“Life Cycle of a Woman”

Streisand outside recording studio

Unfinished Album

Arranged & Conducted by: Michel Legrand

Lyrics by: Alan & Marilyn Bergman

Recorded April 19, 1973

TTG Studios, Hollywood California

One Streisand recording project which was never completed began in 1973. Michel Legrand wrote the music and Alan and Marilyn Bergman contributed lyrics to a concept album tentatively titled Life Cycle of a Woman – described by the composer as “an oratorio for one voice and a symphonic orchestra.” They began writing it sometime in early 1970 and it took three years to get Streisand into the recording studio.

“The album concerns a lifetime,” Michel Legrand told Joyce Haber in 1975. “The first song deals with birth, the last with death. In between are songs about childhood, adolescence, a first love at age 16, marriage, motherhood. The songs are intense.”

“We never finished it,” Marilyn Bergman told Barbra Archives in 2007. “I think we all got busy.”

This recording session took place at TTG Studios in Hollywood, California in April 1973, as Streisand was also laying down tracks for Classical Barbra with Claus Ogerman.  Michel Legrand conducted the day-long Life Cycle session, which also included two Legrand movie theme songs that the Bergmans had written lyrics for but were not part of the Life Cycle album. Those songs were “Once You’ve Been in Love” from One is a Lonely Number and “The Smile I’ve Never Smiled” from Portnoy’s Complaint.

Streisand tried something new at that 1973 recording session, too. “I remember one of the things that made the project slightly complicated was that I’d decided to record standing in the middle of the studio surrounded by the orchestra,” she told The New York Times in 2017. “It’s thrilling being enveloped by the music, as opposed to standing in an isolated vocal booth with the musicians playing on the other side of the glass. However, it made the record very difficult to mix — because if we wanted to raise or lower my vocal level, it raised or lowered all the music around it!”

Here's what they recorded that day:

 Later, the Bergmans and Legrand reworked the ending on another song written for the Life Cycle of a Woman album and Barbra recorded it for her 1999 album A Love Like Ours.  The song was “Wait” and Alan Bergman confirmed, “We changed the ending from the original years ago.”

Again, to the Times, Barbra Streisand explained that back in the 1970s “I don’t think Michel, Marilyn and Alan had fully mapped out their concept yet, except for the basic ‘womb to tomb’ idea,” she said.

“The only two songs I didn’t relate to musically or lyrically, at the time,” she added, “were about birth and death. They didn’t want to change them, and then we all became involved in other projects, so the idea lost momentum.”

Legrand was passionate about the concept as he explained the genesis of it to the BBC in a 2003 radio interview. “One day when I started to work with Alan and Marilyn Bergman, one day I said – because, you know I’d been doing orchestrations for Barbra – I said, ‘Why don’t we write for Barbra a concept album? For instance, what about the idea of the life of someone, a woman? So she’ll be born, baby, young, teenager, first love, marriage, mother, grandmother, and dead. So why don’t we write a cycle of twelve, fourteen songs?’ So, they loved that idea very much and we wrote it together. The first song is one note, one syllable. Then you wait a few seconds, another syllable. It’s like the heart starting to beat. Two syllables. Three. Four. First phrase. This is exactly the contrary phrase, shorter, shorter. Four syllables. The way people are born and die. At the end, three then two, one, nothing.”

Ultimately, over the years, Streisand, the Bergmans and Michel Legrand recorded only four songs for this project. “For a variety of reasons, we all became involved in other projects and the idea lost momentum,” Streisand stated in 1999. She has also admitted to feeling “musically restless” during that period of her recording career, which could explain why, in the span of just a few years, Barbra recorded pop songs like “Stoney End,” and also dabbled in German lieder as well as Broadway standards.

Legrand and Dessay’s Recording

Legrand and Dessay

Michel Legrand and opera singer Natalie Dessay released a studio album of the complete work on November 17th, 2017 and titled it Between Yesterday and Tomorrow: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Woman.

Legrand most likely augmented and changed some of what he originally created more than 45 years ago for this recording.  The Dessay album contains, for instance, several musical interludes.  But the overall effect is very dramatic, and artful.

Track List:

  1. Birth
  2. Mother and Child
  3. Mother and Child Interlude
  4. Where Does the Wind Come From ?
  5. Where Does the Wind Come From Interlude
  6. Hold Me
  7. Can You Tell the Moment ?
  8. Fairly Tales and Story Books
  9. An Unexpected Smile
  10. An Unexpected Smile Interlude
  11. With You
  12. You and I Plus One
  13. You and I Plus One Interlude
  14. Mother and Child Duo
  15. Wait
  16. Wait Interlude
  17. The More You Have
  18. Yesterday's Apples
  19. Between Yesterday and Tomorrow
  20. Last Breath

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