Greetings! ScoreKeeper here to simply say, "Happy 100th Birthday Mr. Herrmann."
I consider Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) to be the greatest film composer who ever lived. His score for VERTIGO (1958) remains, in my opinion, the greatest film score ever written. However to only look at this single score would rob you of a lifetime of jaw-droppingly amazing film music. You could just as easily slot in PSYCHO (1960), NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959), THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) or perhaps even THE GHOST AND MRS, MUIR (1947).
Herrmann traversed many stages throughout his career. He scored over three hundred radio dramas for Orson Welles before making the jump to film with CITIZEN KANE (1941). He defined the enigmatic sound of sci-fi scores with his revolutionary and oft-aped music for THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951). Herrmann's notes helped bring Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion creations to life in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER (1960), MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961), and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963). Already a titan, Herrmann then segued into god-like immortality when he paired up with Alfred Hitchcock for THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY (1955). When Herrmann's career waned a new crop of young filmmakers including Brian DePalma and Martin Scorcese breathed new vitality into the aging composer resulting in scores for SISTERS (1973), OBSESSION (1976) and TAXI DRIVER (1976).
One of the most influential individual pieces of film music I've ever encountered in my filmmusic-loving life is "Carlotta's Portrait" from VERTIGO. The first time I saw this scene it completely changed the way I view, listen to, and evaluate music in film. It is an exemplar of the consummate marriage between aural and visual mediums. I believe it's one of the single most perfectly scored scenes in the history of cinema.
And then you have the uber-famous shower sequence from PSYCHO (1960). Where would horror filmmaking be today without this treasure? The scene that Herrmann scored despite Hitchcock's earnest desire to remain un-scored represents what is arguably Herrmann's crowning achievement. There is a super-elite group of composers who have written music for film bequeathed with an honor so extraordinary that few have ever attained such status. These musical compositions transcend their visual film medium and enter a higher realm of cultural consciousness. You might never have seen PSYCHO or remember its famous score but practically every person in America (the world?) knows what it means when you slash your fist in the air accompanied with high-pitched screeching noises. It sports a cultural weight and significance that far supersedes its context.
Another such example would be John Williams' score for JAWS (1975). Go to a pool or a beach somewhere in America and you'll soon find kids singing the two note shark motive while chasing their friends in the water. It's a ubiquitous part of our cultural lexicon.
There are no words which can adequately do justice to what this man has accomplished as a film composer. Herrmann was man of music and his preferred language of choice. Let's all celebrate the 100th anniversary of Bernard Herrmann's birth by treating our souls to the masterfully composed music he left behind.
Which one will you pick?
Here are few more resources to celebrate this momentous occasion:
The amazing Jon Burlingame wrote up a great article in Variety.
Even the Wall Street Journal couldn't escape Herrmann's mighty talents.
Here's a really cool timeline of Herrmann's life provided by WQXR in New York City.
There's an excellent documentary produced a while back called MUSIC FOR THE MOVIES: BERNARD HERRMANN that's available on DVD.
Finally, if you're interested in reading more about this amazing composer I highly recommend Stephen C. Smith's "A HEART AT FIRE'S CENTER: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann." One of my favorite books of all time!
Happy 100th Birthday Mr. Herrmann!
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