film and television, as well as ballets, orchestral works, incidental music and operas. His early concert music reflected his interest in 12-note composition, in contrast to the more popular style of his theatre works, of which the ballet Notre Dame de Paris, written in 1964 for the Paris Opéra, was the most successful. Jarre's earlier film scores use sparse, chamber music scoring: that for Cybèle is written for double bass, zither and flute. Once in Hollywood, however, he preferred a richer, more symphonic style, using full orchestral forces. A ceaseless experimenter, he took advantage of the exotic locations and subjects of Lean's films: the score for Lawrence of Arabia made extensive use of chromatic modes and motifs and included in its scoring the ondes martenot, an instrument not used before in an American film. Doctor Zhivago's score suggests the influence of such as Borodin, and makes use of the balalaika, as well as Russian folksongs and modes. His scores for Luchino Visconti's The Damned (1969) and Volker Schlöndorff's Die Blechtrommel (1979) both use an orchestra made up entirely of cellos and double basses, augmented only by human whistling and the fujara, a Polish folk instrument. In the 1980s Jarre became interested in blending electronic sounds with those of traditional orchestral and occasionally non-Western instruments, often by means of digital sampling techniques. His most successful film scores involving electronics are Witness (1985), which required only five performers, and The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), the subdued, evocative soundtrack of which makes use of traditional Javanese gamelan. In Jacob's Ladder (1990), he again attempted a score that was ‘atmospheric rather than thematic’, making use, alongside electronics, of Indian instruments and a Bulgarian women's chorus.