Herrmann, Bernard

views updated May 18 2018

Bernard Herrmann

Composer, conductor

Music Translated Complex Emotions

Required Complete Control

Refused to Embrace Pop

Selected compositions

Selected discography


Bernard Herrmann is considered by some music critics to be the most important film composer in the history of the medium. For more than three and a half decades, he crafted scores that integrated music with the action of a movie, thereby making background tracks more than just an auditory diversion. Herrmann was also one of the few film composers to have worked steadily as a composer and conductor outside of cinema, servingamong other postsas guest conductor at the New York Philharmonic, Hallé Orchestra, and BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Herrmann is probably best known for his long association with esteemed motion picture director Alfred Hitchcock, having composed the scores to seven of his thrillers. Many of his works served as models for other film composers. In fact, Herrmanns chilling music for the shower scene in Hitchcocks legendary 1960 film Psycho may be the most imitated piece in the history of movie music; it provides an especially good example of his ability to capture the psychological and emotional intensity of movie action.

Although his parents demonstrated no particular musical talent, Herrmann revealed his at a young age. He won a prize for musical composition at 13 and after high school began training in composition and conducting. Developing his skills first at New York University and then with a fellowship at Juilliard Graduate School of Music, Herrmann studied with noteworthy teachers such as Philip James, Percy Grainger, and Albert Stoes-sel. While attending Juilliard, Herrmann wrote scores for ballets that were presented in the 1932 Broadway musical Americana.

Music Translated Complex Emotions

Around the age of 20, Herrmann established the New Chamber Orchestra, which performed concerts in New York City and at the Library of Congress. In 1934 he began a 25-year affiliation with the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS Radio), rising to the rank of chief conductor of the CBS Symphony Orchestra in 1942. On radio, Herrmann developed a reputation for airing programs of works by lesser known, progressive composers such as Charles Ives, Constant Lambert, Frederick Delius, and Arnold Bax.

As a composer, Herrmann began writing pieces that utilized just a few players and unusual mixes of instruments. This experience served him well when he first began writing music to be used in dramatic presentations. With his concert music, he displayed an aptitude for musically transmitting complex emotions and psychological

For the Record

Born June 29, 1911, in New York, NY; died of a heart attack, December 24, 1975, in Los Angeles, CA. Education: Attended New York University and Juilliard Graduate School of Music, 1931-32.

Wrote 61 film scores as well as opera and ballet music. Composed ballet pieces for Broadway musical Americana, 1932; founded and conducted the New Chamber Orchestra; became director of educational programs for CBS Radio, 1934; appointed composer of background radio music for CBS and conductor of the CBS Symphony Orchestra summer radio series, 1936; composed and conducted music for the Mercury Playhouse Theater; chief conductor of the CBS Symphony Orchestra, 1942-59; served as guest conductor at the New York Philharmonic, Hallé Orchestra, and BBC Symphony Orchestra; composed film scores, 1955-64, most notably for director Alfred Hitchcock; served as sound consultant on The Birds, 1963; wrote music for television shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Virginian.

Awards: Academy Award for best film score for The Devil and Daniel Webster (also known as All That Money Can Buy), 1941.

states. This skill is clearly evidenced in the highly individual music he wrote for works such as Moby Dick and Wuthering Heights.

A critical juncture in Herrmanns career came in the late 1930s when he began writing scores for radio broadcasts on Orson Welless Mercury Theater. Welles then asked the composer to score his 1941 cinematic masterpiece Citizen Kane. Realizing Herrmanns genius, Welles broke Hollywood precedent by allowing him on the set to gather ideas for his music. While watching the action, the composer made musical sketches that he later incorporated into the film score. Welles even cut his movie in order to accommodate some of Herrmanns musical sequences. The result was the first of a number of Academy Award nominations. Herrmann loved working on Citizen Kane; he once said, as quoted in Listening to the Movies, that the film was so unusual technically it afforded one many unique opportunities for musical experiments.

Herrmanns experience in composing radio scores served him well in the movies. One of his greatest assets was an extraordinary sense of timing that made it almost unnecessary for him to use cue marks for scoring passages in a film. Following up on his success with Citizen Kane, Herrmann proceeded to win the Academy Award for best score on his very next film, 1941s The Devil and Daniel Webster (also known as All That Money Can Buy). Before long he had gained notice for creating music that meshed ideally with film themes but was also worth listening to on its own.

Turning out yet another acclaimed score for Welless 1942 film The Magnificent Ambersons, Herrmann earned himself a spot in the highest ranks of movie composers. He was sometimes compared to other giants of movie music such as Miklos Rosza, who also had the ability to heighten the intensity of suspenseful scenes. Over the years, Herrmann became noted for his orchestral variety and short impressionistic phrases, which marked a contrast to the scores of more melodic film composers of the 1940s and 1950s, including Max Steiner and Victor Young. He often utilized shifts from major chords to minor chords in two-note themes, thereby creating a sense of foreboding.

