Daughter of French New Wave composer Georges Delerue spreads her own musical wings
Claire Stancu lives in a shadow. Her father was the late film composer Georges Delerue, whose music rode the French New Wave with filmmakers like François Truffaut (Jules and Jim) and Jean-Luc Godard (Contempt) before moving to Hollywood in the 1980s (Steel Magnolias, Black Robe). Stancu, Delerue’s only biological child, was raised in a musical household, and fondly remembers sitting side by side with her father playing four-hand piano. Their best times were either accompanied by or defined by music.
It’s no wonder, then, that Stancu would feel intimidated to try catching the currents of composition on the strength of her own wings. But after a couple decades of teaching classical guitar, playing accompanimental piano—and even abandoning music altogether—she is emerging from her father’s shadow with a set of original songs.
Fontanelle is the debut album from Flora | Miles, a duo comprised of Claire and her husband Ciprian. And while it is in many ways a tribute to Georges Delerue (even including two works of his), it is also a pioneering effort from a liberated musician—writing music on her own terms.
Stancu’s background in classical music, early music, and multiple instruments is on brilliant display here. She provides vocals, harmony vocals, guitar, keyboards, cello, zither, theorbo, and bass recorder in turn (Ciprian handles percussion). The songs also reflect a newfound love of popular music of the ’90s and beyond, and the result is a hybrid sound difficult to categorize. (Her official website classifies the songs as “impressionistic chamber-pop”, which is as good a term as any. “It sounds pretentious when you say, ‘Well, my style is so out there it just doesn’t fit into any known category’,” she says effacingly. “I was just trying to find the right wording for it, and that kind of fit.”)
The journey to create Fontanelle—a term for the soft, unfinished membrane in a baby’s skull—took many turns since Stancu’s childhood. As a girl she was tutored by her Oscar-winning dad in orchestration, who also helped instill a love for renaissance and early music. Her mother, Micheline Gautron, was a literature-lover and writer who penned lyrics, plays, and even the libretto for an opera by Delerue.
Stancu attended the Paris Conservatoire, then joined her father in Los Angeles to study classical guitar and early music at the University of Southern California. After that she returned to Paris, and shortly thereafter Delerue died. She taught classical guitar for ten years and performed in recitals, but wouldn’t go near the hallowed vocation so dominated by her father.
“Composing was just kind of unfathomable,” she says. “It was something restricted to my dad. I didn’t write anything for years. I was kind of debating whether I had a place in music at all.”
Bored with teaching and questioning her own talents, Stancu side-stepped into the realm of academia she had long been fascinated by. “I needed to get out of music for a while, not knowing whether I would be back or not,” she says. “I went into social sciences, and while doing that I felt liberated…Whenever I felt like playing I would, but there was no pressure to purposefully accomplish something.” She also retreated from classical music, and found herself riveted by the likes of Radiohead, Bjork, and Jeff Buckley. “It dawned on me, much later, that I didn’t have to tackle film music or anything like that,” she says. “I could just be my own person and compose and be the genre or form that suited me best. And right now the song form, I think, suits me pretty well.”
In the mid-2000s Stancu befriended other like-minded musicians, and started playing in bands. She eventually formed her own, and it was the voice of the male lead singer that inspired her to start writing. “That was really an incentive,” she says, “like having a muse.” That singer left the band, and Stancu found herself taking the mic (“I didn’t conceive of myself as a singer until then”). Itching to get this new slate of songs out, she took the reins and created Fontanelle essentially solo—produced mostly from her home outside Paris.
The album features ten original songs, ranging in orchestration and stylistic influence. Stancu blends her distinctive vocal lines together in complex but rich harmonies, and applies a pop sensibility to her conservatoire-honed skills on piano, guitar, and the arsenal of other instruments.
Two songs are a direct nod to her ancestry, and the tribute is beautiful.
“Ballade pour Paul et Virginie” comes from a 1974 French television series, and has Stancu singing lyrics written by her mother on a baroque tune by her father. “Interlude” is a song from the 1968 film of the same name scored by Delerue. It was translated into song form at the time of its release, and covered by Morrisey and Siouxsie in 1994 over the original orchestral track.
“I really wanted to have my own take on that,” Stancu says. “The first thing I thought was I really wanted polyphony. And since there is kind of an early music feel almost about the instrumental music in that score, it seemed like a chamber approach would be really nice. I chose both accompanying instruments, the harpsichord and the zither, kind of like a tribute to my dad.”
Delerue employed the zither’s lonely sound for the melody line on many of his scores (Stancu, in fact, uses her dad’s original instrument), and he liked the color of harpsichord both for period films and for mystery in film noir. It was for the latter purpose he used harpsichord in François Truffaut’s final film, Confidentially Yours, and it was none other than a young Claire who played the cluster of notes on the original soundtrack.
And so it is in numerous ways that Fontanelle is coming full circle for Stancu. “I’m comfortable fulfilling both of my parents’ artistic map-outs, in a way,” she says. But shaped and inspired by their influence, Stancu also boldly steps off the path to blaze her own way—to trust her own wings to fly.
To read more or buy the album, visit www.floramiles.com.Tagged in: Ballade pour Paul et Virginie, Claire Delerue, Claire Stancu, classical, flora miles, Fontanelle, Georges Delerue, music, new wave
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