Spend September With Bernard Herrmann

Hermann

Every Tuesday night in September, starting tonight, TCM will be screening a diverse selection of films (23 in all) scored by the legendary Bernard Herrmann (the dandy image above was created by the Bernard Herrmann Society). As an appetizer, I’ve compiled a list of my ten favorite Herrmann scores, from radio, TV, and film. It’s easy to forget, but Herrmann was a master of radio orchestration before he created those distinctive tonalities for the screen. He had an innate sense of how to adapt his musical ideas to different formats, sounding more descriptive on the radio, and increasingly atmospheric and emotional on the screen. His work wasn’t merely music added to images – he composed out of these images, creating an organic whole that lifted the films he worked on into another level of artistry. How can one think of The Mercury Theater, Citizen Kane, or Hitchock without him?

10. Taxi Driver, 1976

Biographer Steven C. Smith (buy his Hermann study, A Heart at Fire’s Center, here!) relates that after Scorsese pitched Herrmann on the idea of scoring Taxi Driver, the composer snapped, “I don’t know anything about taxi drivers.” After reading the script, and being particularly impressed that Bickle ate cereal with peach brandy, he signed on. Thus this swooningly melancholic score was created, with a little help from his friends. That opening theme, with its ebb and flow of muted trumpets, riding cymbal, insistent snare and pizzicato bass, is the low key entree to Bickle’s tortured psyche. Herrmann asked friend and collaborator Christopher Palmer to adapt an older piece of his for a jazz melody he needed for a scene with Harvey Keitel and Jodie Foster. Smith says Palmer, “took the first four bars of the soprano solo “As the Wind Bloweth” from The King of Schnorrers, then continued the melody line in a piece he titled “So Close to Me Blues.” Hermann was so delighted with the result that the theme became a key part of the score.”

9.  Dracula. Mercury Theater on the Air. Aired July 11th, 1938 on CBS Radio.

Bernard Herrmann was “reluctantly assigned” to Orson Welles’ landmark radio program. HeMercury Theater On the Air had a terrible experience working with Welles a year earlier, on the Columbia Workshop radio production of Macbeth. Producer John Houseman relates that Welles arrived onto set with a script twice as long as expected, and so Herrmann’s score was useless. Welles brought along a bagpiper and conducted his own music cues throughout the show, while Bernard stood helplessly at his podium. The second time ’round, while still creatively fraught, was far more productive. Hermann himself looked back with fondness:

Welles’ radio quality…was essentially one of spontaneity. At the start of every broadcast Orson was an unknown quantity. As he went along his mood would assert itself and the temperature would start to increase till the point of incandescence…. Even when his shows weren’t good they were better than other people’s successes.

All of the Mercury radio productions are worth a listen, but the first is still my favorite. Herrmann’s work is spare and mournful.  Steven C. Smith, isolates his instrumentation as “muted brass and graveyard bell”, and that alone gives a sense of its haunted grandeur. Paired with Welles’ tour-de-force performances of the majority of the roles, it’s an unforgettable listen. Most of the episodes are available for download here, as well as anywhere else you care to look.

8. On Dangerous Ground, 1952

I’ll let the work speak for itself here, one of the most galvanizing themes of all time:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nl1XuCC6xmc&hl=en&fs=1&]

7. Cape Fear, 1962

Simplicity itself. A descending figure of four notes, with slight variations to freak you out. The repetition never resolves itself into a theme, but suspends in an air of uncertainty, putting you off center as the credits roll. When the swirling strings kick in, you think you’re losing your mind. Scorsese hired Elmer Bernstein to incorporate this theme into his 1991 remake. Bernstein told The Bernard Herrman society that Herrmann would “have killed me, he would have yelled and screamed with no question.” This theme was memorably used in The Simpsons episode “Cape Feare”, in which Sideshow Bob takes the Mitchum/DeNiro role.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QH3RhbVP7cA&hl=en&fs=1&]

Herrmann and Hitchcock6. North By Northwest, 1959

Herrmann takes a fandango figure, repeats it over and over again, and helps to create one of the most suspenseful sequences in film history. This is what they call genius.

5. Citizen Kane, 1941

Ok. You’re sick of seeing Citizen Kane on lists. I understand. But do you realize how important Bernard Herrmann was to the film’s success? Part of Orson Welles’ genius was his ability to surround himself with other geniuses, so he was able to wrangle Herrmann and Gregg Toland onto his first feature. Music is of paramount importance to the film, and Hermann carried over many tricks from their radio days, with a complex series of musical cues joining scenes, commenting on the action, and helping to tip Kane into hysteria, in his words, “unorthodox instrumental combinations…sound effects blended with music, music used in place of soundtrack.” (quoted in Simon Callow’s Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu) Herrmann was given the luxury of composing music before editing began, so Welles could form the picture around the score’s rhythms. In short, Herrmann’s contribution to this inexhaustible work of art is immeasurable.

