The Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock collaboration

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Tarantella
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The Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock collaboration

Post by Tarantella » Thu Sep 19, 2013 3:18 am

Recently I've been listening again to Herrmann's scores for "Vertigo" and "Fahrenheit 451" and they are both utterly sublime. The latter music is very much the superior of the film and "The Suite from Fahrenheit 451" is quite regularly placed on concert hall programs - and with very good reason: it's a fabulous work. Herrmann's other film music, in particular "Marnie", is of a very high order of excellence. I happen to believe Bernard Herrmann was the greatest composer of film music who ever lived.

Let me draw your attention to this heart-breaking music from "Fahrenheit 451". This is not a Hitchcock film but I use this to demonstrate Herrmann's art and to 'explain' Hitchcock's fondness for this composer's music. This is not merely affecting, romantic music but brilliant orchestration in a score which is elsewhere full of unusual instruments and very different musical styles, but it's never merely eclectic:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rah6QNYV2fw

In his book, "Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music", Berkeley, UCalPress, 1994, Royal S. Brown says of the Hitchcock/Herrmann collaboration:

"Hitchcock's visuals and Herrmann's music, though not entirely avoiding merger within the surface narrative of 'Psycho', are so strong in their own right that they acquire a certain amount of independence that will, at the very least, raise the aesthetic consciousness of many viewers. Indeed, the degree to which Hitchcock's and Herrmann's respective arts do NOT merge within the surface narrative is the degree to which their dialectical, nonmerged interaction can actually enchance the aesthetic impact of each separate art"(32).

First, the music for "Vertigo". (Click on 50"23' to the Love Scene, track 13, and hear the glorious surging melody based on the Tristan chords and which accompanied the now-famous 360 degree pan): but first the opening titles music

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kC5AzFc3coo

Both image and music can exist independently in the audience consciousness to the extent that audiences are compelled to admire BOTH, separately and together, during the film. Brown further argues that Herrmann's music for Hitchcock's films transcend readings of cultural and bourgeois myths which are contained in the cinematic arts.

With his non-thematic devices, Herrmann had been, very early in his career, heading toward a more nearly pure film-music genre that would not cut across the grain of inherently cinematic procedures. The composer obviously sensed that he would have to further stifle Western music's natural tendency to organize itself into "diachronically elaborated blocks" (Brown) in order not to 'gild the lily' of Hitchcock's ingeniously organized filmic coherence or to cut into their effectiveness by setting up conflicting movements between music and film. Instead, he devised a chordal language that simultaneously has major and minor implications. With this, and with the long stretches where no harmonic resolution takes place - so that the harmonic colours stand even more strongly on their own and so that the viewer/listener remains suspended - Herrmann created a vertical synchronicity. You can hear this in the unresolved dominant 7ths in the "Vertigo" example, which sets up a strong 'opposition' to Hitchcock's horizontally conceived synchronicity - part of what "Hitch" described as "pure cinema" - but yet which also supports the thematic concerns of the film.

There's a paradox here: Herrmann's music and a Hitchcock film work independently but exist in an entirely symbiotic relationship.

This is Shakespeare's "two households: both alike in dignity".
Last edited by Tarantella on Wed Oct 02, 2013 5:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

John F
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Re: The Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock collaboration

Post by John F » Thu Sep 19, 2013 6:50 am

Remarkable timing. This week the New York Philharmonic is playing programs of film music before its regular season starts, and Tuesday and Wednesday were devoted to Hitchcock. The program:

Murray - Selections from To Catch a Thief

Herrmann - Selections from Vertigo

Tiomkin - Selections from Strangers on a Train

Gounod - Funeral March of a Marionette
(theme music for his weekly TV show)

Tiomkin - Selections from Dial M for Murder

Herrmann - Selections from North by Northwest

Hitchcock wasn't wedded to one composer as, for example, Steven Spielberg has been to John Williams, but he did come back to Bernard Herrmann.
John Francis

Tarantella
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Re: The Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock collaboration

Post by Tarantella » Thu Sep 19, 2013 12:27 pm

Excellent!

Hitchcock poorly understood the power of Herrmann's music and how integral this was to the success of his films. Only much later did he realize what a potent combination was "Benny's" music to his particular films. And "Benny" Herrmann was, in many ways, his own worst enemy - a man who was dreadfully difficult to get along with! Imagine thinking anybody had a bigger ego than Alfred Hitchcock. But he did influence the film-maker significantly and was able to convince "Hitch" that the famous shower scene should definitely have music.

