Commentary (2007) - Hitchcock's Music Man
- article: Hitchcock's Music Man
- author(s): Terry Teachout
- journal: Commentary (28/Feb/2007)
- issue: volume 123, issue 2, page 60
- journal ISSN: 0010-2601
- keywords: "Hitchcock's Music" - by Jack Sullivan, Academy Awards, Alfred Hitchcock, Alfred Newman, Anthony Perkins, Bernard Herrmann, Cary Grant, Composers, David Thomson, Dimitri Tiomkin, Family Plot (1976), Film & stage music, Franz Waxman, François Truffaut, Jack Sullivan, Janet Leigh, John Williams, Marnie (1964), Martin Scorsese, Maurice Jarre, Miklós Rózsa, Motion picture directors & producers, New York City, New York, North by Northwest (1959), Notorious (1946), Psycho (1960), Rear Window (1954), Rebecca (1940), Roy Webb, Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Sidney Bernstein, Sight and Sound, Spellbound (1945), Strangers on a Train (1951), The 39 Steps (1935), The Birds (1963), The Lady Vanishes (1938), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), The Trouble with Harry (1955), The Wrong Man (1956), Topaz (1969), Torn Curtain (1966), Vertigo (1958)
Hitchcock's Music Man
THROUGHOUT their history, movies have been accompanied by music, and ever since 1908, when Camille Saint-Saëns wrote the score for L'Assassinat du duc de Guise, composers of distinction have had a hand in creating it. In addition to Aaron Copland, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Miklós Rózsa, Dmitri Shostakovich, and William Walton, each of whom devoted a significant portion of his career to writing film music, the roster of such distinguished composers includes Leonard Bernstein, Benjamin Britten, Arthur Honegger, Sergei Prokofiev, and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Yet the fact remains that most of the countless film scores composed since 1908-many for films of the first rank-have been musically undistinguished. Indeed, the enduring paradox of film music is that it need not be good in order to be dramatically effective. The American director John Ford actually preferred to accompany such grimly forceful films as They Were Expendable (1945) and The Searchers (1956) with sentimental scores based on folk tunes and popular ballads. More recently, a number of prominent directors, the best known of whom is Martin Scorsese, have gone so far as to "score" their films with pop records chosen solely for their evocative quality. Scorsese's GoodFellas (1990) and Casino (1995) are cases in point.
Even when first-rate composers collaborate with first-rate directors, moreover, trouble can set in-as when William Wyler ordered a staff arranger to rewrite the main-title music to Copland's Oscar-winning score for The Heiress (1948). Such meddling long ago became a by-word, which is one of the reasons why eminent composers often refuse to write for the movies. Stil...
TERRY TEACHOUT, COMMENTARY's regular music critic and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal, reviewed movies for Crisis from 1998 to 2005. He blogs about the arts at www.terryteachout.com.
- ↑ Yale, 354 pp., $38.00.
- ↑ Unlike most film composers, Herrmann orchestrated his own music, often for highly unorthodox instrumental combinations. His (unused) Torn Curtain score, for instance, was written for twelve flutes, sixteen horns, nine trombones, two tubas, two sets of timpani, eight cellos, and eight double basses.
- ↑ This near-complete lack of tunefulness is the main reason why Herrmann's concert works, which include a cantata based on Moby-Dick (1938), a four-movement symphony (1941), and a clarinet quintet titled Souvenirs de voyage (1967), have never been taken up by classical performers.
- ↑ Bernard Herrmann: The Film Scores (Sony Classical SK-92767) contains performances by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic of excerpts from The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and Marnie, along with three cues from the unused score for Torn Curtain and suites from two films by other directors, François Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 (1966) and Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1975).
- ↑ The most celebrated example of this is the scene in North by Northwest (1959) in which Cary Grant, who is alone on a deserted country road, is inexplicably attacked by a cropduster that appears from out of nowhere and chases him into a nearby cornfield. The scene plays without music until the exact moment when the plane crashes into a passing truck.
- ↑ Revealingly, Thomson describes Hitchcock as "an impoverished inventor of thumbscrews who shows us the human capacity for inflicting pain, but no more. . . . [T]here is a degree of spiritual coarseness and callousness in [his] work that chimes with the career-long taste for brutalizing our nerves."