4. Twisted Nerve, 1969

You have Quentin Tarantion to blame for this one. This remarkable theme, of a childlike whistle couched against some soothing vibes, has a gothic, Ennio Morricone feel. I only became aware of it through Tarantino’s use of it in Kill Bill, when Daryl Hannah’s Elle Driver whistles it as she attempts to fatally inject Uma Thurman. I have never seen Twisted Nerve, and have no idea of its value as cinema, but this theme has wound its way into my cerebral cortex, and I don’t think it’s ever going to leave.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6q_hSPecJc&hl=en&fs=1&]

3. The Twilight Zone, 1959

Self-explanatory. Possibly his most famous musical phrase, again utilizing a simple repeated melody to create an overwhelming sense of unease, and then the swirling strings take you away.

2. Psycho, 1960

Those slashing violins open up your veins and let loose fear. As often as it has been parodied, it still retains its power to shock and awe.

1. Vertigo, 1958

Jack Sullivan, in his book Hitchcock’s Music, nails it straight off:

Vertigo opens with triplets spiraling in contrary motion, plunging the audience into cinema’s most beautiful nightmare. Obsession receives its definitive sound in Hermann’s endless circlings, re-circlings, and suspensions.

The opening theme is seductive, hypnotic, and romantic. One wishes to get lost in its grandiloquent tremors, an artistic height that Jimmy Stewart will peer down from, causing his psychological breakdown. Blame Herrmann. Which in this case, means celebrating him. The greatness of Vertigo is inseperable from this score, which would be enough to put him in the pantheon. But as I hoped to have sketched out here…there is so much more. A nice place to start is this documentary produced by Britain’s Channel 4, entitled Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrman, viewable for free.

0 Response Spend September With Bernard Herrmann
Posted By Debojit : September 1, 2009 3:03 pm

Great piece, definitely one of the finest composers in cinema. Loved his work.

Posted By Debojit : September 1, 2009 3:03 pm

Great piece, definitely one of the finest composers in cinema. Loved his work.

Posted By Medusa : September 1, 2009 7:49 pm

Great list, and wonderful links! I am going to settle in and watch that British doc asap — can’t believe I’ve never seen it! (Or maybe I have…but I can’t wait to watch it!)

I think because I grew up watching the movie over and over and over and over, his “Mysterious Island” score probably tops my list, but there are so many amazing Herrmann scores, as you’ve pointed out.

Thanks for pointing to the TCM Herrmann fest — my September sched seems not to have arrived and I would have probably missed this great event!

A great way to start the month!

Posted By Medusa : September 1, 2009 7:49 pm

Great list, and wonderful links! I am going to settle in and watch that British doc asap — can’t believe I’ve never seen it! (Or maybe I have…but I can’t wait to watch it!)

I think because I grew up watching the movie over and over and over and over, his “Mysterious Island” score probably tops my list, but there are so many amazing Herrmann scores, as you’ve pointed out.

Thanks for pointing to the TCM Herrmann fest — my September sched seems not to have arrived and I would have probably missed this great event!

A great way to start the month!

Posted By myidolspencer : September 3, 2009 5:42 am

(*-denotes OSCAR) Great stuff! & it always stuns and kinda’ disgusts me when some so-called & self proclaimed moviefan/buff, when going on about a movie & such & I’ll possibly bring up just how tremendous the music was in it & they comeback with “What, I I was too-busy to pay attention to the soundtrack?” DUH & they act as though we were the nitwits, instead.

Imagine *”The Godfather” *”Godfather, Part 11″ “Jaws” *”0ut of Africa”=(& somewhat it’s companion pc music-wise from 1980 “Somewhere In Time” of course both by 5 time winer: *John Barry! Without that music?

