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June 29: Hitchcock’s Composer

June 29, 2014

bernard-herrmann5The composer of scores for Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho, North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo, Bernard Herrmann (Max Herman) was born in New York on this date in 1911. Herrmann joined the Columbia Broadcasting System as a staff conductor in his twenties and became music director of the Columbia Workshop, an experimental radio drama series, and then chief conductor for the CBS Symphony Orchestra. In that role, he introduced many new works to the American public, most notably Charles Ives’ music. Herrmann also composed the scores for Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, and such classic films as The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Farenheit 451, Cape Fear, and Taxi Driver — as well as for many television programs, including The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Have Gun — Will Travel. Herrmann was an innovator in his use of electronic instruments (theramin, Moog synthesizer), strings (used exclusively in Psycho), human whistling, and elements of orchestration, and has been cited as a major influence by George Martin, Elmer Bernstein, John Zorn, and numerous other composers. To see and hear his music at work in a wordless kissing scene from Vertigo, look below.

“In orchestrating the picture I avoided, as much as possible, the realistic sound of a large symphony orchestra. The motion picture soundtrack is an exquisitely sensitive medium, and with skillful engineering a simple bass flute solo, the pulsing of a bass drum, or the sound of muted horns, can often be more effective than half a hundred musicians sawing away.” —Bernard Herrmann