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Bernard Herrmann - quotes

Quotations relating to Bernard Herrmann...

There are a couple of different accounts as to how Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock began working together. One that was told to me was from the composer Lyn Murray, who had scored the Hitchcock film "To Catch a Thief". For some reason Lyn Murray was not able to do "The Trouble with Harry", and Murray told me that he recommended his friend, Bernard Herrmann. And that's probably a credible story, although I think that Hitchcock and Herrmann certainly knew of each other's work at that time.

The score turned out to be a tremendously happy collaboration between the two. In fact, Hitchcock later said that it was his favorite of all of the scores that Bernard Herrmann wrote for him — even more than "Psycho" or "North by Northwest". He thought that Herrmann had done a superb job at capturing the macabre humor in the subject. I think that's one reason why he wanted to be very careful about the composer. I think he realized how important the music was going to be in helping carry the very delicate tone of this unusual film.

The main title of "The Trouble with Harry" contains several musical fragments that we'll hear throughout the score. And, in fact, I have to tell you, it's music that Bernard Herrmann did not originally write for this film. Some of it was new to the film, but much of it was taken from a radio series he had recently created called "Crime Classics" for CBS. When he saw "The Trouble with Harry", Bernard Herrmann immediately thought back to much of the music he had written for "Crime Classics", and, indeed, got permission to reuse some of that music in the score.

The main title with "The Trouble with Harry" establishes, really, the tone of the movie, the tone of the score, and it even is something of a musical portrait of its director. In fact, Bernard Herrmann so identified this particular film score with Hitchcock, that he later arranged the various themes into a suite, a concert suite that he called "A Portrait of Hitch," and he dedicated it to Alfred Hitchcock.

Bernard Herrmann recorded the music for "The Trouble with Harry" at Paramount, and apparently this was the first time he had worked at Paramount. His friend, Lyn Murray, had worked there on many occasions, and he tried to prepare everyone for a good session and told the orchestra how much they'd like Bernard Herrmann. He told Herrmann that these are a bunch of great guys. "You'll have a great time working together."

Well, that's not what happened. Herrmann was temperamental, he was explosive, and he was particularly explosive if he felt that musicianship was not up to what he expected. And he had been spoiled by working at 20th Century-Fox for many years where the musicianship was really the best of anywhere in Hollywood. He came to Paramount and immediately started berating the orchestra. He was, evidently, very hard on the oboist who had a lot of important solos in the score. And pretty soon everybody despised him. He had a miserable time with them, and the work got done, but it was not a happy experience.

"The Trouble with Harry" marked the beginning of the most important creative association in his career, that with Alfred Hitchcock. Herrmann knew exactly what Hitchcock was trying to achieve, not just on a basic plot level. He didn't just decorate the film with his music the way I think some composers did, and I think that's why Hitchcock immediately realized that he had found the collaborator that he wanted to continue working with.

Steven C. Smith (2001)

Film Post-Production

Herrmann biographer Smith describing how the soundtrack of the film was created...

It would appear that Hitchcock first became interested in using electronic sounds in place of a score for the Birds in, uh, April of 1962, when he received a letter from a man in Germany named Remi Gassmann. Gassmann was the co-designer of something called the studio tratonium. This was a device created by another man — I believe his name was Dr. Frederick Trautwein.

And it basically was the forerunner of many modern keyboard instruments, in that it was able to take sounds — commonplace, ordinary sounds — and by playing the keyboard, or playing the instrument, you could manipulate the sounds. Gassmann contacted Hitchcock and alerted him to the fact that there was this creation, it had been used by the New York City Ballet, and it would allow Hitchcock to manipulate sounds in a way that could be very musical in effect. This was intriguing to Hitchcock, and he brought it to Bernard Herrmann's attention.

One might think that Bernard Herrmann would be angry that he would not be writing music for the film, but Herrmann was intrigued by this invention and its application on the Birds. So Hitchcock and Herrmann travelled together in 1962 to West Berlin to meet Remi Gassmann and to explore the possibility of using the studio tratonium in the film.

