November 8, 2008

Bernard Herrmann

In '56 with Hitchcock on the set of The Man Who Knew too Much....sort of

Bernard Hermann was born in New York City on June 29, 1911. He won an Academy Award for The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941). He is particularly known for collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock. He did the music on Orson Welles' infamous 1938 The War of the Worlds radio broadcast, composed the scores for several fantasy films by Ray Harryhausen, and many TV programs.
This article has a great analysis of what makes Herrmann's music tick:

On the Citizen Kane set with Orson Welles

Essentially Herrmann regarded himself as a Romantic composer, stylistically speaking. His music was indeed emotional, moody, with great depth of feeling. Herrmann stated, "As a composer I might class myself as a Neo-Romantic, inasmuch as I have always regarded music as a highly personal and emotional form of expression. I like to write music which takes its inspiration from poetry, art and nature. I do not care for purely decorative music. Although I am in sympathy with modern idioms, I abhor music which attempts nothing more than the illustration of a stylistic fad. And in using modern techniques, I have tried at all times to subjugate them to a larger idea or a grander human feeling."

The Romantic period of music came to full fruition in the 19th century, and it is interesting to note what Herrmann wrote to his wife on November 1947: "My feelings and yearnings are those of a composer of the 19th century. I am completely out of step with the present."

Playing himself in The Man Who Knew Too Much

While Herrmann’s music — his entire oeuvre — cannot be easily pigeon-holed, almost all of his works showed a natural Dramatist (a terrific aptitude for drama, whether musically or in his personal life!) that flowed along a romantic channel of expression. One suggestion is to say that he was a 20th Century American Modernist Romantic. He tended to excel in music written not so much in a co-called abstract construct (concert works, say, or symphony) but in response to an external stimulus or medium such as the Big Screen (feature film), the Small Screen (television), radio plays, and the opera (Wuthering Heights). His dramatic instincts really shined in these Show Business mediums.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The Trouble with Harry (1955)

I think the prelude to Vertigo (1958) is his most powerful and dramatic. At first, it's as if there is no melody (trying to hum it is about as difficult as humming The Beach Boy's "Let's Go Away for a While" from Pet Sounds). But after repeated listening, it gives me chills. The melody (rolling in around :54) is like waves crashing slowly onto a beach:
Of course, it doesn't hurt to have it perfectly synced with one of the best opening credit sequences done by Saul Bass. And to say it's one of his best is saying quite a lot.

North by Northwest (1959)

Psycho (1960). Here is a version NBC/Universal hasn't removed.

Herrmann's Cape Fear (1962) score filtered through Elmer Bernstein for the 1991 remake

His last movie soundtrack was for Taxi Driver (1976). How could that film have not become a classic with a Bernard Hermann score??

  • Wikipedia's complete list of soundtracks
  • 1 comment:

    Gunnar and Sherry said...

    I LOVE Bernard Herrmann. I once read that George Martin said the inspiration for the string arrangement on Eleanor Rigby was Bernard Herrmann. Cool!