Wednesday’s Artist: Benard Herrmann, the voice of the moving picture

This Wednesday’s artist is Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975), he was one of the most influential music composers for the movies. His cooperation with the directors, Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles is still among the best soundtracks in Hollywood.

Every Wednesday of the week, Tunitemusic introduces a new artist and their works. These artists have been chosen regardless of their musical genre.

Born in New York City, Benard Herrmann was the creator of some of the cinema’s most memorable scores. His music ranged from impressionism through modernistic to electronic. So respectful was Orson Welles of his music for the movie Citizen Kane, he edited parts of the film to the contours of the score.

Musical style:

Herrmann's music is typified by frequent use of ostinati (short repeating patterns), novel orchestration, and, in his film scores, and ability to portray character traits not altogether obvious from other elements of the film.

Herrmann said: "To orchestrate is like a thumbprint. I can't understand having someone else do it. It would be like someone putting color to your paintings."

Herrmann subscribed to the belief that the best film music should be able to stand on its own legs when detached from the film for which it was originally written. To this end, he made several well-known recordings for Decca of arrangements of his own film music as well as music of other prominent composers.

Career highlights:

Bernard Herrmann’s discography is too long that needs a separate post, but he is known for the sonorous, dissonant chords at the climax of the movies including “The day the earth stood still (1951)”, “Vertigo (1958)” and “Psycho (1960)”.

Other compositions:

As well as his many film scores, Herrmann wrote several concert pieces, including his Symphony in 1941; the opera Wuthering Heights; the cantata Moby Dick (1938), dedicated to Charles Ives; and For the Fallen, a tribute to the soldiers who died in battle in World War II, among others. He recorded all these compositions, and several others, for the Unicorn label during his last years in London. A work was written late in his life, Souvenir de Voyages, showed his ability to write non-programmatic pieces.

Vladimir Horowitz, the Russian pianist


Herrmann is still a prominent figure in the world of film music today, despite his death in 1975. As such, his career has been studied extensively by biographers and documentarians. His string-only score for Psycho, for example, set the standard when it became a new way to write music for thrillers (rather than big fully orchestrated pieces). In 1992, a documentary, Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann, was made about him. Also in 1992, a two and a half hour long National Public Radio documentary was produced on his life — Bernard Herrmann: a Celebration of his Life and Music. In 1991, Steven C. Smith wrote a Herrmann biography titled A Heart at Fire's Center, a quotation from a favorite Stephen Spender poem of Herrmann's.

Last compositions:

Herrmann's last film scores included Sisters and Obsession for Brian De Palma. His final film soundtrack, and the last work he completed, was his somber score for “Taxi Driver” (1976), directed by Martin Scorsese. It was De Palma who had suggested to Scorsese to use the composer. Immediately after finishing the recording of the Taxi Driver soundtrack on December 23, 1975, Herrmann viewed the rough cut of what was to be his next film assignment, Larry Cohen's “God Told Me To” and dined with Cohen. He returned to his hotel and died from an apparent heart attack in his sleep. Scorsese and Cohen both dedicated their respective films in his memory.

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