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ScoreKeeper Wishes Bernard Herrmann a Happy 100th!!

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: Video and Slideshow

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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Readers Talkback
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  • June 29, 2011, 11:23 a.m. CST



    No need to say anything else. This man was a MASTER.

  • June 29, 2011, 11:25 a.m. CST

    Wow, hard to believe he's been gone that long.

    by Cletus Van Damme

  • June 29, 2011, 11:31 a.m. CST

    Vertigo is tops

    by Lao_Che_Air_Freight

    Maltese Falcon, Raiders, and Vertigo - My 3 favorite films of all time.

  • He's a big admirer of Herrman's.

  • It seemed too all over the place--from romantic to menacing to romantic again to noirish--the first couple times I watched it. Over time, though, I came to realize that it was appropriate for capturing the spirit of New York at the time, not to mention Travis himself.

  • June 29, 2011, 11:45 a.m. CST

    Paging Mr. Herrmann, Mr. Herrmann...

    by Nasty In The Pasty

  • Hitchcock is a master - without doubt - one of my all time favorites - but his work would be lessened by the removal of Herrmann's superb scores. To most people the iconic Hitch moment is the Psycho shower scene - try watching it again with the sound muted. And it's really the simplicity of an atonal repetitive violin. Vertigo is unmatchable. Again it's Herrmann's score keeping the spine of the film running. Taxi Driver - incredible. Totally unsettling from reel one. Then listen to Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear - he actually kept the original film's score by Herrmann - why - because it worked! Okay, it was remodeled by Bernstein - but it was the same scary juice from Herrmann that drove it.

  • June 29, 2011, 11:55 a.m. CST

    Twilight Zone and Kill Bill ftw!

    by UltraTron

    One of the reasons Kill Bill(all the films) is one of my favorite movies in history. When I was sitting in the theater the first time I was like- is that Bernard Herman?! Holy fuck he's still alive?! Then it all sank in that genius director Quentin Tarintino was using Bernard Herman- and that I was watching the latest epic masterpiece from the director of the single greatest fucking movie ever made. Pulp motherfucking Fiction. Who doesn't remember where they were and who they were with the first time you ever saw Bruce Willis pick up that samurai sword? That was the best thing we'd seen since Sigourney gears up and gets on the elevator to find newt. I have to literally wax nostalgic about Pulp Fiction just to keep from going into an hour rant about how much of a god Herman is.

  • June 29, 2011, noon CST

    i can't believe that AICN ass-bag billybatson1000

    by UltraTron

    just called himself an ass-bag. Hey go easy on yourself buddy- it's still early in the week

  • June 29, 2011, 12:02 p.m. CST

    Amazing collection of scores he produced in his lifetime

    by Judge Dredds Dirty Undies

    Not sure I can pick a favourite, Taxi Driver, Torn Curtain, Vertigo, The Trouble with Harry the list goes on. Jerry Goldsmith will always be my favourite composer but Herrmann I love just a much.

  • Colan died about a week ago...and still nothing?

  • June 29, 2011, 12:04 p.m. CST


    by Cletus Van Damme

  • June 29, 2011, 12:06 p.m. CST

    And is there a more auspicious debut than Kane?!

    by Judge Dredds Dirty Undies


  • June 29, 2011, 12:13 p.m. CST

    My choice...

    by Fletch Gannon

    Has gotta be the beginning of 'North by Northwest' with the scenes of the city and the frantic music, or maybe the crash of music as Rosebud burns in 'Kane'...he composed alot of great scores.

  • June 29, 2011, 12:32 p.m. CST

    I tape recorded scenes of Mysterious Island off the TV in my youth,

    by openthepodbaydoorshal

    it was my favorite Harryhausen/Herrmann score. The main title, balloon flight, giant crab and chicken motifs....absolute genius. I watched Avatar recently and just thought what audio marvels Herrmann could have created to match the effects work nowadays.

  • June 29, 2011, 12:50 p.m. CST

    For Bernard Herrmann fans....

    by SmokingRobot

    You have GOT TO track down a copy of Roque Banos score to 'The Machinist'. It's an incredible Herrmann pastiche, right down to the Theremin. It's a better Bernard Herrmann score than Herrmann could write.