Required Complete Control

Despite being in constant demand as a film composer, Herrmann limited his output to about one film score per year during his career. One of the few composers working in film who insisted on doing his own orchestrations, he required complete control over his music. Herrmann greatly resented any interference from both producers and directors; according to Listening to the Movies, he felt that producers of a film will pander in the score to the lowest common denominator, and added, If you were to follow the taste of most directors, the music would be awful.

Herrmann was very selective in his choice of instrumentation, always trying to find the perfect match for the emotion of a given scene. He continually experimented with instruments in his scoring and made the most of recording technology to heighten the sounds of certain instruments. His use of electric violin and electric bass in the 1951 sci-fi drama The Day the Earth Stood Still was one of the first times electronic music was implemented in a film score; soon other composers were following his precedent. While Herrmann often returned to musical themes he had used in previous films, he would frequently incorporate new orchestrations.

Herrmanns greatest fame as a film composer resulted from his association with Alfred Hitchcock. Once brought together, the pair maintained a relationship that spanned eight films over nine years. Although both men were uncompromising in their creative visions, they shared sensibilities that solidified their alliance. Donald Spoto wrote in The Dark Side of Genius that Hitchcock and Herrmann shared a dark, tragic sense of life, a brooding view of human relationships, and a compulsion to explore aesthetically the private world of the romantic fantasy.

Their partnership resulted in some of the most intense music ever heard in films, with Herrmann often using atonal devices to support the unique eeriness of Hitchcocks movies. He succeeded in sustaining the dream mode that pervades 1958s Vertigo and two years later crafted one of the scariest string compositions ever for Psycho. Herrmann also served as sound consultant on Hitchcocks 1963 frightfest The Birds and wrote music for the television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Refused to Embrace Pop

Creative differences over the score for Mamie, released in 1964, ended the collaborative relationship between Hitchcock and Herrmann. The director complained that Herrmann had not given him a pop song that he wanted for the film, and Herrmann shot back that he did not write pop music. While Herrmann had successes scoring fantasy films such as Fahrenheit 451 in the 1960s, his inability or unwillingness to shift into the pop direction, which was gaining favor at the time, caused a decline in his appeal. He moved to London in the mid-1960s and remained a resident of England for the rest of his life, working on both recording and composing.

Herrmanns style of music made a comeback in the 1970s, when he was hired to write scores for top directors such as Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese. Working relentlessly despite failing health and the warnings of doctors, Herrmann died on Christmas Eve of 1975, right after he had finished conducting the score for Scorseses Taxi Driver.

While Herrmann was highly critical of film music in general throughout his life, he scoffed at critics who thought it unworthy of serious composers. A film score will live longer than any other kind of music, he was quoted as saying in Listening to the Movies. Demonstrating a rare ability to capture and heighten shifts of emotion and mood in subtle yet effective ways, Bernard Herrmann may very well have been the most influential of all American film composers.

Selected compositions

Film scores

Citizen Kane, 1941.

The Devil and Daniel Webster (also known as All That Money Can Buy), 1941.

The Magnificent Ambersons, 1942.

Jane Eyre, 1944.

Anna and the King of Siam, 1946.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, 1947.

The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro, 1952.

The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1956.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, 1956.

A Hatful of Rain, 1957.

Vertigo, 1958.

The Naked and the Dead, 1958.

North by Northwest, 1959.

Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1959.

Psycho, 1960.

Cape Fear, 1962.

Mamie, 1964.

Fahrenheit 451, 1967.

Sisters, 1973.

Taxi Driver, 1976.


Currier and Ives (suite), 1935.

Nocturne and Scherzo, 1936.

Symphony No. 1, 1940.

Fiddle Concerto, 1940.

Moby Dick (cantata), 1940.

Johnny Appleseed (cantata), 1940.

Wuthering Heights (opera), 1941.

The Fantasticks (for vocal quartet and orchestra), 1944.

A Christmas Carol (opera for television), 1954.

Echoes (for string quartet), 1966.

Souvenirs de Voyage (clarinet quintet), 1967.

Selected discography

Bernard Herrmann, Decca, 1975.

The Mysterious Film World of Psycho, Unicorn, 1975.

Sisters, Entracte, 1975.

Taxi Driver, Arista, 1976.



The Faber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music, edited by Phil Hardy and Dave Laing, Faber, 1990.

Karlin, Fred, Listening to the Movies: The Film Lovers Guide to Film Music, Schirmer Books, 1994.

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Volume 8, edited by Stanley Sadie, Macmillan, 1980.

Slonimsky, Nicholas, Bakers Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, eighth edition, Schirmer Books, 1992.

Spoto, Donald, The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock, Little, Brown, 1983.

Thomas, Tony, Film Score: The Art & Craft of Movie Music, Riverwood Press, 1991.


Films in Review, June 1970; March 1976.

New York Times Magazine, March 28, 1976.

