Film Music of Bernard Herrmann

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Tarantella
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Film Music of Bernard Herrmann

Post by Tarantella » Sat Nov 16, 2013 5:30 am

I'm reading "A Heart at Fire's Center - The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann" and this was mentioned in the thread prior to this one. Some very interesting information is coming out of the book regarding film music in general and I'd like to quote some of it:

"By 1940, in the 40-odd years since the Lumiere Brothers first matched their flickering images of trains and workhouses with a piano accompaniment, film music had evolved from slipshod blending of popular tunes and sound effects to a highly polished, if often uninspired, medium. Early patchwork scores like Joseph Carl Briel's for D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" (which cribbed from Liszt, Verdi, Beethoven, Wagner and Tchaikovsky for this tale of the American south) were joined by original works such as Edmund Meisel's scores for Eisenstein's "Potemkin" (1925) and "October" (1928).

The early 1930s saw the beginning of true innovation in the field: in the Soviet Union, Prokofiev's score for "Lieutenant Kije" (followed by his collaborations with Eisenstein on "Alexander Nevsky" and "Ivan the Terrible"; in Britain, scores by William Walton ("Escape Me Never", 1935) and Arthur Bliss ("Things to Come", 1935); and in America, the earliest masterpieces of Max Steiner ("King Kong", 1933, "The Informer", 1934), Alfred Newman ("Street Scene", 1931), Franz Waxman ("The Bride of Frankenstein", 1935) and Erich Wolfgang Korngold ("Captain Blood", 1935).

Film has a fabulous musical history and (let's put on one special pedestal the great Prokofiev) many of these composers were very good indeed - and most of the music (apart from some obvious exceptions) was far better than the films for which they were scored.

John F
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Re: Film Music of Bernard Herrmann

Post by John F » Sat Nov 16, 2013 8:30 am

I knew Prokofiev's suite from his music for "Lieutenant Kije" but had never seen the movie - until I found it on YouTube! As with "Alexander Nevsky," there's a good deal more music in the movie than in the concert work, and there are other differences. The movie's worth watching in its own right.

John Francis

Tarantella
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Re: Film Music of Bernard Herrmann

Post by Tarantella » Sat Nov 16, 2013 2:00 pm

Hopefully the film has now been fully restored. The Direction looks straight out of the Eisenstein montage model!! And the split screen has been used, as yet, unsuccessfully because the second image is blurred. The sound system seems inferior to that used in the USA but I'll try and find out which one they used.

I haven't seen all the Eisenstein films either, only "Potemkin" and parts of "Ivan". But Eisenstein's aesthetic is absolutely marvellous - his well-recognized use of "montage" greatly inspired cinema thereafter. He was a pioneering genius. And it does show that the USSR was right there at the forefront, despite or because of Communism.

Tarantella
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Re: Film Music of Bernard Herrmann

Post by Tarantella » Wed Nov 20, 2013 12:18 am

Another delicious anecdote about Bernard Herrmann, this time quoting a friend (Louis Kaufman, concertmaster of the RKO Orchestra):

"Benny was also rebellious against things he felt weren't right, and he would express himself very clearly. He offended many people in high circles, for example, with his criticisms of Toscanini: 'He's set music back fifty years', he'd say. 'Look at his programs - he only plays works by the husbands of the women he slept with in Italy'".

But he also says of Herrmann, "When he was with someone like Norman Corwin or ourselves - someone he knew, who shared his interests and understood him - Benny was absolutely marvelous".

It's true isn't it: sometimes a person can be very difficult, or idiosyncratic, with lots of people but there will always be those few who understand him/her and appreciate his/her qualities.

John F
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Re: Film Music of Bernard Herrmann

Post by John F » Wed Nov 20, 2013 1:14 am

My goodness, did Herrmann ever say anything positive? Or true? Toscanini's broadcasts with the NBC Symphony Orchestra included music by Barber, Copland, Creston, Gershwin, Gillis, Griffes, Herrmann's Hollywood colleague Ferde Grofé, Harris, Loeffler, and Siegmeister, just to name 20th century American composers. As for his slander against the Italians whose music Toscanini conducted, who included Busoni, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Puccini, and Rieti and whose music is still performed by non-Italians, it's mere spitefulness. Maybe Herrmann is one of those artists about whose private life it's best to know as little as possible. :)
John Francis

Tarantella
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Re: Film Music of Bernard Herrmann

Post by Tarantella » Wed Nov 20, 2013 5:53 am

John F wrote:My goodness, did Herrmann ever say anything positive? Or true? Toscanini's broadcasts with the NBC Symphony Orchestra included music by Barber, Copland, Creston, Gershwin, Gillis, Griffes, Herrmann's Hollywood colleague Ferde Grofé, Harris, Loeffler, and Siegmeister, just to name 20th century American composers. As for his slander against the Italians whose music Toscanini conducted, who included Busoni, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Puccini, and Rieti and whose music is still performed by non-Italians, it's mere spitefulness. Maybe Herrmann is one of those artists about whose private life it's best to know as little as possible. :)
Spitefulness? Undoubtedly that. And insecurity - he was the product of a marriage of two unlikely individuals; a father who was an emigre Jewish optician (and he loathed religion!) and an uneducated mother and they both fought all the time. People learn to behave in ways they have been taught and Benny Herrmann's upbringing was an unlikely mixture of culture (his father, who encouraged them all to play musical instruments, read and learn) and the house was the scene of total chaos (described as being like the film, "You Can't Take it With You"). But combativeness was part of the domestic environment so I don't think we need to look too far to find the causes. And Benny felt, at school, that he wasn't as appreciated as much as he was (by his father) at home!! Family dynamics: sheesh!!

You may be right about suggesting the private life is best avoided, but I cannot resist biographies because of the cultural milieu and famous characters who populate many of these studies. In this case I'm interested in how the music of Herrmann took shape and what were its major influences. Seems he felt antipathy towards many famous people and this ultimately was significant when it came to the inevitable break with Hitchcock!! You know, truth IS stranger than fiction.

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