  • June 29, 2011, 12:56 p.m. CST

    How about a decent Obsession (1976) soundtrack release

    by Samuel Fulmer

    From one of the specialty labels like FSM, LA LA Land, or Intrada? It still boggles my mind that he was nominated for both Obsession and Taxi Driver the year after he died, and didn't win. Definitely more deserving of a death Oscar than Ledger's turn as a Johnny Depp Joker.

  • June 29, 2011, 12:57 p.m. CST

    I still wish

    by Samuel Fulmer

    We could get a re-edited cut on DVD of Torn Curtain with Herrmann's music. He wrote everything up to the last reel I think.

  • June 29, 2011, 1:17 p.m. CST

    Agree on the need for an Obsession score

    by SmokingRobot

    What a weird little movie, but a great score.

  • Fuckers just lost the choppah as a subscriber. SIRIUSXM is CHOPPED!

  • June 29, 2011, 2:03 p.m. CST



    always good to see a thread by you.. Don't be a stranger with your monthly roundups. Did you see the Intrada/Disney Series inaugural release? UP finally gets a physical release. Hopefully they will release older stuff like 20000 Leagues and Black Cauldron, maybe even Black Hole. Though in my heart of hearts I would love to finally get a complete release of Mulan and The Lion King. Thoughts?

  • June 29, 2011, 2:04 p.m. CST

    I also loved the music in CAPE FEAR(1962)

    by Tacom

    Which most people now know as the Sideshow Bob theme on The Simpsons!

  • June 29, 2011, 2:35 p.m. CST

    Vertigo is in my Top 5

    by ZoeFan

    Such a Great film that holds some kind of magic that could not be captured nowadays.

  • June 29, 2011, 2:38 p.m. CST

    Damn!! I had a copy of Obsession when it came out

    by openthepodbaydoorshal

    And played the hell out it. God only knows where it is now....DOUBLE DAMN!!

  • June 29, 2011, 2:46 p.m. CST

    1976 Oscar winner..beating Herrmann

    by openthepodbaydoorshal

    ..Jerry Goldsmith for The Omen. So, I can't exactly fault the Academy...Goldsmith's my second favorite next to Herrmann. Then comes Williams.....

  • June 29, 2011, 2:51 p.m. CST

    1976 Oscar

    by Samuel Fulmer

    Should've went to Herrmann for Taxi Driver, and then in 1979 Goldsmith should've won for Star Trek the Motion Picture, and from there should've won ten more oscars.

  • June 29, 2011, 3:10 p.m. CST

    Herrmann had it until the very end.

    by The_Credible_Hulk

    His last score for Taxi Driver was terrific. Not many artists still turn out such great stuff late in their career.

  • June 29, 2011, 3:39 p.m. CST

    Ultimately betrayed by spineless, cowardly Hitchcock..

    by darthliquidator

    ...just compare John Addison's "Torn Curtain" score with the abandoned Herrmann tracks...Hermann's propulsive, angry, urgent theme would have been a desperately needed shot in the arm for the sleepy, slow paced snore of a film that Hitchcock created.... And let's put our hands together for that ornery old shlockmeister Larry Cohen...who resurrected Hermann's legacy and legend by having him score "It's Alive!"

  • June 29, 2011, 3:47 p.m. CST

    samuel fulmer

    by Judge Dredds Dirty Undies

    Damn straight, Goldsmith should have won more than one oscar anyway. The academy don't know shit about music. Goldsmith wasn't even nominated for Total Recall.

  • June 29, 2011, 4:15 p.m. CST

    I prefer North by Northwest

    by Batguy

    ...but you can't really go wrong with Herrmann. The man had a keen gift for enhancing whatever was onscreen with the 'tools' of the orchestra helping him. He also helped with the sound design for the scoreless "The Birds," did he not?

  • June 29, 2011, 4:39 p.m. CST


    by SeXX ED

  • June 29, 2011, 4:58 p.m. CST

    And Herrmann collaborator Ray Harryhausen

    by palimpsest

    who's 91 years old today.

  • June 29, 2011, 5:13 p.m. CST

    I have it on good authority that ScoreKeeper....

    by soladeo1


  • June 29, 2011, 5:35 p.m. CST

    Once you die...

    by Money Daniels

    you stop having birthdays.