Ed Decker

Herrmann, Bernard

views updated May 21 2018


Composer. Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 29 June 1911. Education: Attended DeWitt Clinton High School and New York University; studied with Philip James, Bernard Wagenaar, and Albert Stoessel at Juilliard Graduate School, New York. Family: Married the writer Lucille Fletcher, 1939 (divorced). Career: 1931—organized New Chamber Orchestra; 1934–59—worked for CBS, as conductor, and composer (including music for Welles's Mercury Theater Playhouse), and, from 1940, chief conductor of the CBS Symphony Orchestra; also composer of orchestra and stage works; 1941—first score for film, Citizen Kane; also composer for TV. Awards: Academy Award, for All that Money Can Buy, 1941; British Academy Award, for Taxi Driver, 1976. Died: 24 December 1975.

Films as Composer:


Citizen Kane (Welles); All that Money Can Buy (The Deviland Daniel Webster; Here Is a Man; Daniel and the Devil)(Dieterle)


The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles) (co)


Jane Eyre (Stevenson)


Hangover Square (Brahm)


Anna and the King of Siam (Cromwell)


The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Mankiewicz)


Portrait of Jennie (Jennie) (Dieterle) (song)


The Day the Earth Stood Still (Wise); On DangerousGround (Ray)


Five Fingers (Mankiewicz); The Snows of Kilimanjaro(H. King)


White Witch Doctor (Hathaway); Beneath the 12-Mile Reef(Webb); King of the Khyber Rifles (H. King)


Garden of Evil (Hathaway); The Egyptian (Curtiz) (co);Prince of Players (Dunne); The Trouble with Harry(Hitchcock)


The Kentuckian (Lancaster); The Man Who Knew Too Much(Hitchcock) (+ bit ro)


The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (Johnson); The Wrong Man(Hitchcock)


A Hatful of Rain (Zinnemann); Williamsburg: The Story ofa Patriot (Seaton—short)


Vertigo (Hitchcock); The Naked and the Dead (Walsh); TheSeventh Voyage of Sinbad (Juran)


North by Northwest (Hitchcock); Blue Denim (Blue Jeans)(Dunne); Journey to the Center of the Earth (Levin)


Psycho (Hitchcock); The Three Worlds of Gulliver (Sher)


Mysterious Island (Endfield); Cape Fear (Lee Thompson);Tender Is the Night (H. King)


Jason and the Argonauts (Chaffey); The Birds (Hitchcock)(consultant)


Marnie (Hitchcock); Joy in the Morning (Segal)


Fahrenheit 451 (Truffaut)


La Mariée était en noir (The Bride Wore Black) (Truffaut)


Twisted Nerve (R. Boulting); Companion in Nightmare (Lloyd);Bitka na Neretvi (Battle of Neretva) (Bulajic—Englishversion)


The Night Digger (The Road Builder) (Reid)


Endless Night (Gilliat); Sisters (Blood Sisters) (De Palma)


It's Alive (Cohen)


Obsession (De Palma)


Taxi Driver (Scorsese)

Posthumous Films:


It Lives Again (Cohen)


It's Alive III: Island of the Alive (Cohen)


Cape Fear (Scorsese) (arranged by Elmer Bernstein)


By HERRMANN: articles—

"From Soundtrack to Disc," in Saturday Review of Literature (New York), 27 September 1947.

Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1971–72.

In Knowing the Score, by Irwin Baselon, New York, 1975.

In Film Score, edited by Tony Thomas, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1979.

In Sound and the Cinema, edited by Evan Cameron, Pleasantville, New York, 1980.

On HERRMANN: books—

Bruce, Graham, Bernard Herrmann: Film Music and Narrative, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1985.

Smith, Stephen C., A Heart at Fire's Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann, Berkeley, California, 1991.

Kalinak, Kathryn, Settling the Score: Music and the Classical Hollywood Film, Madison, Wisconsin, 1992.

Brown, Royal S., Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music, Berkeley, California, 1994.

On HERRMANN: articles—

Cook, Page, in Films in Review (New York), August/September 1967.

Films in Review (New York), June/July 1970.

Monthly Film Bulletin (London), November 1970, corrections in November 1972.

Special Visual Effects, Summer 1972.

National Film Theatre Booklet (London), June/July 1972.

Thomas, Tony, in Music for the Movies, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1973.

Dirigido por . . . (Barcelona), March 1974.

Steiner, Fred, in Film Music Notebook (Calabasas, California), Fall 1974.

Films in Review (New York), October 1974.

Ecran (Paris), September 1975.

Photon (New York), no. 27, 1976.

De Palma, Brian, in Take One (Montreal), vol. 5, no. 2, 1976.

Films in Review (New York), January 1976.

Skoop (Amsterdam), February 1976.

Film Français (Paris), 6 February 1976.

Films in Review (New York), March 1976.

Cinema Papers (Melbourne), March/April 1976.

Films in Review (New York), April 1976.

Focus on Film (London), Summer/Autumn 1976.

Broeck, John, "Music of the Fears," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1976.

Palmer, Christopher, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), October 1976, corrections in January 1980.

Positif (Paris), November 1976.

Maffet, James D., in Film Music Notebook (Calabasas, California), vol. 3, no. 1, 1977.

Film Music Notebook (Calabasas, California), vol. 3, no. 2, 1977.

Films Illustrated (London), April 1977.

