Posted by Alan Rogers on May 10, 2012
- Citizen Kane
- Bernard Herrmann
- Varese Sarabande / 1999 / 52:45
This is a difficult choice for this year as there’s not one that really stands out for selection. Herrmann’s score is rightly seen as a landmark score at a time where film in general was being experimented with by innovative directors such as Citizen Kane‘s director, Orson Welles.
I am not expert enough in film history or theory to understand whether Herrmann’s experience in composing for radio put him in good stead for Welles’ directing style for this film, but Herrmann’s use of the short cue that was particularly effective at bridging scenes is a technique frequently in radio.
It’s the moodiness of this score that is appealing to me; the way in which Herrmann creates a feeling with what appears to be very little effort. The slow, off-kilter tracks in particular are highlights. Alongside the highlights there are also tracks that I always skip: up-tempo tracks such as “Galop” I avoid. And I may be in the minority not liking “Salaambo’s Aria”. Although there are parts I do not like, when it’s good it is very good.
For years, Joel McNeely’s version (with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra) was the go-to version. Rumon Gamba’s more recent release of 49 minutes of Herrmann’s score (BBC Philharmonic, Chandos Records) is now the more sonically appealing though I do not like their choice of making 6-7 minute suites from joining together several of Herrmann’s individual cues.
Posted in Favourite Scores | Tagged: Bernard Herrmann, Citizen Kane, favourite score, film music, film score | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Alan Rogers on September 19, 2011
Saturday, 17th September saw the screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho with live accompaniment of Bernard Herrmann’s influential score. Under the guidance of conductor John Wilson and in the red-tinged setting of the Glasgow City Halls, the strings of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (BBC SSO) earned their crust with a thrilling evening of vintage Herrmann, doing justice to the film composer’s music from the furious main titles’ opening sequence, through to the final low, unresolving dissonance of the final scene. Herrmann gave himself problems when he decided to limit himself to composing a string-only score for Psycho (the score is orchestrated for 50 performers; 14 first violins, 12 second violins, 10 violas, 8 cellos and 6 double basses). He limited himself in the amount of orchestral colouring he could call upon and he also denied himself of a lot of the conventional techniques used by others for films of the same genre as Psycho. But Herrmann’s inventiveness used the strings in ways that had not been considered up to that point. (Note: I don’t have the musical knowledge to enter into a discussion of what and how Herrmann did what he did – there has been volumes written on Herrmann’s score for Psycho. This is really only a comment on my experience of “Psycho: Live”. On the night, with Wilson and the BBC SSO tight, dynamic and animated performance, they highlighted ably how Herrmann was able to provide Hitchcock with a score of top quality.
John Wilson and members of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Herrmann’s music for the shower scene is an example of a piece of music that has made the leap from the cinematic to the everyday world (who hasn’t used an imaginary knife and mimicked Herrmann’s shrieking string glissandos?) And it seemed that the orchestra knew it was a piece everyone would be expecting and looking forward to because, prior to the piece being performed, the musicians exchanged smiling glances with the conductor as if to say “here we go!” And when the shower scene arrived I have to admit that I watched Herrmann’s music pass between the various sections of the orchestra rather than watch again the scene in the film. Throughout the night it was interesting to see the orchestra performing the music, as this helped to highlight both how the music is passed between the various sections of the strings (e.g., the aforementioned shower scene and the “dialogue” between the bowed and plucked instruments in cues such as “The Package”) and also to show the level of dexterity required by the musicians to play some of the cues. It was particularly enlightening seeing the violins being used like a ukulele for the tremolo passage in “The Stairs”. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Concerts | Tagged: Bernard Herrmann, Concert, film music, film score, Psycho, Psycho: Live | 1 Comment »
Posted by Alan Rogers on September 7, 2011
In the run-up to attending a live playing to picture of Psycho in a few weeks, and to continue celebrating 100 years since the birth of Bernard Herrmann, here’s another selection of ten tracks:
01 – “Excerpt” – Cimarron Strip: Knife In The Darkness
A short 35-second snippet from the suite that can be found on the Film Music Society’s Music From CBS Westerns CD, this is pure Herrmann: a short, repeating descending motif that’s thrown around the various sections of the orchestra. And that’s it!
02 – “Nefer’s Farewell” – The Egyptian
Herrmann’s contribution to this collaboration with Alfred Newman gives the score such poignant music, full of sadness. I may have mentioned before that I much prefer Herrmann’s more psychological aspect to the score to Newman’s parts. The meandering flute line towards the end is so hypnotic.
