Wednesday, June 29, 2011

6/29 Bernard Herrmann's 100th Birthday

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Bernard Herrmann's birth (let's call it his 100th birthday).  I've always cited Herrmann as my favorite 20th Century composer.  In fact he was my introduction to orchestral music in general.  Back when I was deep into experimental music and free jazz, I used to comb through old thrift stores for kitschey records to sample/collage.  One time I found a 99 cent cassette of the original score recording to Herrmann's "The Day the Earth Stood Still".  I was literally blown away at how awesome this score from the 50's was.  For me as an electronic musician, the 2 theremins, electric basses and organs were a perfect entry point into film score music.  From there I collected ALL of Herrmann's works, as well as the best stuff from Goldsmith, North, Steiner, Waxman, Korngold, Elfman, Horner, Morricone, etc...  However Herrmann was still way ahead of every other film music composer in my of Bennie's infamous claims is that he did all the orchestrations of his music himself - and that most film composers didn't.  I think that had alot to do with the uniqueness of his sound...his wind writing is almost immediately recognizable.

Main Title from "The Day The Earth Stood Still"
"the score included electric violin, electric bass, 2 theremins* (treble & bass), test oscillators, vibraphone, 4 pianos, 4 harps & approximately 30 brass instruments"


So, thinking about Herrmann recently made me think of some parallels between Beethoven and Bennie...

Both left their original hometown for a new city...
(LvB:Bonn->Vienna / BH:Brooklyn->Hollywood)

Both had big early successes...
(LvB: most celebrated pianist in Vienna / BH:"Citizen Kane")

Both very stubborn and refused to make changes to their scores...
(LvB:Fidelio / BH:"Wuthering Heights", Symphony 1)

Both had and early "derivative period"...
(LvB:Haydn, Mozart / BH: Copland, Elgar) 

Both had strong middle periods...
(Herrmann's middle period was when he worked with Hitchcock and Harryhausen)

Late success...
(Herrmann's last film, "Taxi Driver" was nominated for an Academy Award)

Use of technology......
(LvB: metronome, panharmonicon, extended timpani, trombones / Herrmann used theremin in "The Day The Earth Stood Still", and Moog on "Sisters", "Endless Night" etc..)

Difficulty getting along..
(Herrmann was not shy about putting down his fellow composers, as well as the directors who he disdained.)

Both had an "out of favor" period...
(After his partnership with Hitchcock ended, Herrmann had fewer big productions until very late in his life)

Finally, both had a prodigious talent for writing very simple motifs and "exploding" then into orchestral masterpieces.
(LvB:5th and 6th Symphonies / BH: "Psycho", "North by Northwest", etc...)

Happy 100th, Bennie!

"Vertigo" Main Title:


"Death Hunt" from "On Dangerous Ground"
(Esa Pekka-Salonen with the L.A. Phil)


Transcript of a lecture given by Bernard Herrmann at the George Eastman House Museum in October, 1973.

Bernard Herrmann Society (News, Forum, articles)

Herrmann Works Listing

Analysis of "Vertigo"

Here's a fine article about Herrmann's best scores from Film Music Review:

Here's a link to the New York Philharmonic's archive of Herrmann-related performances:

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