Tarantella
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Re: The Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock collaboration

Post by Tarantella » Sun Nov 03, 2013 3:00 pm

Here's an excellent site for anybody interested in learning more about the magnificent (film) music of Bernard Herrmann:

http://www.bernardherrmann.org/

Tarantella
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Re: The Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock collaboration

Post by Tarantella » Wed Nov 06, 2013 10:44 pm

I'm researching a 100 minute musical lecture for next year on Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock which I've called "Herrmann and Hitchcock: A Terrifying Partnership". I'm currently reading "A Heart at Fire's Center: The life and Music of Bernard Herrmann", Steven C. Smith, UCalPress, 1991, and I wanted to share this gem of an anedote about "Benny's" first forays into composition:

"NY School of Music was the place where when I showed the first songs I ever wrote - they were laughed at and torn up by the bastard that (sic) ran the place, Dr. Hearn. There they made fun of my interest in music. And brought in other children - to show me what real talent was. There they showed me what real pupils in harmony did - and there the sour German teacher of the violin hit me with the violin bow - because I would not play the piece of garbage he gave me to learn - it was called "When Knighthood Was in Flower" by Lange. I asked(ed) to be allowed to play the selections from 'Der Freischsutz'. How he laughed at me and hit me with his violin bow - but I would not play that lousy piece - and wanted only the Weber piece. He than slapped me hard - and I took my violin and broke (it) square over his head - and ran (out) of the building never to return again...

The songs I showed - and felt so proud of - were settings of Heine. I shall never forget or forgive the laughter and the derision that they were received in. I suppose my hatred of the place is still there - waiting to be revenged
".(13)

Steven Smith writes that "hampering Benny's school years was his social awkwardness with other children. His scholarly demeanor typed him early as a bespectacled, uncoordinated bookworm." Smith goes on to suggest that "their taunting abuse left deep scars, shaping Herrmann's artistic empathy with the outcast and strange that would serve him well in later dramatic scores".(13)

No wonder Bernard Herrmann grew into a very difficult man!!

John F
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Re: The Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock collaboration

Post by John F » Thu Nov 07, 2013 6:42 am

I'd never heard of the New York School of Music so I looked it up. Despite the Empire State Building in the school's logo, it's based in Walden, NY - upstate, near Poughkeepsie - and seems to be about rock music these days. Unless that's a different school with the same name.
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Tarantella
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Re: The Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock collaboration

Post by Tarantella » Thu Nov 07, 2013 10:13 am

The Herrmann family lived in New York and Benny frequented the NY Public Library on 23rd Street. He wrote the anecdote in question in a letter to his first wife, dated 1948. I gather this was a musical high school since the author refers earlier, regarding Herrmann's comments, to "his perception of his school days". The quote from Herrmann's letter does specifically mention the "other children" and it is doubtful that a 'music school' student's attempt at composition would be the subject of derision by the other students.

His formal training as a composer started elsewhere while he was still a student at that school at the instigation, ironically, of a non-musical teacher, who contacted Mr. Herrmann to comment on his son's musical intensity and creative proclivities!! When he was 16 years old he started at DeWitt Clinton High School. But I quoted directly from the book when it said "N.Y School of Music". The 'confusion' with a tertiary music school must be the composers, since it came from one of his letters!! Needless to say, it reveals Bernard Herrmann as an awkward outsider, bookish, not at all good-looking and with seething resentments.

John F
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Re: The Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock collaboration

Post by John F » Thu Nov 07, 2013 12:57 pm

Oh, I wasn't questioning Herrmann's recollection of his childhood, including the name of the school. I was just curious about it. Schools do move and change their names; the Institute of Musical Art, formerly at 122nd Street and Broadway, is now the Juilliard School on 65th Street next to Lincoln Center, and now includes theatre and dance in its offerings, while its old campus is now occupied by the Manhattan School of Music. (Musical chairs.)
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Re: The Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock collaboration

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Nov 07, 2013 8:56 pm

John F wrote:I'd never heard of the New York School of Music so I looked it up. Despite the Empire State Building in the school's logo, it's based in Walden, NY - upstate, near Poughkeepsie - and seems to be about rock music these days. Unless that's a different school with the same name.
I also have never heard of that school, which is the more remarkable because my high school teams played the teams from the Walden school (Valley Central), which is in Orange County on the west side of the Hudson and nowhere near Poughkeepsie in Dutchess County on the east side. The difference is more pronounced considering the limited number of crossings where the Hudson is at a great expanse; "as the crow flies" does not apply. Of course I wouldn't expect someone who manages his own form of crossing the mighty Hudson (halfway, anyway) most days of the week to appreciate the difference. ;) :)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Tarantella
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Re: The Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock collaboration