Ecran Fantastique (Paris), no. 3, 1978.

Classic Film/Video Images, July 1980.

Soundtrack! (Hollywood), Spring 1981.

Filmcritica (Rome), June 1981.

Filmusic (Leeds), 1982.

Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Spring 1982.

Lacombe, Alain, in Hollywood, Paris, 1983.

Soundtrack! (Hollywood), September 1985.

Soundtrack! (Hollywood), vol. 5, no. 18, June 1986.

Soundtrack! (Hollywood), vol. 5, no. 19, September 1986.

Kalinak, K., "The Text of Music: A Study of The Magnificent Ambersons," in Cinema Journal (Champaign, Illinois), Summer 1988.

Palmer, Christopher, in The Composer in Hollywood, 1990.

Chanan, Michael, "American Rhapsodies," in Sight & Sound (London), November 1991.

Fischer, D., "Bernard Herrmann," in Soundtrack (Mechelen), September 1992.

Pool, Jeannie, "Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann: An Interview with Director Joshua Waletzky and Composer David Raskin," in Cue Sheet (Hollywood), Spring 1993–1994.

Landrot, Marine, "La musique qui tue," in Télérama (Paris), 1 December 1993.

Doherty, Jim, "Concert Works," in Soundtrack (Mechelen), June 1994.

* * *

Surely no film scores have inspired so many passionate admirers or so much detailed analysis as have those of Bernard Herrmann. Even the general public, asked to cite memorable "movie music," may think not only of tunes such as the title theme of Gone with the Wind (Max Steiner) or Breakfast at Tiffany's "Moon River" (Henry Mancini) but of the violin shrieks of Herrmann's Psycho score (or turning to television, his Twilight Zone theme). Arriving on the film scene to score Orson Welles's Citizen Kane, and reaching his greatest fame working for Alfred Hitchcock—a collaboration which produced in a row three of the director's and the composer's finest achievements, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho—the famously cantankerous Herrmann achieved little public recognition among his peers: he did receive an Oscar in 1941 but only two other nominations (in 1941 and 1946) until two more posthumous ones in 1976. Still, he was championed in his later years by a younger generation of major directors—François Truffaut, Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese—and is now one of the few composers of film music to be the subject of full-length book treatments (a biography and a critical study of his work).

Herrmann's first notes of music for the cinema—the portentous opening of Citizen Kane—already offer many characteristics of the Herrmann style: unusual orchestrations (e.g., low winds, vibraphone); unresolved chords that are not simply suspenseful in some melodramatic way but also create a brooding sense of time suspended; and melodic fragments (or what Graham Bruce calls cellular units rather than lengthier leitmotifs) that will later be developed. Herrmann worked closely with Welles on the project, rather than being brought in only on postproduction. Thus the two were able to achieve some virtuoso fusions of music and drama, as in the breakfast montage portraying the collapse of Kane's first marriage, in which the editing is done to match Herrmann's theme-and-variations, and in the opera-house scene, with Herrmann's French aria à la Massenet providing music that Susan is ill-equipped to sing, as well as a grandiosity that seems to mock Kane's ambitions.

A later 1940s score, one of Herrmann's personal favorites, for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, is superficially closer to standard Hollywood practice, but it too is suggestive of Herrmann's qualities as a whole. Mrs. Muir's first visit to the haunted cottage is scored with music that is, as one would expect, suspenseful, but again not crassly melodramatic or spooky: indeed, much of it is rather tender (befitting a wistful supernatural romance, as the film turns out to be), if not downright yearning. It is not melodic in the usual sense (such as, say, the tune for Laura), but its curious harmonic suspensions keep us in a state of suspension. The technique is essentially the same in Herrmann's score a few years later for The Day the Earth Stood Still, except of course for the electronic instruments giving a greater eeriness to that science fiction film. And we are not far from the moody music for investigative scenes in The Man Who Knew Too Much and Vertigo.

Herrmann worked in fewer genres than the majority of Hollywood veterans: chiefly dramas of suspense (including no less than eight about demented killers, and as many again about haunted or driven men) and more boisterous action-adventure tales, including a fantasy series beginning with The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. But there are consistencies in his style, beginning with a special attention to orchestration. Unlike most Hollywood composers (if one may use a term he detested), Herrmann always did his own orchestrations—one reason he was less prolific than many. There are characteristic Herrmann sounds and favorite instruments, e.g., clarinets in low register, French horns (nine used for the manhunt in On Dangerous Ground), and harps (again nine solo parts in Beneath the 12-Mile Reef). But equally characteristic is his experimentation with unusual sounds: the sonic palette reduced to strings for Psycho, no strings in Journey to the Center of the Earth, the contrabassoon-like serpent in White Witch Doctor. (For The Birds, he composed no music at all, but worked closely with Hitchcock to integrate electronic renditions of bird sounds into the drama.)

