Today’s Composer is Bernard Herrmann.
Bernard Herrmann (June 29, 1911 – December 24, 1975) was an American composer known for his work in motion pictures.
An Academy Award-winner (for The Devil and Daniel Webster, 1941), Herrmann is particularly known for his collaborations with director Alfred Hitchcock, most famously Psycho, North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo. He also composed scores for many other movies, including Citizen Kane, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Cape Fear, and Taxi Driver. He worked extensively in radio drama (composing for Orson Welles), composed the scores for several fantasy films by Ray Harryhausen, and many TV programs including Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone and Have Gun–Will Travel.
Collaboration with Orson Welles
While at CBS, Herrmann met Orson Welles, and wrote or arranged scores for Welles’s Mercury Theatre on the Air and Campbell Playhouse series (1938–1940), which were radio adaptations of literature and film. He conducted the live performances, including Welles’s famous adaptation of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds broadcast on October 30, 1938, which consisted entirely of pre-existing music. Herrmann used large sections of his score for the inaugural broadcast of The Campbell Playhouse, an adaptation of Rebecca, for the feature film Jane Eyre (1943), the third film in which Welles starred.
Herrmann also created the music for Welles’s CBS radio series the Orson Welles Show (1941–1942), which included the debut of his wife Lucille Fletcher’s suspense classic, The Hitch-Hiker; Ceiling Unlimited (1942), a program conceived to glorify the aviation industry and dramatize its role in World War II; and The Mercury Summer Theatre on the Air (1946).
“Benny Herrmann was an intimate member of the family,” Welles told filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich.
When Welles moved to movies, Herrmann went with him. He wrote his first film score for Citizen Kane (1941) and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Score of a Dramatic Picture. He composed the score for Welles’s second film, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942); like the film itself, the music was heavily edited by the studio, RKO Pictures. When more than half of his score was removed from the soundtrack, Herrmann bitterly severed his ties with the film and promised legal action if his name were not removed from the credits.
Collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock
Herrmann is most closely associated with the director Alfred Hitchcock. He wrote the scores for almost every Hitchcock film from The Trouble with Harry (1955) to Marnie (1964), a period which included Vertigo, Psycho, and North by Northwest. He oversaw the sound design in The Birds (1963), although there was no actual music in the film as such, only electronically made bird sounds.
The music for the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) was only partly by Herrmann. The two most significant pieces of music in the film—the song, “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”, and the Storm Clouds Cantata played in the Royal Albert Hall—are not by Herrmann (although he did re-orchestrate the cantata by Australian-born composer Arthur Benjamin written for the earlier Hitchcock film of the same name). However, this film did give Herrmann the opportunity for an on-screen appearance: he is the conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra in the Albert Hall scene.
Herrmann’s most recognizable music is from another Hitchcock film, Psycho. Unusual for a thriller at the time, the score uses only the string section of the orchestra. The screeching violin music heard during the famous shower scene (which Hitchcock originally suggested have no music at all) is one of the most famous moments in film score history.
His score for Vertigo (1958) is seen as just as masterful. In many of the key scenes Hitchcock let Herrmann’s score take center stage, a score whose melodies, echoing the “Liebestod” from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, dramatically convey the main character’s obsessive love for the woman he tries to shape into a long-dead, past love.
A notable feature of the Vertigo score is the ominous two-note falling motif that opens the suite — it is a direct musical imitation of the two notes sounded by the fog horns located at either side of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco (as heard from the San Francisco side of the bridge). This motif has direct relevance to the film, since the horns can be clearly heard sounding in just this manner at Fort Point, the spot where the character played by Kim Novak jumps into the bay.
However, according to Dan Aulier (author of Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic), Herrmann deeply regretted being unable to conduct his composition for Vertigo. A musician’s strike in America meant that it was actually conducted in England by Muir Mathieson. Herrmann always personally conducted his own works and while he considered the composition among his best works, regarded it as a missed opportunity.
In a question-and-answer session at the George Eastman Museum in October 1973, Herrmann stated that, unlike most film composers who did not have any creative input into the style and tone of the score, he insisted on creative control as a condition of accepting a scoring assignment:
I have the final say, or I don’t do the music. The reason for insisting on this is simply, compared to Orson Welles, a man of great musical culture, most other directors are just babes in the woods. If you were to follow their taste, the music would be awful. There are exceptions. I once did a film The Devil and Daniel Webster with a wonderful director William Dieterle. He was also a man of great musical culture. And Hitchcock, you know, is very sensitive; he leaves me alone. It depends on the person. But if I have to take what a director says, I’d rather not do the film. I find it’s impossible to work that way.