Or, how about *”Waterfront?” “Glory?” “The Natural” & going back to the man of whom is arguably A No. #1 of all-time, despite: *Alfred Newman being *OSCARS’ champ with (9)
*Max Steiner!-(TRIVIA: Somewhat an irony in that both composers, plus 3 time victor: *Dimitri Tiomkin are all laid to rest within several feet of each other in “The Great Maus.” “Forest Lawn, cem.” Glendale, CALIF.)
We could fill a few pages here with the bulk of *Steiner’s astonishing career.-(TRIVIA: His own fav. reportedly was “The Caine Mutiny”)

My personal all-timer though is kind of a tie & as all know in reading this, also had the same & vastly underrated-(by the highbrows) director: Sergio Leone. 1969′s “0nce Upon a Time in the West” & make certain sports fans, you see the 227min directors cut of 1984′s “0nce Upon a time in America”-(AFI also voted this #8th of the 1980′s) & even more “outrageous’ is that the now 81yr old Ennio Morricone has never “scored an OSCAR?”
Speaking of AFI, it voted “Star Wars” (*J. Williams) & *GWTW” (yep, *Max Steiner again) as the greatest of all-time in another of it’s now too-many polls.

But, this is about *B. Herrmann, of whom also went pretty early at only age 64 in ’75. His music for “Taxi-Driver” & “0bsession”-(which sounds almost identical to his own superb “Vertigo” & deliberately) Both snagged him posthumous nods. However that yr 1976 the AMPAS felt it time to honor: *Jerry Goldsmith for “The 0men” instead & it even took *”Rocky’s,” immediate classic score!

For me, though a marvelous list by author. It’s hard to pick my own fav. of his. I do know *Scorsese admired “The Wrong Man’ so much, he admitted to virtually having him copy it for “Taxi-Driver” Also, more kudo’s for including such an unkown as ’69′s film! Most would without question pick “Psycho” & it’s a heavyweight of course.-(& not even in the race that year???)

All literature says ’51′s film ‘noir “0n Dangerous Ground’ was his own favourite.

& I first caught ’62′s “Cape Fear’ on late night tv as a kid of about 19 around 1985 or so. It took awhile, but it finally caught on

Though I must agree-(barely) with you in citing 1 of the 10 best films ever produced as well, in “Vertigo!”

Reckon’ it comes down to which would you most like to own?

By the way, of composers *John Williams own idol is *Erich Wolfgang Korngold!

Thank You

(P.S. maybe I overlooked it, but what of his 1 and only *ACADEMY AWARD victory-(& vs. himself that year for “Kane”)
“All that Money Can Buy?”

Posted By myidolspencer : September 3, 2009 5:42 am

(*-denotes OSCAR) Great stuff! & it always stuns and kinda’ disgusts me when some so-called & self proclaimed moviefan/buff, when going on about a movie & such & I’ll possibly bring up just how tremendous the music was in it & they comeback with “What, I I was too-busy to pay attention to the soundtrack?” DUH & they act as though we were the nitwits, instead.

Imagine *”The Godfather” *”Godfather, Part 11″ “Jaws” *”0ut of Africa”=(& somewhat it’s companion pc music-wise from 1980 “Somewhere In Time” of course both by 5 time winer: *John Barry! Without that music?

Or, how about *”Waterfront?” “Glory?” “The Natural” & going back to the man of whom is arguably A No. #1 of all-time, despite: *Alfred Newman being *OSCARS’ champ with (9)
*Max Steiner!-(TRIVIA: Somewhat an irony in that both composers, plus 3 time victor: *Dimitri Tiomkin are all laid to rest within several feet of each other in “The Great Maus.” “Forest Lawn, cem.” Glendale, CALIF.)
We could fill a few pages here with the bulk of *Steiner’s astonishing career.-(TRIVIA: His own fav. reportedly was “The Caine Mutiny”)

My personal all-timer though is kind of a tie & as all know in reading this, also had the same & vastly underrated-(by the highbrows) director: Sergio Leone. 1969′s “0nce Upon a Time in the West” & make certain sports fans, you see the 227min directors cut of 1984′s “0nce Upon a time in America”-(AFI also voted this #8th of the 1980′s) & even more “outrageous’ is that the now 81yr old Ennio Morricone has never “scored an OSCAR?”
Speaking of AFI, it voted “Star Wars” (*J. Williams) & *GWTW” (yep, *Max Steiner again) as the greatest of all-time in another of it’s now too-many polls.

But, this is about *B. Herrmann, of whom also went pretty early at only age 64 in ’75. His music for “Taxi-Driver” & “0bsession”-(which sounds almost identical to his own superb “Vertigo” & deliberately) Both snagged him posthumous nods. However that yr 1976 the AMPAS felt it time to honor: *Jerry Goldsmith for “The 0men” instead & it even took *”Rocky’s,” immediate classic score!