He is hardly the only composer, classical or popular, to use seventh chords extensively for a mood of suspense, tension, or irresolution; but few have used such unresolved chords as such a basic principle of musical organization, as studies of Herrmann's Hitchcock scores have demonstrated. Passages in Herrmann scores certainly hark back to classical music: the scene in Vertigo of Scottie waiting to see Judy transformed back into his lost Madeleine virtually quotes from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, and echoes of Ravel, Elgar, even Tchaikovsky (the love theme of North by Northwest), and others are common enough. Yet his particular choices of melodic fragments, harmonies, and orchestrations, all combined, make Herrmann one of the most readily identifiable of all soundtrack composers.

If one were to single out a Herrmann score as the composer's supreme achievement, a major contender would be the one forVertigo. Unforgettably passionate and yearning, sometimes nightmarish and other times coolly eerie, the music drenches the San Francisco Bay Area setting in varied moods and seems the very essence of the protagonist's obsessive love. But one could make a case for several others, including the score for Psycho, alternately conveying frantic desperation and a state of being frozen in time, or even the exuberant, witty North by Northwest. Herrmann may not have been responsible for a measurable "40 percent" of the success of Hitchcock's films, as the composer liked to boast, but his contributions to those films' astonishing sense of seamless artistic wholeness are incalculable.

Dismissed by Hitchcock in a disagreement over the soundtrack for Torn Curtain, Herrmann found himself less in demand in a world where pop or rock scores, with their lucrative soundtrack recording possibilities, were becoming the norm. One regrets that the composer did not live into an era, signaled by John Williams's work for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, when the orchestral score was again in high repute; but at least he did end his career with work for major films by De Palma and Scorsese. Perhaps the most fitting tribute to the composer, beyond the books devoted to him and his work, has been Scorsese's splendidly prominent use of Herrmann's 1961 score for Cape Fear in his 1991 remake.

—Joseph Milicia

Bernard Herrmann

views updated Jun 11 2018

Bernard Herrmann

Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) is perhaps the greatest composer of motion picture music in the twentieth century. He is best remembered for his dark, suspenseful, innovative musical scores, written for such celebrated film directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Francois Truffaut, and Martin Scorsese.

Herrmann composed some 50 original film scores over the course of his career. He became known as a master of psychological and emotional intensity, expressed through bold, dark compositions, often described as moody or brooding. He had a keen ear for creating a sense of foreboding, evoking an eerie, chilling atmosphere with haunting, atonal compositions that perfectly complemented the dialogue and visual imagery of the cinematic medium. Characteristic of his work is a simplicity of composition, made up of small, fragmentary musical units, used in repetition, and intentionally lacking melodic resolution. Herrmann's signature is the use of obsessive sounds, expressing the interior of a disturbed, often psychotic, mind. His brilliant sense of timing made for some of the scariest suspense music in the history of cinema. In the factory-like context of classic Hollywood film production, Herrmann managed to attain the almost unheard-of power to both orchestrate and conduct his own compositions. This allowed him a broad freedom to make use of unconventional and innovative instrumentalization, another signature of his work. He frequently used unusual instruments or unique combinations of instruments, sometimes adding to or eliminating whole orchestra sections, and was among the first film composers to utilize electronic instruments.

A Promising Young Musician

Herrmann (called "Benny" by his friends) was born on June 29, 1911, in New York City, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants Abraham Herrmann, an optometrist, and Ida Gorenstein. He grew up on New York's Lower East Side, where he attended DeWitt Clinton High School. Herrmann showed early promise in music, winning a $100 prize for composition at the age of 13. As a teenager, he was inspired by the music of Charles Ives, an innovative composer not widely recognized at that time. By the age of 18, he was playing violin in the local Yiddish theater.

Herrmann studied music at New York University and Juilliard Graduate School of Music. However, he quit school in 1932, before completing his degree. That year, Herrmann made his debut as a composer of ballets for the Broadway production of Schubert's Americana. At age 20, he founded and conducted the New Chamber Orchestra, which performed in New York and Washington, D.C. In 1933, the Young Composers Group performed a string quartet composed by Herrmann. He later worked as a guest conductor for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.


In 1934, Herrmann began his 25-year career as a conductor and composer for radio, working for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). He was chief conductor of the CBS Symphony Orchestra from 1940 until 1951, often championing the innovative compositions of many new composers, such as Ives (whom he befriended). Always interested in the work of lesser known or unknown composers, Herrmann hosted radio programs such as his "Music of Famous Amateurs" show, in which he conducted and broadcast performances of musical compositions by famous people—royalty, artists, writers, philosophers—who were not known for their musical talents. These included philosopher Frederick Nietzche, poet John Milton, and King Henry VIII. In another program, Herrmann broadcast the amateur compositions of high school students.

While at CBS, Herrmann worked with radio-play writer Orson Welles, composing scores for broadcasts of Welles' Mercury Theater program. He collaborated with Welles on the 1938 radio adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds —a broadcast which became infamous for having been so realistic that citizens throughout the Northeastern United States panicked, fearing that Martians had actually landed on earth in a hostile invasion.

Herrmann's live musical compositions included the cantata Moby Dick, performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1939. In 1941, Herrmann saw the live performance of a symphony he had composed. However, he was gravely disappointed that his opera Wuthering Heights was never performed during his lifetime.