  • June 29, 2011, 5:39 p.m. CST

    Loved his scores...

    by Baryonyx

    ...for the Ray Harryhausen movies.

  • June 29, 2011, 7:03 p.m. CST

    Truly one of the absolute greats. Love love his work!

    by Proman1984

  • June 29, 2011, 8:51 p.m. CST


    by SmokingRobot

    Listen to it and you'll understand.

  • June 29, 2011, 9:17 p.m. CST

    Herrmann's work is evocative, and grandiose, in the best way

    by Anti-fanboy

    Taxi Driver is an all-time favorite. So moody and palpable. Also one bit of his work I especially love: the end credits for the early seasons of The Twilight Zone -- delivering musically, in just a few moments, the stark, dramatic immensity of cosmic wonder of reality unhinged inherent in the show's premise.

  • June 29, 2011, 9:24 p.m. CST

    Ever notice that four-note motif that runs through a lot of Herrmann's scores?

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    Try singing along with the main theme from Cape Fear: BER-nard HERR-mann, BER-nard HERR-mann...

  • June 29, 2011, 9:26 p.m. CST

    Also John Williams riffed on a cue from Psycho in Star Wars

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    It's in the scene where Han Solo opens up the hidden compartment in the floor of the Millennium Falcon...this little three note motif that's also used in Psycho when Norman discovers Marion's dead body. It's even pointed out in that great documentary on the DVD/Blu-Ray.

  • June 29, 2011, 9:57 p.m. CST


    by CreepyThinMan

    Sure, it wasn't as distinctive as Maurice Constant's ICONIC TZ theme but Herrmann's was more about channeling mood and atmosphere which makes it a masterpiece. He also did some incredible work on TZ. You own it to yourself to buy the Twilight Zone score collection if you call yourself a lover of music. Herrmann was at the top of my three favorite composers of all time; the other two being Jerry Goldsmith and Howard Shore.

  • June 30, 2011, 12:12 a.m. CST

    Just in case you didn't get that DeNiro was still crazy ...

    by darthliquidator

    ....Herrmann plays the signiture "Psycho" three note motif in "Taxi Driver"s final shot.

  • June 30, 2011, 6:58 a.m. CST

    John Williams riffing on Herrmann

    by chinofjim

    I will check that out. Also, the Solo/Leia love theme in Empire Strikes Back riffs on the main love theme from Vertigo Has there ever been a better sequence of flim making that Vertigo / North by Northwest / Psysco? (I think of them as the 'identity' trilogy becuase each of them riffs on the idea of a character essentially 'becoming' or pretending to be someone else). And has there every been a better sequence of film scores than those that Herrmann provided for these films? I would agree with Score Keeper that Vertigo is the pinnicle of film music, but my personal favourite has to be the rollocking fandango that opens North by Northwest

  • June 30, 2011, 7:59 a.m. CST


    by Nils Helstrom

    Herrmann's second best fantasy film score after Mysterious Island in my opinion.

  • June 30, 2011, 8:48 a.m. CST

    Bernard Herrmann's widow

    by Richard Hewison

    I went to a movie soundtrack concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London at the start of June, and three or four of Herrmann's most famous signature scores were played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra that night. Not only that, but Herrmann's widow was also present in the audience and the conductor raised a few laughs by reproducing the stabbing motions with his baton during their 'Psycho' performance!

  • June 30, 2011, 9:04 a.m. CST

    Amazing talent. BH and Harryhausen were incredible together

    by Knobules

    And Hitchcock of course.

  • June 30, 2011, 10:29 a.m. CST

    Don't forget The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

    by readyrr

    Stupid TV show, but the soundtrack to the original movie is one of the most romantic, lush, evocative scores ever...and one of Mr. Hermann's best!

  • June 30, 2011, 10:33 a.m. CST

    Herrmann also makes a cameo in The Man Who Knew Too Much

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    Conducting the orchestra in the movie's climax.

  • June 30, 2011, 1:30 p.m. CST

    Elfman channeling Herrmann?

    by Tera Sanders

    If so he's got it tuned to the wrong frequency. Elfman is a hack film composer. Did some great stuff in Oingo Boingo, though.

  • June 30, 2011, 4:43 p.m. CST

    Fahrenheit 451!!

    by BenBraddock

    And yes, I did have to Google the spelling..