Composer. Nationality: British. Born: 20 September 1925. Education: Attended Wellington College; Royal College of Music, London. Military Service: Royal Air Force during World War II. Career: Assistant to Benjamin Britten; then freelance musician: composer for radio and television, and for films from mid-1950s; 1963—composer of stage musical Virtue in Danger; 1980—semi-retired to Jamaica; 1994—returned to London and to composing. Awards: Academy Award, for writing, for Seven Days to Noon, 1950. Address: c/o London Management, 235 Regent Street, London W.1, England.
Films as Composer:
The Quatermass Experiment (The Creeping Unknown) (Guest)
Pacific Destiny (Rilla); X—the Unknown (Norman); The Door in the Wall (Alvey)
The Curse of Frankenstein (Fisher); Quatermass II (Enemy from Space) (Guest); Windom's Way (Neame); Across the Pacific (Annakin)
Dracula (Horror of Dracula) (Fisher); Nor the Moon by Night (Elephant Gun) (Annakin); The Immortal Land (Wright—doc)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (Fisher); The Stranglers of Bombay (Fisher)
The Terror of the Tongs (Bushell); A Place for Gold (Wright—doc)
The Damned (These Are the Damned) (Losey)
Kiss of the Vampire (Kiss of Evil) (Sharp)
The Gorgon (Fisher)
Dracula—Prince of Darkness (Fisher); She (Day); The Secret of Blood Island (Lawrence)
The Plague of the Zombies (Gilling)
Frankenstein Created Woman (Fisher); Torture Garden (Francis) (co)
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (Francis); The Devil Rides Out (The Devil's Bride) (Fisher)
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (Fisher)
The Horror of Frankenstein (Sangster); Taste the Blood of Dracula (Sasdy); The Scars of Dracula (Baker)
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (Fisher)
The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula) (Baker)
Murder Elite (Whatham)
Flesh and Blood (Newsom)
Universal Horror (for TV)
Film as Co-writer, with Paul Dehn:
Seven Days to Noon (J. & R. Boulting)
By BERNARD: articles—
Soundtrack (Belgium), September 1992.
Soundtrack (Belgium), June 1996.
On BERNARD: articles—
Films in Review (New York), January 1971.
Little Shoppe of Horrors (Waterloo, Iowa), February 1974.
Little Shoppe of Horrors (Waterloo, Iowa), April 1978.
Fistful of Soundtracks (London), May 1981.
Filmusic (Leeds), 1982.
Larson, R. D., "Music from the Hammer Films," in Soundtrack! (Hollywood), vol. 9, no. 35, September 1990.
Dark Terrors (Cornwall, England), 1993
Scarlet Street (Glen Rock), Spring 1995.
Bender, J., "'The Devil Rides Out': the Film Music of James Bernard" in Film Score Monthly (Los Angeles), September 1996.
Soundtrack (Belgium), September 1996.
Madison, B. and Sullivan, D., "He Who Must Be Replayed!" in Scarlet Street (Glen Rock), no. 22, 1996.
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James Bernard created the musical identity of Hammer Films, the great British "gothic" studio, which flourished at Hammer's studios in Bray between 1958 and 1964. Bernard's most conspicuous accomplishment in the area of film scoring is undoubtedly his musical "signature" for Dracula, directed by Terence Fisher, Hammer's major house director. Bernard also wrote the scores for such "Hammer horrors" as The Quatermass Experiment, X—the Unknown, Quatermass II, and The Curse of Frankenstein. His major work for the company includes his haunting work on the 1959 The Hound of the Baskervilles, his score for Joseph Losey's prescient The Damned, his gorgeous piano music for Kiss of the Vampire, and his sensuous main theme for She. But in addition to his work for Hammer, Bernard has a long career in classical music composition which helped him immeasurably as a composer of film scores.
Educated at Wellington College, Bernard met the eminent composer Benjamin Britten at age 17, when Britten was asked to judge a school music competition. Britten was impressed with young Bernard's work, and urged him to continue composing. In 1947, after service in the Royal Air Force, Bernard entered the Royal College of Music, again on the advice of Benjamin Britten. He studied composition under Herbert Howells, and then labored as Britten's assistant on his opera Billy Budd. Bernard said later that his work with Britten during this period refined his skill as an arranger and orchestrator.
In 1951, Bernard left Britten's employ, seeking freelance work as a composer to create his own reputation. He found work at the BBC, and John Hollingsworth conducted a number of Bernard's scores for the network. In 1954, Hammer hired Hollingsworth to work up a score for their forthcoming science-fiction film The Quatermass Experiment. Hollingsworth immediately asked Bernard to score the film, and it thus emerged as the first science-fiction/horror film from the studio that truly bore the stamp of all the major collaborators during Hammer's peak period. The enormous commercial and critical success of this film assured Bernard's reputation with the public, but it also effectively typed Bernard as primarily a composer of horror scores. This is unfortunate, since it led to his being only spottily employed since the time of Hammer's demise as a production organization. No one can deny, however, that Bernard has a musical sensibility which seems most at home in the gothic genre, and the best Bernard scores are brooding melancholic visions of a temporal world shot through with peril and temptation.
Bernard admits to a real affinity for the character of Dracula, although he, along with everyone else connected with that series of films, feels that the later Dracula films trailed off in quality. Bernard orchestrates all his own music, but leaves the conducting to others. His own favorite scores include The Devil Rides Out, the Dracula scores, and She. He writes all of his scores first on a piano, composing at his home in Chelsea, in a quiet room near the back of his house which is reserved for his work. He sees the film twice through altogether; then he likes to break the film down reel-by-reel, stopping during the projection to discuss cues with the film's musical director. According to Bernard, he writes his scores (40 to 50 minutes in length) in roughly four weeks, which is all that most producers will allow him. He builds each score "round two or three main themes, and perhaps one or two subsidiary themes. I do not give a theme to every character in the film—it would become much too complicated. In horror films, I am always pleased when there is an opportunity for a love-theme (as in Taste the Blood of Dracula), or at any rate something romantic, as a contrast to the main horror theme."
Some have accused Bernard of being too simplistic, repetitive, and insistent in his music, and one can see where this criticism is founded. Bernard's theme for Dracula, for example, is a very simple three-note signature (Drac-u-la) which repeats itself in the score at least 50 times during the course of the film. Bernard piles on the brass sections for the "shock" moments in some of his films, and he often borrows from himself, or uses some of his trademark "developmental" devices, such as repeating a main theme over and over while moving up or down in registers.
Yet, along with Bernard Robinson's settings, Jimmy Sangster's scripts, Terence Fisher's and Freddie Francis's direction, and the iconic presences of actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, James Bernard's music is an integral part of the Hammer vision, both commercially and artistically. His scores may lack the subtlety of Elizabeth Lutyen's work on such films as Freddie Francis's Paranoiac or Terence Fisher's The Earth Dies Screaming, but Bernard's brooding romanticism is an energetic and engaging component of many of Hammer's finest efforts.
—Wheeler Winston Dixon