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Francis Chagrin

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Biography

Born: 1905 Died: 1972

Francis Chagrin described himself as ‘Rumanian by birth, British by nationality and cosmopolitan by inclination.’ He was born Alexander Paucker in Bucharest on the 15 November 1905 to wealthy Jewish parents who expected their son to take his rightful place in the family business. Reluctantly he complied, if only initially, by reading for an engineering degree in Zurich, while secretly putting himself through the city’s music conservatoire. After graduating in 1928 and having ‘done the right thing’ by his parents, he expected his family to allow him to pursue his musical ambitions. When this failed to materialise, he left home and made for Paris where he acquired his new name.

Even though his family were willing to support him financially by now, he refused, preferring to make his own way by playing in night clubs and cafes-chantants and writing popular songs. When he had saved enough, he enrolled in 1933 at the Ecole Normale for two years, where his teachers included Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger. He began writing modest film scores, but sensing that war was not far away, made a trip to Britain to see how the business worked here. He immediately fell in love with the country and settled permanently in 1936.

In London he continued studies with his exact contemporary and fellow exile, Matyas Seiber. With the outbreak of war, he was appointed musical adviser and composer-in-chief to the BBC French Service and in particular the programme, Les Francais parlent aux Francais, for which he was decorated ‘Officier d’Academie’ by the French government in 1948. He spoke elegant and fluent French, and was often taken for a Frenchman.

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