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"Lara's Theme" is the name given to a leitmotif written for the film Doctor Zhivago (1965) by composer Maurice Jarre. Soon afterward, the leitmotif became the basis of the song "Somewhere, My Love". In 1967, "Somewhere, My Love" won Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Chorus, and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Song of the Year. It lost to "Michelle" by John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles.
While working on the soundtrack for Doctor Zhivago, Maurice Jarre was asked by director David Lean to come up with a theme for the character of Lara, played by Julie Christie. Initially Lean had desired to use a well-known Russian song but could not locate the rights to it, and delegated responsibility to Jarre. After several unsuccessful attempts at writing it, Lean suggested to Jarre that he go to the mountains with his girlfriend and write a piece of music for her. Jarre says that the resultant piece was "Lara's Theme", and Lean liked it well enough to use it in numerous tracks for the film. In editing Zhivago, Lean and producer Carlo Ponti reduced or outright deleted many of the themes composed by Jarre; Jarre was angry because he felt that an over-reliance on "Lara's Theme" would ruin the soundtrack.
Jarre's esthetic fears notwithstanding, the theme became an instant success and gained fame throughout the world. By special request of Connie Francis, Paul Francis Webster later took the theme and added lyrics to it to create "Somewhere, My Love". Francis, however, withdrew from the project when the lyrics were presented to her because she thought of them as too "corny". A few weeks later, Francis reconsidered her position and recorded the song nonetheless, but by then Ray Conniff had also recorded a version of his own, reaching #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1966. Conniff's version of the song also topped the "Easy listening" chart in the U.S. for four weeks. Despite Conniff's success, Francis also had her version released as a single, and although it failed to chart in the US, it became one of her biggest successes internationally, becoming one of the "Top 5" in territories such as Scandinavia and Asia. In Italy, her Italian version of the song, "Dove non so", became her last #1 success.
Various other versions of it have since been released. Italio-American tenor, Sergio Franchi covered the song as "Somewhere, My Love" in his 1967 RCA Victor album From Sergio – With Love. Harry James recorded a version on his album The King James Version (Sheffield Lab LAB 3, 1976). A music box plays "Lara's Theme" at the beginning of the film The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).
On the soundtrack album for Zhivago, there is no one track listed as "Lara's Theme". A variation of the piece appears in numerous sections, however. Some tracks briefly cite it, while others are composed entirely from the motif. The orchestration is varied, most notably with balalaika and orchestra.
One of the main reasons the theme is featured in so many tracks is that Lean had hired an impromptu balalaika orchestra from several Russian Orthodox Churches in Los Angeles; the musicians could only learn 16 bars of music at a time, and could not read written music. Edgar Stanistreet, a street musician from Philadelphia, claimed that he was asked to play the song over the telephone to an MGM executive, and was later taken into the studio to record. He was not credited, however. Tracks which feature it include (from the 1995 Extended Soundtrack release):
- 1) Overture – a fast-paced march version of it plays during part of the pre-credits overture
- 2) Main Title – a significant portion of the Main Theme is devoted to "Lara's Theme"
- 3) Kontakion/Funeral Song – briefly cited at the end of the piece
- 12) After Deserters Killed The Colonel – again, a brief "quote" from it appears at the end of the song
- 14) Lara Says Goodbye To Yuri – The first extensive use of "Lara's Theme" is a sad version played with heavy balalaika and violin sections
- 23) Yuri Follows the Sound of the Waterfall
- 24) Tonya and Yuri Arrive At Varykino – briefly cited in the middle of the track
- 27) Yuri and the Daffodils – plays during the "changing of seasons" part of the film, the montonous winter theme builds into a full-fledged rendition of "Lara's Theme"
- 28) On A Yuriatin Street – a complete rendition with full orchestral backing
- 29) In Lara's Bedroom
- 30) Yuri Rides To Yuriatin
- 33) Yuri Is Escaping – a gloomy military march is punctuated by a quote from "Lara's Theme" which ultimately turns into a climax
- 37) Yuri Is Trying To Write
- 39) Lara Reads Her Poem
- 42) Then It's A Gift (End Title) – very similar to "On A Yuriatin Street", a complete, triumphant final rendition of the song
This soundtrack also includes jazz, rock 'n' roll, and swing versions of "Lara's Theme" which were performed by the MGM Studio Orchestra between takes.
Vocal versions include recordings by Connie Francis (in English as Somewhere, My Love, in Spanish as Sueño de Amor, and in Italian as Dove non so, which was also sung in Italian by Rita Pavone), by The Ray Conniff Singers (in English as Somewhere, My Love), by Ivan Rebroff in Russian and English and as well as Karel Gott and Peter Alexander in German as Weißt du, wohin. Tereza Kesovija sang it first in France, and then by John William and by Les Compagnons de la Chanson (in French as La Chanson de Lara). Tereza Kesovija, Nada Knežević and Marjana Deržaj also recorded Lara's Theme in Yugoslavia as Larina pjesma (in Croatian), Larina pesma (in Serbian) and Larina pesem (in Slovenian) respectively. Andy Williams released a version in 1967 on his album, Born Free.
A version of "Somewhere, My Love" is played in the elevator scene of Super Mario Bros. (film) when Luigi teaches the Goombas to dance.