For me, though a marvelous list by author. It’s hard to pick my own fav. of his. I do know *Scorsese admired “The Wrong Man’ so much, he admitted to virtually having him copy it for “Taxi-Driver” Also, more kudo’s for including such an unkown as ’69′s film! Most would without question pick “Psycho” & it’s a heavyweight of course.-(& not even in the race that year???)

All literature says ’51′s film ‘noir “0n Dangerous Ground’ was his own favourite.

& I first caught ’62′s “Cape Fear’ on late night tv as a kid of about 19 around 1985 or so. It took awhile, but it finally caught on

Though I must agree-(barely) with you in citing 1 of the 10 best films ever produced as well, in “Vertigo!”

Reckon’ it comes down to which would you most like to own?

By the way, of composers *John Williams own idol is *Erich Wolfgang Korngold!

Thank You

(P.S. maybe I overlooked it, but what of his 1 and only *ACADEMY AWARD victory-(& vs. himself that year for “Kane”)
“All that Money Can Buy?”

Posted By Jenni : September 3, 2009 11:29 pm

Great post and loved the links, and the Channel 4 documentary. Makes me wonder if TCM should designate some more time to composers, i.e. Korngold, Steiner, Neuman, like what they are doing in honor of Hermann. Include Tiomkin and another with a Russian sounding name, Bala something, who I have noticed composed for classic pics that I like. Balaleikoff?, sorry that I can’t spell it correctly; thought my misspelled attempt would be discernable on wikipedia, but they couldn’t decipher my poor effort.

Posted By Jenni : September 3, 2009 11:29 pm

Great post and loved the links, and the Channel 4 documentary. Makes me wonder if TCM should designate some more time to composers, i.e. Korngold, Steiner, Neuman, like what they are doing in honor of Hermann. Include Tiomkin and another with a Russian sounding name, Bala something, who I have noticed composed for classic pics that I like. Balaleikoff?, sorry that I can’t spell it correctly; thought my misspelled attempt would be discernable on wikipedia, but they couldn’t decipher my poor effort.

Posted By jerimoceri : September 7, 2009 10:00 pm

During my 30-year self-study and enjoyment of classic film, Bernard Herrmans’ name has been the composer for more of my ‘top 10 classics’ than any other, even more so than the great studio composers, i.e., Franz Waxman and Max Steiner.

Just for the Vertigo score alone, to me, Herrman is a genious. More than just creating the haunting mood of Vertigo, the music helped my understanding of scenes and characters, and moves the storyline forward. I was too young to understand Vertigo the first time I saw it but I never forgot the music. When the remastered version came out in the 90′s I couldnt wait to see it again. Of course the movie stands on its own, but the score adds to the intrigue and mystery of the story.

Posted By jerimoceri : September 7, 2009 10:00 pm

During my 30-year self-study and enjoyment of classic film, Bernard Herrmans’ name has been the composer for more of my ‘top 10 classics’ than any other, even more so than the great studio composers, i.e., Franz Waxman and Max Steiner.

Just for the Vertigo score alone, to me, Herrman is a genious. More than just creating the haunting mood of Vertigo, the music helped my understanding of scenes and characters, and moves the storyline forward. I was too young to understand Vertigo the first time I saw it but I never forgot the music. When the remastered version came out in the 90′s I couldnt wait to see it again. Of course the movie stands on its own, but the score adds to the intrigue and mystery of the story.

Posted By socorso : September 11, 2009 10:06 pm

Thank you, TCM for honoring Herrmann in this way, this month, and thank you, Mr. Sweeney, for a great post.

My favorite…Fahrenheit 451. Even more so, knowing the back story, and, I also love hearing Ray Bradbury, in the Universal dvd special feature, The Music of Fahrenheit 451, state that “I cry every time at the end.” The Finale is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.

This summer, I was lucky to have a dream come true, hearing Psycho performed live by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, accompanied by the film. I’m now trying to enlist John Goberman, the producer of these great performances, to add Fahrenheit to his repertoire.

Posted By socorso : September 11, 2009 10:06 pm

Thank you, TCM for honoring Herrmann in this way, this month, and thank you, Mr. Sweeney, for a great post.

My favorite…Fahrenheit 451. Even more so, knowing the back story, and, I also love hearing Ray Bradbury, in the Universal dvd special feature, The Music of Fahrenheit 451, state that “I cry every time at the end.” The Finale is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.

This summer, I was lucky to have a dream come true, hearing Psycho performed live by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, accompanied by the film. I’m now trying to enlist John Goberman, the producer of these great performances, to add Fahrenheit to his repertoire.

