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Film music composer Maurice Jarre attended the University of Lyons, then went to Paris, where he studied engineering at the Sorbonne before entering the Paris Conservatoire to study composition and percussion. He became musical director of the Théâtre National Populaire and composed his first film score for the short Hôtel des Invalides in 1951. He worked mostly on short films through the mid-'50s before graduating to mostly full-length features in the late '50s. By the early '60s, he had begun to attract international attention, getting assignments from British and American directors, and with that he embarked on a remarkably prolific career that found him scoring an average of over three films per year during the 40-year period 1960-1999.
Jarre's first major international success came with British director David Lean's 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia. The soundtrack album containing the composer's appropriately lush and exotic music just missed topping the American LP charts, and when the film swept the Academy Awards, Jarre received his first Oscar for best original score. The following year, he was nominated for the award for best adapted score for the French film Sundays and Cybèle. He repeated his success with Lawrence of Arabia by scoring Lean's next mammoth production, Doctor Zhivago (1965). Again, he won the best original score Oscar, and the soundtrack album, stimulated by Ray Conniff's Top Ten vocal recording of "Lara's Theme" under the title "Somewhere, My Love," topped the charts and went gold. It was one of only a handful of all-instrumental recordings of movie scores ever to hit number one.
Jarre had his third soundtrack album in the charts in March 1967 with Grand Prix, the music for director John Frankenheimer's 1966 racing film, which spent more than six months among the LP best-sellers, and though the disappointing critical response to David Lean's 1970 effort Ryan's Daughter probably robbed Jarre of another Oscar, the soundtrack album of his music did get into the charts. The motion picture academy bestowed nominations on Jarre for The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean in 1977 and Mohammad, Messenger of God in 1977, and he finally won a third Oscar for his music to David Lean's return to filmmaking and final work, A Passage to India, in 1984.
The 1980s were even busier for Jarre than the '70s had been, and he adapted himself to the expanded opportunities offered by technological innovations, composing and performing electronic music for such scores as the one for Peter Weir's The Year of Living Dangerously (1983) and Witness (1985). The latter earned an Oscar nomination, while Jarre's music for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome produced a soundtrack album that reached the Top 40. There were further Academy Award nominations for Gorillas in the Mist in 1988 and Ghost in 1990. The composer slowed his busy pace after turning 70 in 1994, but he entered the new century still working, with I Dreamed of Africa released in 2000. (Jarre's son, Jean-Michel Jarre, is also a composer.)