03 – “Tranquil Landscape” – Western Suite
An example of Herrmann’s library music that is featured on Prometheus’ The CBS Years: Volume 1: The Westerns. Yes, Herrmann suggests tranquility but it’s not a particularly happy landscape. It’s a landscape that is desolate from the low register instruments he used. Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by Alan Rogers on June 29, 2011
01 – “The Car” – Psycho
Recorded in 1975, this is arguably my favourite track from this score and this version, the Unicorn-Kanchana release of the National Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of the composer himself, is my favourite. The low, repetitive strings with the dramatic cellos coming in when they do…I remember many a time just spending a few minutes with the 45 second cue on repeat. Watching a Hermann documentary on DVD recently I think the muting of the strings is what comes out particularly strongly on this version that catches my ear.
02 – “Overture” – The Snows of Kilimanjaro
The frenetic strings are what stick in the mind in this track, with the whole cue setting the scene for a rip-roaring movie. Unfortunately, from what I recall, the film doesn’t really live up to the exuberance of the track.
03 – “Duo” – Mysterious Island
The TFC re-recording. This lovely, reflective track has strings and progressions that remind me of similar, more low-key tracks from Vertigo. Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by Alan Rogers on June 27, 2011
01 - “Trailer” – The Wrong Man
Usually the track heard on compilations from this movie is the upbeat music for the Stork Club but I much prefer Herrmann’s underscore with the sparse orchestration of clarinets, horns, brass and bass. It is a bit disjointed, moving back and forth between scenes for the trailer. Apparently Herrmann wrote the music for the first and third segments of the trailer.
02 - “Track 01” – The Twilight Zone: Where Is Everybody?
Typical Herrmann. Only 45 seconds or so, but he takes a simple repeating device and moves it through various parts of the orchestra.
03 - “The Forest” – The Kentuckian
Pastoral, open, optimistic! A lovely thematic track this one that definitely is bright and sings of open spaces. One from Herrmann’s England-influenced “romantic” period? Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Ten Tracks Today | Tagged: Bernard Herrmann, Ten Tracks Today | 2 Comments »
Posted by Alan Rogers on June 23, 2011
01 - “Finale” – Vertigo
Track from the Conlon re-recording. From the point where Scotty takes Judy up to the scene of the crime in the bell tower. One of Herrmann’s greatest themes, the love theme, plays one final time before the organ signals the end with a grand timpani roll heralding fate’s final judgement.
02 - “Space Control” – The Day The Earth Stood Still
Track from the Varese re-recording. I like the otherworldliness of the orchestration of this track. A recent documentary highlights the use of the Klaatu’s touchless control of his spaceship’s controls with the touchless playing of the theremin.
03 - “The Battle” – Mysterious Island
Another re-recording! Herrmann again uses repeating figures but this time for a battle (though I can’t remember the specific sequence in the film). The whole track reminds me somewhat of an English hunt. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Ten Tracks Today | Tagged: Bernard Herrmann, Ten Tracks Today | 2 Comments »
Posted by Alan Rogers on June 15, 2011
Original Review by Alan Rogers
Part of the appeal of the anthology series The Twilight Zone is the way in which the show constantly challenged the normalcy of the everyday experience with visions of the bizarre and instilling feelings of uncertainty in the viewer. Any composer composing music would have felt a level of freedom to experiment and explore a variety of musical styles and unorthodox orchestrations. Examination of the film music, Bernard Herrmann seemed to be especially inspired by themes of loneliness, isolation and alienation. Prior to working on The Twilight Zone, Herrmann had been involved in composing library music for CBS Television and had already made his name several years previously, scoring for radio dramas; often composing powerful compositions usually with unusual orchestrations. The choice of Herrmann for main theme of The Twilight Zone and the pilot episode “Where Is Everybody?” was an obvious one.
Varese’s 2-CD set of Herrmann’s music for The Twilight Zone features several variations of the original title and credits music as well as complete scores for seven episodes (each approximately 23-minute episode featured between about 12-19 minutes of music.) Herrmann composes a main theme that is the complete opposite of Marius Constant’s later and more familiar ostinato-driven theme; Herrmann goes instead for a slow, undulating theme more suggestive of tension, menace and a feeling of otherworldliness or alternate worlds. And his theme is very suggestive of the style for the TV show scores themselves. In his Twilight Zone scores, like many of his movie scores, Herrmann takes small ideas and plays with them; passing them between the various sections of the ensemble players, mutating the motifs/devices he has come up with and at the same time developing the ideas, where necessary, as the on-screen drama develops. The use of small-scale musical devices is ideal for this TV show as each show lasted only just over 20 minutes; little time to develop more conventional, extended themes. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Reviews | Tagged: Bernard Herrmann, Reviews, Soundtracks, The Twilight Zone, TV music, TV score | 1 Comment »