Herrmann was married three times. He and his first wife, Lucille Fletcher, a writer, with whom he had two children, were married from 1939 until 1948. Their divorce was in part precipitated by the fact that Herrmann had fallen in love with his wife's cousin, Lucille Anderson, whom he married in 1949. His second divorce came in 1965. In 1967 he married the young Norma Shepherd, a journalist.


When Orson Welles, who was eventually recognized as one of the greatest film directors of all time, moved to Hollywood, he invited Herrmann to join him in working on his masterpiece first film, Citizen Kane (1940). Herrmann's role in the production was unique for that time, in that he was allowed to observe the filming of the movie, rather than merely composing the score after filming was completed. Welles actually edited one scene of the film in accordance with Herrmann's score, granting the composer a level of influence previously unheard of in Hollywood. Herrmann subsequently composed the score to Welles' next cinematic masterpiece, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).

Herrmann's talent for film composition was early recognized when he won an Academy Award for best musical score on All That Money Can Buy (1941; British title: The Devil and Daniel Webster ). In Hollywood, however, Herrmann also quickly earned a reputation as a short-tempered, hot headed, egotistical man, prone to explosive confrontations with friends and enemies alike. His widely respected musical genius outweighing his well-known personality flaws, Herrmann worked with many of the greatest directors of the classic film era, including: Michael Curtiz ( The Egyptian, 1954); Joseph L. Mankiewicz ( The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, 1947, and Five Fingers, 1952); Nicholas Ray ( On Dangerous Ground, 1950); Raoul Walsh ( The Naked and the Dead, 1958); and Robert Wise ( The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951), among others.

Herrmann's work in film represented a great innovation in motion picture musical composition, in contrast to such early masters as Max Steiner. He created expressive film scores that evoked the inner psychological state of the characters, rather than the conventional practice of film scoring which was literal and functional, or overblown and sentimental. As stated in the documentary film Bernard Herrmann (1992), "In the era when film music came into its own, Herrmann's work helped to shape our very idea about what music does for movies."


Herrmann, who had continued to live in New York, moved to Hollywood in 1951. His life-long ambition was to become a conductor of a live orchestra. He accepted his lot as a film music composer only after many disappointments in his efforts to compose and conduct for live musical performance. In the 1950s, Herrmann began what was to become an eleven-year long collaboration with master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock, for whom he scored eight films. His early works with Hitchcock include such successes as The Trouble with Harry (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1955), and The Wrong Man (1956). Herrmann's one cameo film appearance was as a conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra at Albert Hall, in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Herrmann's greatest film compositions, and his greatest works with Hitchcock, were Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960). The score to Vertigo is characterized by the repetitive, melodically unresolved sounds expressive of an obsessive mind. His most widely recognized score, however, is that of Psycho, about which Edward Johnson, in Bernard Herrmann (1977), observed: "For the first half of the film nothing much happens beyond a girl absconding with forty-thousand dollars—yet Herrmann's stark, jagged music, so redolent of Bartok and Stravinsky, is sufficient to grip the spectators in their seats, filling them with a nightmarish apprehension of the terror to come." In particular, the famous shower scene in Psycho, in which a woman is stabbed to death while she is taking a shower, is perhaps the most recognizable, and most widely imitated, of any piece of film music. For the score to Psycho, Herrmann used only string instruments. The short, repetitive, high-pitched bursts of sound, which accompany the rhythm of the knife stabbing repeatedly into the woman's body, call to mind the shrill shrieks of a bird in danger, birds being associated throughout the film with the killer, Norman Bates. French film director Claude Chabrol, in the documentary Bernard Herrmann (1992), said of the Psycho shower scene, "the music is like the gasps of a person who is relieving himself of an obsession."

Herrmann worked with Hitchcock as a sound consultant on The Birds (1963), which had no musical score, but utilized electronic sound effects to represent the sounds of birds. The last film they completed together was Marnie (1964). In 1966, however, one of the greatest film composers of all time and one of the greatest film directors of all time had a falling out, after which they never again spoke to one another. Hitchcock had hired Herrmann to score the music for Torn Curtain, but fired him before the job was completed, and replaced him with another composer. Hitchcock's cataclysmic decision was in part motivated by pressure from the studios to incorporate more pop music into film soundtracks, a change which the obstinate Herrmann was unwilling to make. Embittered by this experience, he did not work in Hollywood again until ten years later.

Herrmann's career included composing for television, such as the theme music for the series The Twilight Zone (1959), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962), and Lost in Space (1965), as well as special broadcasts and made-for-television movies.

In the mid-1960s, his Hollywood film career waning, Herrmann traveled frequently to England, finally moving to London in 1971. During this period, he composed for many British and European films, mostly in the thriller/suspense genre, including movies produced in France, Italy, Holland, West Germany, and Yugoslavia. Francois Truffaut, the avant-garde filmmaker of French New Wave cinema, employed Herrmann to score his films Fahrenheit 451 (1966), and The Bride Wore Black (1967). Herrmann also devoted his time to recording most of his original compositions on phonograph album collections. Since his death, more than ten albums of his recorded music, primarily his original film scores, have been released.