Herrmann stated that Hitchcock would invite him on to the production of a film and, depending on his decision about the length of the music, either expand or contract the scene. It was Hitchcock who asked Herrmann for the “recognition scene” near the end of Vertigo (the scene in which James Stewart’s character suddenly realizes Kim Novak’s identity) to be played with music.
In 1963 Herrmann began writing original music for the CBS-TV anthology series, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, which was in its eighth season. Hitchcock himself served only as advisor on the show, which he hosted, but Herrmann was again working with former Mercury Theatre actor Norman Lloyd, co-producer (with Joan Harrison) of the series. Herrmann scored 17 episodes (1963–1965) and, like much of his work for CBS, the music was frequently reused for other programs.:256–257, 373
Herrmann’s relationship with Hitchcock came to an abrupt end when they disagreed over the score for Torn Curtain. Reportedly pressured by Universal executives, Hitchcock wanted a score that was more jazz- and pop-influenced. Hitchcock’s biographer, Patrick McGilligan, stated that Hitchcock was worried about becoming old-fashioned and felt that Herrmann’s music had to change with the times as well. Herrmann initially accepted the offer, but then decided to score the film according to his own ideas.:673–674
Hitchcock listened to only the prelude of the score before confronting Herrmann about the pop score. Herrmann, equally incensed, bellowed, “Look, Hitch, you can’t outjump your own shadow. And you don’t make pop pictures. What do you want with me? I don’t write pop music.” Hitchcock unrelentingly insisted that Herrmann change the score, violating Herrmann’s general claim to the creative control he had always been maintained in their previous work together. Herrmann then said, “Hitch, what’s the use of my doing more with you? I had a career before you, and I will afterwards.”:674 The score was rejected and replaced with one by John Addison.
According to McGilligan, Herrmann later tried to reconcile with Hitchcock, but Hitchcock refused to see him. Herrmann’s widow Norma Herrmann disputed this in a conversation with Günther Kögebehn for the Bernard Herrmann Society in 2004:
I met Hitchcock very briefly. Everybody says they never spoke again. I met him, it was cool, it was not a warm meeting. It was in Universal Studios, this must be 69, 70, 71ish. And we were in Universal for some other reason and Herrmann said: “See that tiny little office over there, that’s Hitch. And that stupid little parking place. Hitch used to have an empire with big offices and a big staff. Then they made it down to half that size, then they made it to half that size … We are going over to say hello.” Actually [Herrmann] got a record; he was always intending to give him a record he just made. But it wasn’t a film thing. It was either Moby Dick or something of his concert pieces to take it and give to Hitch. Peggy, Hitchcock’s secretary was there. Hitch came out, Benny said: “I thought you’d like a copy of this.” “How are you?” etc. and he introduced me. And Hitchcock was cool, but they did meet. They met, I was there. And when Herrmann came out again he said: “What a great reduction in Hitch’s status.”
In 2009, Norma Herrmann began to auction off her husband’s personal collection on Bonhams.com, adding more interesting details to the two men’s relationship. While Herrmann had brought Hitchcock a copy of his classical work after the break-up, Hitchcock had given Herrmann a copy of his 1967 interview book with François Truffaut, which he inscribed “To Benny with my fondest wishes, Hitch.”
“This is rather interesting, because it comes a year after Hitchcock had abruptly fired Herrmann from his work scoring Torn Curtain and indicates Hitchcock may have hoped to mend fences with Herrmann and have him score his next film, Topaz,” reported Wellesnet, the Orson Welles website, in April 2009:
Of course, once Herrmann felt he had been wronged, he was not going to say “yes” to Hitchcock unless he was courted and it seems unlikely that Hitchcock would be willing to do that, although apparently Hitchcock did ask Herrmann back to score his last film Family Plot right before Herrmann died. Herrmann, who had a full schedule of films planned for 1976, including DePalma’s Carrie, The Seven Per Cent Solution and Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To, was reportedly happy to be in a position to ignore Hitchcock’s reunion offer.
Herrmann’s unused score for Torn Curtain was commercially recorded after his death, initially by Elmer Bernstein for his Film Music Collection subscription record label (reissued by Warner Bros. Records), and later, in a concert suite adapted by Christopher Palmer, by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic for Sony. Some of Herrmann’s cues for Torn Curtain were later post-synched to the final cut, where they showed how remarkably attuned the composer was to the action, and how, arguably, more effective his score could have been.