Post by Tarantella » Wed Nov 13, 2013 1:43 am

I'm reading the most interesting things about the music scene in the 1930's in the book on Bernard Herrmann, "The Heart at Fire's Centre". He was a difficult but very erudite man who championed the music of Charles Ives when absolutely nobody wanted to know him. Also, Herrmann belonged to a Young Composers Group comprising Jerome Moross (later a film composer), Morton Gould and others and the group was started by Aaron Copland. There was much argument and bickering and jealousy and eventually the group folded. But I'm learning so much about the vital years at the beginning of Columbia Broadcasting and radio and their adventurous and often avant-garde programming of music. "Benny" Herrmann was able to convince Judson that there should be 'contemporary music' made available to the American public and his argument was, "just because you're ignorant about contemporary music doesn't mean other Americans are!". To his great credit the man let Benny run such a program. Who'd have thought radio was so progressive in the 1930's. I'm loving this book!!

I've been away with my sister on the Queensland Gold Coast (sun, surf and high-rise) and have caught up on on all my reading. More later, if anyone is interested in this music scene and it's population of future stars (including Gershwin)!!

John F
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Re: The Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock collaboration

Post by John F » Wed Nov 13, 2013 1:51 am

Does Nicolas Slonimsky get much mention in the book? He was another early Ives champion and did much for contemporary music, mainly in the east. A real character, Slonimsky was.
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Tarantella
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Re: The Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock collaboration

Post by Tarantella » Wed Nov 13, 2013 4:09 am

He most certainly was and he was from St. Petersburg. Herrmann befriended him, along with just about every other important person in music at that time. And he detested Toscanini and Mengelberg because they stuck to 19th century repertoire and were musically conservative and 'unadventurous'!! Herrmann was a difficult man but, you know, I'm sure I would have liked him.

I'll have a closer look back at those chapters to find other notable music figures. Trust you, John, to know all about this!!! It's a pleasure to be here on CMG with such erudition - occasional disagreements notwithstanding!!!

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Re: The Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock collaboration

Post by John F » Wed Nov 13, 2013 4:44 am

In their youth, Toscanini and Mengelberg were right up to date with the music of their time. Toscanini conducted the world premieres of "Pagliacci," "La Boheme," "La Fanciulla del West," "Turandot," and Boito's "Nerone," the latter two in the 20th century, as well as quite a lot of forgotten Italian modern music. Also the American premiere of Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony, as I've commented on in another thread. Mengelberg was the dedicatee of "Ein Heldenleben" and conducted Mahler cycles during Mahler's lifetime - indeed, Mahler came to Amsterdam several times to conduct - while also giving a hearing to Dutch composers, who are even more obscure than Toscanini's Italians. There's a Mengelberg broadcast recording of Bartok's violin concerto with Zoltan Szekely. But neither had any use for the modernist avant-garde, Webern and such, so maybe that's what Herrmann had against them. That, and their not conducting any of his own music. :mrgreen:
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Tarantella
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Re: The Bernard Herrmann/Alfred Hitchcock collaboration

Post by Tarantella » Wed Nov 13, 2013 5:26 am

The author, Steven Smith, says that Herrmann admired Toscanini more than he was willing to admit. I think you're right, though, about the diversity of works presented by Mengelberg and Toscanini and that it was probably resentment (and, by God, Herrmann was good at THAT) that caused Herrmann to feel antipathy towards successful conductors. These feelings of resentment found expression where they were simply unwarranted - towards friends, colleagues and others. The broad sweep of criticism against the musical 'establishment' in general was directed towards high profile conductors because they were easy targets. One of the criticisms about Toscanini is that he made the music sound superficial and it was played way too quickly!! Bernard Herrmann used to sit in on Mengelberg's rehearsals at Carnegie Hall (I think it was) until he was 'sprung' and finally allowed to be there legitimately. He and a friend "broke into" the hall, scores in hand, to listen and watch. This was in the late 1920's when he was still at school.

And it also occurs to me (that's why I've come back and edited this post).....how WOULD any biographer know enough about his/her subject to actually suggest he (or anyone) "admired Toscanini (or anybody else) more than he was willing to admit"? Smith provides no 'evidence' for this statement.

This issue arose recently on another messageboard when somebody (who is a psychologist) heavily criticized Maynard Solomon because of his psychological 'readings' of Beethoven, based on his understanding of the composer's behaviours and attitudes. Is there scope for this kind of thing in biography?

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