A New Generation of Filmmakers

In the 1970s, Herrmann was rediscovered by a new generation of young American directors. Brian de Palma hired him to compose scores for the horror/suspense films Sisters (1972; British title: Blood Sisters ), and Obsession (1975). He also scored the music for Larry Cohen's 1974 thriller It's Alive!

Herrmann's last film composition was for Taxi Driver (1976), directed by Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest directors of the American New Wave cinema. In the documentary Bernard Herrmann, Scorsese said of the effect of Herrmann's score on Taxi Driver (1975): "His music is like a vortex: it goes deeper and deeper and deeper. It has a feeling that it never comes to completion, and it starts all over again—just when you think it's finishing, it starts all over again. It's kind of like a whirlpool, a vortex, an emotional one, a psychological one—and it has deep psychological power."

Herrmann died of heart failure in his sleep, in New York City on December 24, 1975, just hours after completion of the sound editing for Taxi Driver, which was dedicated to his memory. At the 1977 British Academy Awards, he was posthumously granted the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music for Taxi Driver. Scorsese paid further homage to Herrmann when he used his score from the original Cape Fear (1961) in a 1991 remake. Several films by other directors posthumously applied Herrmann's film scores to new cinematic productions.


Bruce, Graham, Bernard Herrmann: Film Music and Narrative, UMI Research Press, 1985.

Contemporary Musicians, Gale Research, 1995.

Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television, The Gale Group, 2000.

Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 9: 1971-1975, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994.

International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 4: Writers and Production Artists, St. James Press, 1996.

Johnson, Edward, Bernard Herrmann: Hollywood's Music-Dramatist, Triad Press, 1977. □

Herrmann, Bernard

views updated Jun 11 2018

Herrmann, Bernard

Herrmann, Bernard, American conductor and composer; b. N.Y., June 29, 1911; d. Los Angeles, Dec. 24, 1975. He studied violin and began to compose as a child. At 16, he commenced formal training in composition with Gustav Heine, and then attended N.Y.U. (1929–30) where he studied with James (composition) and Stoessel (conducting). He subsequently continued his studies with the latter as a fellowship student at the Juilliard School of Music in N.Y. (1930–32), where he also studied with Wagenaar (composition and harmony). In 1932-33 he attended Grainger’s lectures at N.Y.U. In 1933 he organized the New Chamber Orch. in N.Y, and then in 1934 joined the staff of CBS in N.Y. working as an arranger, composer, and rehearsal conductor. In 1935 he became a staff conductor at CBS. As a composer, he found success with the various scores he wrote for such CBS programs as the “Columbia Workshop” (1937) and the “Mercury Theatre on the Air” (1938–39), where he was closely associated with Orson Welles. It was Welles who chose Herrmann to compose the score for his film Citizen Kane (1941), and thereafter Herrmann devoted much of his creative efforts in writing for films, with outstanding success. His score for the film All That Money Can Buy (1941) won him an Academy Award. From 1943 to 1951 Herrmann was chief conductor of the CBS Sym. Orch., with which he pursued a bold approach to programming. In addition to conducting broadcasts of early and rarely heard works, he also led programs of much contemporary music, ranging from Ives and Schoenberg to Elgar and Vaughan Williams. After leaving CBS, he made occasional guest conducting appearances but devoted most of his time to composing film scores and for television. Particularly outstanding were his film scores for Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960), and Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966). Throughout his career, Herrmann also composed serious works, generally along neo-Romantic lines.