It was a very happy trip, and later Herrmann regarded it as one of the most pleasant times that he ever spent with Alfred Hitchcock. They got along very well, and they were both very impressed by the results of this machine. So from that point on, Herrmann became basically an advisor on the film — a consultant — to work with both Hitchcock and Remi Gassmann and decide where they wanted to use this effect in the place of where they would have used a conventional score.

Throughout the Birds, during the various attack sequences, sound plays a very important part. The sequence, however, that probably employed the most subjective use of sound is the attack on the Brenner house. First, of course, the characters are inside, just waiting. And very gradually, you begin to hear the sounds — the various sounds — from the fluttering to the chirping and then the cawing, until, of course, it turned into a full-blown attack.

Hitchcock, wherever possible, eliminated dialogue from his films, and the attack on the Brenner house is a sequence that could virtually be a silent movie with the exception of the fact that he uses the bird sounds so brilliantly and dramatically, so that you have these bursts of sound with visual shocks, like the darkness that they're engulfed in.

Throughout "The Birds", Alfred Hitchcock experiments very interestingly with silence. There is the sequence in which Tippi Hedren is attacked in the attic. Hitchcock said that he wanted to create a silent murder. In the shower sequence in "Psycho", he originally wanted to just have the sound of the water running and Janet Leigh's screams and the sounds of the knife. They ultimately decided music would be more effective. But in "The Birds", Hitchcock creates a very sinister sound of flapping bird wings and creates one of the most intense sequences of violence but without any music.

Hitchcock wanted to communicate the sense that the birds were thinking at the end of the movie when, uh, when everybody is leaving the Brenner house. They created this tremendously unsettling effect that is very quiet but does give these creatures much more of a personality... of a far more sinister quality.

Secondly, he creates a, uh, a kind of almost final note by increasing the sound of those birds under the final shot, and it's very ambiguous as to whether they're on the verge of another major attack, or if this is just a sort of, you know, almost psychological effect. So this very experimental technique that they used did, in fact, turn out to be very successful, and Herrmann and Hitchcock were both apparently very pleased with the result.

Steven C. Smith (2000)

The music in "Frenzy" is good. It's one of the best scores he had without Bernard Herrmann. Henry Mancini, I think, did the original score, and then was let go. He brought Ron Goodwin in after letting Mancini go, and I think he did a very good job. It's the return to England, too, that Hitch probably infused that in the composer. There's a certain kind of nostalgia that Hitch must have felt that comes across in the score

keywords: Bernard Herrmann, Frenzy (1972), Henry Mancini, Ron Goodwin, music scores, and post-production

Benny Hermann's score for "Psycho" was brilliant. In fact, so much so that Hitch and I were sitting in the theater when we were scoring the picture, and we came to the end, when Tony Perkins comes down the steps into the basement, and sees the skeleton mother right at the end of the picture, and that was silent. After we finished that reel, Benny came up to Hitch and said, "How'd you like it? What did you think of it?" And Hitch said, "It was fine, Benny, except surely, "as Tony comes down those steps into the basement, "you should repeat that wonderful theme... that you had in the shower sequence, with all the fiddles going down like that." Benny said, "Wonderful idea, Hitch." He was thrilled with the idea and said Hitch was absolutely right. So we did that reel with the score.

Peggy Robertson (1997)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Perkins, Bernard Herrmann, Psycho (1960), music scores, and post-production

Hitchcock had used Bernard Herrmann in many of his films to write great music. And I think if you look back on Hitchcock films, music is certainly a very key ingredient. It is really almost his signature pattern. I do know before John Williams was selected, he had had a falling out with Bernard Herrmann. I remember in the scoring session how exciting it was to watch Williams conduct. And, of course, Hitchcock was there a little bit of the time.

