Jacques-François Antoine Ibert in Paris, 15 August 1890.
Attended Rollin College; musical studies under Pessard and Fauré
at Paris Conservatory, 1910–14.
Composer of stage works (operas and ballets) as well as works for
orchestra; 1931—first film score,
; 1937–40 and 1946–60—director, Academy of France in
5 February 1962.
S.O.S. Foch (Arroy—short); Les Cinq gentlemen maudits (Duvivier)
Don Quichotte ( Don Quixote ) (Pabst); Les Deux Orphelines (M. Tourneur) (co)
Justin de Marseille (M. Tourneur) (co); Golgotha (Duvivier)
Koenigsmark ( Crimson Dynasty ) (M. Tourneur); Le Coupable (Bernard); L'Homme de nulle part (Chenal); Anne-Marie (Bernard) (co); Courrier sud (Billon) (co); Branle-bas de combat (Lallier—short); Paris (Choux)
Feu! (de Baroncelli)
Le Patriote (M. Tourneur); La Maison du Maltais (Chenal) (co); Le Héros de la Marne (Hugon); Thérèse Martin (de Canonge)
La Charette fantôme ( The Phantom Carriage ) (Duvivier); Le Père Lebonnard ( Papa Lebonnard ) (de Limur); Angelica (Choux)
La Comédie du bonheur (L'Herbier)
Félicie Nanteuil ( Histoire comique ) (M. Allégret)
Les Petites du Quai aux Fleurs (M. Allégret)
Le Père Serge (Gasnier-Raymond)
L'Affaire du collier de la reine ( The Queen's Necklace ) (L'Herbier); Panique (Duvivier)
Lyautey, bâtisseur d'empire (Lucot—short)
Equilibre (Mansart); From Doric to Gothic (Gillet—short)
"Circus" ep. of Invitation to the Dance (Kelly)
Marianne de ma jeunesse (Duvivier)
Feschotte, J., Jacques Ibert , Paris, 1958.
Michel, G., Jacques Ibert , Paris, 1968.
Colpi, Henri, in Défense et illustration de la musique dans le film , Lyon, 1964.
Porcile, François, in Présence de la musique à l'écran , Paris, 1969.
Lacombe, Alain, and Claude Rocle, in La Musique du film , Paris, 1979.
Film Dope (Nottingham), January 1983.
* * *
Jacques Ibert's reputation as a lightweight composer of witty frivolities—a kind of ex officio member of "Les Six"—does him a lot less than justice. The ebullient high spirits of his best-known works such as the parodistic "Divertissement," though typical of one aspect of him, have come to eclipse the darker, more complex elements in his music. For Ibert was also the composer of the somber symphonic poem "Ballade de la geôle de Reading," inspired by Oscar Wilde's poem, and the nightmarish "Chant de folie." And this "shadow side" of Ibert's musical personality emerges too in his film music, as in the scores he wrote for Duvivier's Golgotha and Welles's Macbeth .
Like others of his generation, Ibert developed his love of cinema during the silent era, and for a time earned his living (as did Shostakovich) playing piano in movie houses. The "Divertissement," composed as incidental music for a staging of the same Labiche farce, Un chapeau de paille d'Italie, that René Clair used as basis for his film, could well stand as a tribute to silent film comedy. The finale, with its frenetic percussion and massed police whistles, immediately evokes the world of Chaplin, Keaton, and the Keystone cops, and even allows the trumpet to mimic one of Chaplin's skidding, one-legged about-turns. Indeed, though not written as a film score, Ibert's music was subsequently used to accompany Clair's film, an oblique acknowledgment of its essentially cinematic spirit.
Proudly eclectic, Ibert always disdained schools of composition. "All systems are valid," he maintained, "so long as one derives music from them." In his film music, as in his concert and chamber works, he was happy to incorporate elements from whatever style or culture seemed appropriate to the job in hand. For his first feature film as composer, Duvivier's Les Cinq gentlemen maudits , he matched the North African story line by working Moroccan chants and animal cries into the score. It was for another film directed by Duvivier, the biblical epic Golgotha , that Ibert composed one of his most expressive scores of the 1930s drawing on elements of Gregorian chant, Handelian chorales, sinuous oriental melodies and the traditional theme of the "Dies Irae." For the climax, the crucifixion itself, he unleashed a tour de force of orchestral sonorities, with brass and rattling percussion vying for supremacy, culminating in a sepulchral march with the ondes martenot wailing desolately above it like a grief-stricken voice.
Expert at adapting his own characteristic tone to a wide range of idioms, Ibert was the ideal composer to provide evocative orchestral color for films set in exotic times or places—whether in the Sahara ( Courrier sud ), in dynastic Ruritanian Europe ( Koenigsmark ), or even in the other world ( La Charrette fantôme ). When the ailing Maurice Ravel was unable to meet the deadline, Ibert stepped in to craft elegant Spanish pastiche for Pabst's Don Quichotte .
Hollywood never tempted Ibert, for whom the idea of entrusting his orchestration to some studio hack would have been anathema, and only twice did he stray outside French cinema. For the "Circus" episode of Gene Kelly's Invitation to the Dance he provided a ballet score full of whirlwind rhythms and darting fantasy. But his finest and most original film music was inspired by Orson Welles's idiosyncratic version of Macbeth , filmed amid the papier-mâché sets and dry ice of the cut-price Republic studios. In place of conventional Shakespearean grandeur, Ibert set out to evoke the play's eerie atmosphere through grotesque, prowling dissonances, outlandish scoring—including celesta, tabor, and Chinese gongs—and such disquieting effects as a wordless "breathing chorus" like a host of unquiet spirits. An insidious march on high woodwind and snare drum acts as ominous leitmotiv (accompanied at one point by an ensemble of out-of-tune bagpipes), and Banquo's ghost is heralded by a lurching bass-tuba backed by gurgles from the double-bassoon. Regrettably, much of the subtlety of Ibert's score was lost in the murk of Republic's garbled soundtrack; had it been better presented, it might well have put paid to the dismissive view of him as a skilled but conventional composer.