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Bernard Herrmann (TCM Spotlight)
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 Bernard Herrmann

Scores by Bernard Herrmann - April 28

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Oscar-winning® composer Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) created some of the movies' most memorable and haunting scores, especially when working in collaboration with Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock. After making his movie debut in 1941 with Welles' Citizen Kane, Herrmann reteamed with the mercurial director for The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). Unfortunately, more than half of his score - by turns lyrical and sinister - was cut when the film was subjected to massive re-editing. Herrmann had his name removed from the credits by threatening legal action.

Herrmann's expressive score for Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953) is probably the single most impressive element of this adventure starring Robert Wagner and set in Key West and its surrounding waters. In an early use of stereo recording, Herrmann isolated his instruments, including nine harps, and established the mysterious sound of many an undersea adventure to come.

Vertigo (1958), often considered the masterpiece of the Hitchcock/Herrmann collaborations, makes lushly romantic use of Herrmann's mood-setting strings, which become increasingly neurotic and haunting as this story of doomed love begins to take nightmarish twists. Another Hitchcock thriller, Psycho (1960), contains what is probably Herrmann's best-known score, especially the shrieking strings that accompany Janet Leigh's fatal shower scene. Hitchcock, notorious for his stinginess with praise, said that Herrmann's score accounted for at least one third of the movie's impact. And let us not forget Herrmann's thrilling opening theme music for Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959) and the thrilling chase music and lush romantic scoring throughout the film.

Herrmann's score for Cape Fear (1962), with its ominous four-note brass motif, lends such an atmosphere of impending danger to J. Lee Thompson's thriller that Martin Scorsese had Elmer Bernstein adapt the original music for a 1991 remake.

by Roger Fristoe

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