The Film Music of Bernard Herrmann

Bernard Herrmann

" Give it a chance and you’ll be satisfied "

Written by Thomas Kiefner - Review of the regular release

It is very likely that because Herrmann always referred to himself as a composer who worked in films like Copland, Vaughan Williams, and Walton he was offered the film assignment on Hangover Square, the story of a concert pianist of unsound mind who kills the woman who rejects his advances. Patrick Hamilton, who also wrote Gaslight and Rope as plays that became Hollywood movies, had his novel completely changed by Zanuck who had become convinced that instead of a story of an alcoholic loner (thus the title) he would change it to a story of a schizophrenic concert pianist. The Hamilton story was quite well written given the fact that Patrick was an alcoholic and I’m sure a lot of what he wrote was based on real life experiences.

The John Brahm film starred Laird Cregar (his last film), Linda Darnell, and George Sanders. The result was the famous "Concerto Macabre" from Herrmann, a dark and mysterious 11-minute piano piece written in the style of the Liszt composition "Totentanz". The concerto for concert performance is based on the themes that you hear in the original soundtrack and is performed by Martin Roscoe using the revisions Herrmann made for performing it away from the film.

Stephen Hogger, working from the original manuscripts, took the 20 tracks (Herrmann loved short cues) and put them into 3 cues in the 4 to 6 minute range (17 minutes total), so that the average listener found it easier to listen to. The score opens with the main theme on the piano and quickly transitions to the brass with some of those recognizable Herrmann chords. Much of the material is played softly in the lower register using woodwinds complemented by the brass chords. Much of what you hear will have a similar sound to many of his more recognizable scores such as The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Vertigo, Citizen Kane and others. It is yet another excellent example of how effective the underscore material works in films. Unlike Max 'Wall to Wall' Steiner, Herrmann believed that less was sometimes better.

While you're not going to be dazzled with technical difficulty, "Concerto Macabre" is an excellent work incorporating the themes from the score. Because there are several themes incorporated into this all too brief 11-minute work, I was quite impressed with the skill necessary to put this together and give it a flow that is easy to listen to. Compared to Philip Fowke (Naxos 8.554323) and Joaquin Achucarro (RCA 0707 2), Martin Roscoe performs a crispy, slightly faster interpretation with good support from the BBC Philharmonic. The 24-bit recording also gives a small edge to this performance.

Citizen Kane, listed by some as the greatest film of all time, was an Oscar nominee on the very first try for Herrmann who said "I was fortunate enough to start my career with a film like Citizen Kane. It's been a downhill run ever since!" The score has been recorded complete or on a compilation (41) times as of 02/10 in the Soundtrack Collector database. To give the work a better flow, Stephen Hogger arranged 36 of the cues into (7) tracks totaling 49 minutes. Using the "Dies irae" melody (what else for a dark mysterious opening), the cleverly written "Prelude" tells the entire story of the film including the "Rosebud" theme performed on the vibraphone. If you listen carefully you can hear a small part of his Twilight Zone theme.

The famous "Salammbo's Aria", to some soundtrack enthusiasts the only opera they've ever heard, is nicely performed by soprano Orla Boylan. The actual performance on the soundtrack was composed and performed so that it sounded like it fell short (part of the plot), but this cue is hardly the case. Kane is a soundtrack that is going to require multiple listens to begin to fully appreciate this. To the average person this is not an easy listen. Give it a chance and you'll be satisfied.

This is the 27th CD that Chandos has produced featuring film music and is a welcome addition to the series. This recording is available on CD as well as 320K and lossless download.


Music from Hangover Square
1. The Dealer / Murder and Fire /Confession (6.28)
2. Netta / The Spell / The Murder /Fame (4.32)
3. The Cat / Netta's Death / The Bonfire / Recovery (6.09)
4. Concerto Macabre (11.01)

Music from Citizen Kane
5. Prelude / Rain / Thatcher Library / Manuscript Reading and Snow Picture / Mother's Sacrifice / Charles Meets Thatcher (8.14)
6. Galop / Dissolve to Thatcher Reading Document / Second Manuscript / Thanks / Bernstein's Narration / Kane's New Office / New Hornpipe Polka / Carter's Exit / Chronicle Scherzo / Bernstein's Presto (7.20)
7. Kane's Return / Collecting Statues / Valse Presentation / Sunset Narrative / Theme and Variations (7.44)
8. Kane Meets Susan / Susan's Room / Mother Memory / The Trip / Geddes's Departure / Kane Marries (5.44)
9. Salammbô's Aria (4.19)
10. Leland's Dismissal / New Dawn Music / Xanadu / Jigsaws / Second Zanadu (7.15)
11. Kane's Picnic / Susan Leaves / El Rancho / The Glass Ball / Finale (8.30)

Total Length: 77:31
(click to rate this score)  
(total of 19 votes - average 4.37/5)

Released by

Chandos Movies CHAN 10577 (regular release 2010)

Performed by

The BBC Philharmonic