dramatic: Film: Citizen Kane (1941); All That Money Can Buy (1941; also known as The Devil and Daniel Webster); The Magnificent Ambersons (1942); Jane Eyre (1943); Hangover Square (1945); Anna and the King of Siam (1946); The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947); Portrait of Jennie (1948; theme music only); The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951); On Dangerous Ground (1951); 5 Fingers (1952); The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952); White Witch Doctor (1953); Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953); King of the Khyber Rifles (1953); Garden of Evil (1954); The Egyptian (1954; in collaboration with A. Newman); Prince of Players (1954); The Trouble with Harry (1955); The Kentuckian (1955); The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956); The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956); The Wrong Man (1956); Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot (1956); A Hatful of Rain (1957); Vertigo (1958); The Naked and the Dead (1958); The 7th Voyage ofSinbad (1958); North by Northwest (1959); Blue Denim (1959); Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959); Psycho (1960); The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960); Mysterious Island (1961); Tender Is the Night (1962); Cape Fear (1962); Jason and the Argonauts (1963); The Birds (1963); Mamie (1964); Joy in the Morning (1965); Torn Curtain (1966); Fahrenheit 451 (1966); The Bride Wore Black (1968); Twisted Nerve (1968); The Night Digger (1971); The Battle of Neretva (1971); Endless Night (1971); Sisters (1972); It’s Alive (1974); Obsession (1976); Taxi Driver (1976). OTHER: Ballet music for Americana Revue (1932); The Skating Rink, ballet (1934); ballet music for the play The Body Beautiful (1935); Wuthering Heights, opera (1943-51; recorded 1966; stage premiere in a drastically cut version, Portland, Ore., Nov. 6, 1982); The King of Schnorrers, musical comedy (1968; East Haddam, Conn., April 17, 1970). Also many radio scores; television music, including the operas A Christmas Carol (CBS-TV, Dec. 23, 1954) and A Child Is Born (CBS-TV, Dec. 23, 1955). ORCH.: The Forest, tone poem (1929); November Dusk, tone poem (1929; also known as Late Autumn); Marche Militaire for Chamber Orch. (1932); Orchestral Variations on “Deep River” and “Water Boy” (1933); Prelude to “Anathema” for Chamber Orch. (1933); Aubade for Chamber Orch. (1933; also known as Silent Noon); The City of Brass, symphonic poem (1934); Nocturne and Scherzo (1935); Sinfonietta for Strings (1935); Currier and Ives, suite (1935); Violin Concerto (1937; unfinished); Sym. (1939-41; CBS, July 27, 1941); The Devil and Daniel Webster, suite after the film All That Money Can Buy (1942); For the Fallen (N.Y., Dec. 16, 1943); Welles Raises Kane, suite (1943). CHAMBER: Twilight, pastoral for Violin and Piano (1929); Aria for Flute and Harp (1932); String Quartet (1932); Echoes for String Quartet (1965; also as the ballet Ante Room, 1971); Souvenirs de Voyage, clarinet quintet (1967). VOCAL: Moby Dick, cantata for Soloists, Men’s Chorus, and Orch. (1937-38; N.Y, April 11, 1940); Johnny Appleseed, cantata for Soloists, Chorus, and Orch. (1940; unfinished); The Fantasticks, song cycle for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, Chorus, and Orch. (1942); songs.


E. Johnson, B. H: Hollywood’s Music Dramatist (London, 1977); G. Bruce, B. H.: Film Music and Narrative (Ann Arbor, 1985); S. Smith, A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music ofB. H. (Berkeley, 1991).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Herrmann, Bernard

views updated May 18 2018

Herrmann, Bernard (b NY, 1911; d Hollywood, 1975). Amer. composer and conductor. Founder-cond. New Chamber Orch. 1931–4. Mus. dir. CBS 1934–40, cond.-in-chief CBS SO 1942–59. Champion of Ives's mus. and also of Eng. composers—not only Elgar and Vaughan Williams, but Rubbra, Brian, Bax, Cecil Gray, and Cyril Scott. Also an enthusiast for Raff. Lived in London for several months each year. Wrote 49 film scores, several of them for Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, 1941; The Magnificent Ambersons, 1942) and Hitchcock (North by Northwest, 1959; Psycho, 1960). Among his other film scores were Jane Eyre (1943); Anna and the King of Siam (1946); The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947); The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952); The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956); Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959); Fahrenheit 451 (1966); Sisters (1972); and Taxi Driver (1976). He used electric vn. and electric bass in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), one of the first examples of elec. mus. in films. His opera Wuthering Heights and other comps. have an expressive and lyrical warmth which compensate for some lack of originality. Comps. incl.:OPERAS: Wuthering Heights (1943–51); A Christmas Carol, TV (1954); A Child is Born, TV (1955).ORCH.: sym. No.1 (1939–41); vn. conc. (unfinished, 1937); For the Fallen (1943); Suite, The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941); Welles Raises Kane (1942); Sinfonietta, str. (1935).CHORAL: Moby Dick, cantata for 2 ten., 2 basses, male ch., and orch. (1937–8); Johnny Appleseed (1940).CHAMBER MUSIC: str. qt. (1932); Echoes for str. qt. (1965); Aubade, 14 instr. (retitled Silent Noon) (1933); Souvenirs de Voyage, cl. quintet (1967).

Herrmann, Bernard

views updated May 29 2018


HERRMANN, BERNARD (1911–1975), U.S. composer and conductor. Born in New York City, Herrmann studied at New York University and the Juilliard School of Music with Percy Grainger, Philip James, and Bernard Wagenaar. He composed music for radio, and became one of the world's most famous composers of film scores (40 scores between 1941 and 1966), notably for Orson Welles (Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons) and Alfred Hitchcock, including Psycho, in which he displayed new sensitivity and dramatic understanding of the medium. His other works include Moby Dick (1937), a dramatic cantata for male chorus, soloists, speakers, and large orchestra; the operas Wuthering Heights (1951), A Christmas Carol (1954), and A Child is Born (1955); a musical, The King of Schnorrers (1970); many orchestral works; and a string quartet, Echoes. As a conductor, Herrmann took special interest in little-known works (his championship of Charles Ives is noteworthy in this respect) and made many recordings. He spent the last 10 years of his life in England, continuing conducting and composing.


Grove online; E. Johnson: Bernard Herrmann: Hollywood's Music-Dramatist (1977); S.C. Smith: A Heart at Fire's Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann (1991)

[Max Loppert /

Israela Stein (2nd ed.)]

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