Mr. Hitchcock had his office here at Universal Studios. And so he apparently needed a composer for this ''Family Plot'', and the executive those years in charge of music was a gentleman called Harry Garfield. So, it was Harry Garfield who recommended me as a newcomer, just having done Jaws, a very successful film, to Mr. Hitchcock. And I went to see him at his office, and we had lunch and had a chat and I left not knowing if he would engage me to do this or not. Then I got a call from Mr. Garfield the next day. It said, Hitchcock, yes, he would like you to do the score.

The business of working with Alfred Hitchcock was really very professional and very strong. We had a few meetings as I was writing the music. He didn't ask to hear any of it. I would tell him what I was doing — this or that scene — and we would talk about that, and then the conversation might change to Edward Elgar, or some other musical interest of his, you know? We chatted about that. So, on the one hand, it was very professional and very specific. On the other hand, very easy and congenial and so on.

He told me a story having nothing to do with Bernard Herrmann. Some other composer, I don't know, on a film that he made about a murder. And he instructed the composer to make the music light. So, he said he went to London to record the music, and this composer had every double bass and bassoon and timpani, and every instrument in the city of London capable of making an ominous, lugubrious sound. Just the opposite of what he wanted, so I said to him, "Mr. Hitchcock, seems like for a murder that's very appropriate." I always quote him. I remember his words exactly. He said, "Mr. Williams, murder can be fun." So, he had this idea... of irony and many sides to the prism of what one sees.

The specific details of the music in that movie was with the use of the voices having to do with this psychic. And he did have an idea of having voices. He said, "It should be like impressionistic with the women's voices." And also his ideas about music were very closely linked to a very methodical editorial process. The precision of the editing reflected the precision of the shooting.

I could tell you one little anecdote, also, about a scene in the film where we didn't have a disagreement about where the music should play but a discussion. There was a room where the criminal had been, and the camera pans to the window, which is open. And the curtains blow in the breeze, and this reveal of the camera tells us the criminal has escaped.

But the orchestra was playing to drive the energy to people to go to discover where the criminal is. Driving, driving, driving... through the point where the camera goes through the door. And I continued the music when the camera panned to the window, playing it more. And he said, "You know, if you stop the music when the camera pans to the window, "the silence will tell us that it's empty — he's gone — more emphatically, more powerfully than any musical phrase." And, of course, just the absence of music at that point... It was a wonderful lesson, really, in where to arrange the parts of the music in any film, which we call "spotting," incidentally. That is to say, the spots are where the music is.

So, he was a wily professional who knew his business and could be of great assistance to a youngster such as I was at that time.

I do think it's true that Hitchcock, his own sensibility and his own belief in music and trust in it, made a great impact on audiences. Some of my earliest influences and earliest strong impressions were from the Hitchcock-Herrmann collaboration. Obviously, Bernard Herrmann's music was very striking and very strong, but Hitchcock was a director who placed his faith in that. Many directors would be afraid to have that music that loud or that emphatic. They might think it's too operatic.

It has to be said that directors before Hitchcock did wonderful things with music, and he was not alone. But there is something at the core of his faith and trust and belief in music as a character in the film metier was uniquely strong and high. And I think that every composer that worked for him benefited from that. I should say, in the contemporary scene, Steven Spielberg is similar in that his films need a lot of music. And Mr. Spielberg is very happy about relying on music, and is not disturbed by the disruption of the sense of reality that the presence of music might cause.

I remember one day very distinctly Hitchcock said to me at one of our several lunches, he said, "You know, what I'm serious about is the film industry. And film industry means to me," he said, "I come in at 6:00 in the morning, and I see the workers coming in with their lunch pails and their this and their that and their umbrellas, lining up, going into the studios." And he said, "That's my responsibility. To keep that going. My responsibility that I feel," said he, was to these people who work in the studios." And he was obviously quite serious about that aspect of his position. That he, as a creative artist, created opportunities which gave people their means of livelihood. So, yes, he was funny, but he was also serious in surprising ways.

keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Bernard Herrmann, Family Plot (1976), music scores, and post-production