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Bernard Herrmann

  • born: 29/Jun/1911 (New York, USA)
  • died: 24/Dec/1975 (Los Angeles, California, USA) - heart attack


Bernard Herrmann was a composer who is generally regarded today as one of the greatest of all film composers. Although Bernard Herrmann is particularly known for the scores he did for Alfred Hitchcock's films, he also composed fine scores for many other movies including Citizen Kane, Cape Fear and Taxi Driver as well as for the original sensational radio broadcast of Orson Welles' The War of the Worlds and a number of TV programs.

Herrmann is most closely associated with the director Alfred Hitchcock. He wrote the scores for every Hitchcock film from The Trouble with Harry to Marnie, a period which included Vertigo and North by Northwest. He oversaw the sound design in The Birds, although there was no actual music in the film as such, just electronically created bird sounds.

The music for the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much was only partly by Herrmann. The two most significant pieces of music in the film — the song, "Que Sera Sera", and the acantata played in the Royal Albert Hall — are not by Herrmann at all (although he did re-orchestrate the cantata, which was principally the work of the Australian-born composer Arthur Benjamin). However, this film did give Herrmann an acting role: he is the orchestral conductor in the Albert Hall scene.

Herrmann's most recognizable music is from another Hitchcock film, Psycho, specifically the shower scene music. The screeching violin music heard during the scene (a scene which Hitchcock originally suggested have no music at all) is one of the most famous moments from all film scores.

His score for Vertigo 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 Richard Wagner's Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, dramatically convey the main character's obsessive love for the woman he tries to shape into a long dead 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.

Herrmann's relationship with Hitchcock came to an end when they disagreed over the score for Torn Curtain. While Hitchcock wanted a score that was more jazz and pop influenced, Herrmann disagreed and produced an orchestral score. Herrmann subsequently moved to England, and was hired by François Truffaut to write the score for Fahrenheit 451.


With Hitchcock...

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour...


He has appeared in the following Hitchcockian documentaries...


See Also...


Image Gallery

Images from the Hitchcock Gallery (click to view larger versions or search for all relevant images)...


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