Posted By Marty : September 24, 2009 6:03 pm

Herrmann, the growling of the opening of North By Northwest under the growl of MGM’s Leo The Lion.
The sinister low woodwinds and tubas and muted trumpets in his work from The Naked And The Dead to NBNW, Vertigo, the Charles Schnee Ray Harryhousen moves to Journey To The Center Of The Earth and of course, The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Then take Korngold’s Errol Flynn epics…wow!
Add Steiner’s GWTW and Since You Went Away and any of his great Warner’s period.
Pick up a few Franz Waxman such as Sunset Boulevard and The Spirit of St. Louis.
Bring in Hugo Friedhofers magnificent score from The Best Years Of Our Lives.
And David Raksin’s great score for The Bad and The Beautiful.
Gee, I wish I could list every truly memorable score and its composer.

Posted By Marty : September 24, 2009 6:03 pm

Herrmann, the growling of the opening of North By Northwest under the growl of MGM’s Leo The Lion.
The sinister low woodwinds and tubas and muted trumpets in his work from The Naked And The Dead to NBNW, Vertigo, the Charles Schnee Ray Harryhousen moves to Journey To The Center Of The Earth and of course, The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Then take Korngold’s Errol Flynn epics…wow!
Add Steiner’s GWTW and Since You Went Away and any of his great Warner’s period.
Pick up a few Franz Waxman such as Sunset Boulevard and The Spirit of St. Louis.
Bring in Hugo Friedhofers magnificent score from The Best Years Of Our Lives.
And David Raksin’s great score for The Bad and The Beautiful.
Gee, I wish I could list every truly memorable score and its composer.

Posted By villabourani : January 9, 2011 6:05 pm

Love Bernard Herrmann’s work, please take a look at my short post on Herrmann’s score for ‘Vertigo’.
http://musicatthemovies.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/vertigo-1958-bernard-herrmann/

Posted By villabourani : January 9, 2011 6:05 pm

Love Bernard Herrmann’s work, please take a look at my short post on Herrmann’s score for ‘Vertigo’.
http://musicatthemovies.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/vertigo-1958-bernard-herrmann/

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
See more: facebook.com/tcmtv
See more: twitter.com/tcm
3-D  Action Films  Actors  Actors' Endorsements  Actresses  animal stars  Animation  Anime  Anthology Films  Art in Movies  Australian CInema  Autobiography  Avant-Garde  Aviation  Awards  B-movies  Beer in Film  Behind the Scenes  Best of the Year lists  Biography  Biopics  Blu-Ray  Books on Film  Boxing films  British Cinema  Canadian Cinema  Character Actors  Chicago Film History  Cinematography  Classic Films  College Life on Film  Comedy  Comic Book Movies  Crime  Czech Film  Dance on Film  Digital Cinema  Directors  Disaster Films  Documentary  Drama  DVD  Early Talkies  Editing  Educational Films  European Influence on American Cinema  Experimental  Exploitation  Fairy Tales on Film  Faith or Christian-based Films  Family Films  Film Composers  Film Criticism  film festivals  Film History in Florida  Film Noir  Film Scholars  Film titles  Filmmaking Techniques  Films of the 1960s  Films of the 1980s  Food in Film  Foreign Film  French Film  Gangster films  Genre  Genre spoofs  HD & Blu-Ray  Holiday Movies  Hollywood history  Hollywood lifestyles  Horror  Horror Movies  Icons  independent film  Italian Film  Japanese Film  Korean Film  Literary Adaptations  Martial Arts  Melodramas  Method Acting  Mexican Cinema  Moguls  Monster Movies  Movie Books  Movie Costumes  movie flops  Movie locations  Movie lovers  Movie Reviewers  Movie settings  Movie Stars  Movie titles  Movies about movies  Music in Film  Musicals  Outdoor Cinema  Paranoid Thrillers  Parenting on film  Pirate movies  Polish film industry  political thrillers  Politics in Film  Pornography  Pre-Code  Producers  Race in American Film  Remakes  Revenge  Road Movies  Romance  Romantic Comedies  Satire  Scandals  Science Fiction  Screenwriters  Semi-documentaries  Serials  Short Films  Silent Film  silent films  Social Problem Film  Sports  Sports on Film  Stereotypes  Straight-to-DVD  Studio Politics  Stunts and stuntmen  Suspense thriller  Swashbucklers  TCM Classic Film Festival  TCM Underground  Television  The British in Hollywood  The Germans in Hollywood  The Hungarians in Hollywood  The Irish in Hollywood  Theaters  Thriller  Trains in movies  Underground Cinema  VOD  War film  Westerns  Women in the Film Industry  Women's Weepies