Bernard Herrmann: The Suspense

One name that must come up when discussing film music is Bernard Herrmann.  His techniques and scores have been an inspiration for many.  With his collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock, his music became another character in each movie.  From the shrieking strings in Psycho, to the lonely saxophone in Taxi Driver, Herrmann's scores are now inseparable from the classic films he scored.

Born in 1911, Herrmann began music lessons early, and eventually became interested in composition.  He studied the great classical works, and Hector Berlioz’s book Treatise on Orchestration.  He started taking composition classes and conducting classes at Juilliard.  During his Hollywood career, he would conduct and orchestrate nearly all his scores.  He became a champion of new compositions by composers like Aaron Copland, Percy Granger and Charles Ives by being a member of the Young Composers Group and in 1933 created the New Chamber Orchestra.  Around the same time, Herrmann became the assistant music director for CBS Radio.  He started composing scores for CBS and the Mercury Theater’s radio productions including the 1938 Orson Welles production of The War of the Worlds.

Herrmann began his Hollywood career with Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane in 1941.  During this time, he still conducted the CBS Symphony and composed concert music.  Herrmann received two Academy Award nominations in the same year for Citizen Kane and The Devil and Daniel Webster – which would give Herrmann his only Oscar.  He would get another nomination for Anna and the King of Siam in 1947.

1951 had The Day the Earth Stood Still, featuring one of the most creative and unusual film orchestras at the time.  It featured electric string instruments, electric organs, multiple pianos and more than one Theremin.  In 1954, Herrmann co-scored the film The Egyptian with Alfred Newman.  This is one of the few times composers of such caliber worked together.  Also that year, Herrmann began his collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock.  These notably include:
Trouble with Harry (1955)
Vertigo (1958)
North by Northwest (1959)
Psycho (1960)
The Birds (1963)
Their collaboration came to an end around 1966, with Hitchcock rejecting Herrmann’s Torn Curtain score. 

Herrmann began scoring for other directors, including
Francois Truffaut, Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese.  Indeed the last score he would work on was Scorsese’s masterpiece Taxi Driver.  Herrmann died in his sleep after the recording sessions for Taxi Driver in 1975.  (He was Oscar nominated twice again for both Obsession and Taxi Driver.)  

Citizen Kane
Vertigo – Scene d’Amour (Click here to hear it)
Psycho (Click here to hear the Prelude)
Taxi Driver – End Credits (Click here to hear it)

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  1. Psycho - Great Score and good cue choice. It's more than just the shower scene!

    I'd like to request Max Steiner next.

    Also, a post on the major director/composer collaborations throughout history would be cool.

    Oh, and one on notable rejected scores!

    That should keep you busy for a while...

  2. You forgot to mention his haunting score for Rod Serling's 13 November 1959 'The Lonely'...deleted from the VHS version, and, in 2005, finally released with The Twilight Zone. The Definitive Edition DVDs from Image Entertainment. Together with Max Steiner and Philip Glass, Reb Herrmann re-defined Jewish conjurations of the music between the Torah letters...
    STEPHAN PICKERING / Chofetz Chayim ben-Avraham
    Temple Illuminatus G-ddess Jew / Starfleet Yeshiva Epikoros Spiritist

  3. You're right, his Twilight Zone work is great. Joel McNeeley did a re-recording of his episodes here: