Soundtracks, Soundtracks, Soundtracks: Bernard Herrmann (Psycho, Citizen Kane, Taxi Driver, etc..)

There are many things that make a movie what it is. It all starts with a story (according to what every How-To book on screenwriting tells us), there is the director and his crew, there are the actors, who bust their asses to bring a vision to life. Then comes the wonderful world of post-production. What is one result of that? The music. Soundtracks enhance the movie going experience. They can make us cry, they can pump us up, they can make us remember the 80's. Whether it be a musical band or a composer, soundtracks help our favorite movies stay etched in our mind forever.

Bernard Herrmann, born June 29, 1911 is one of the most legendary film composers of all time influencing many that came after him. His career began at CBS as a staff conductor eventually becoming Chief Conductor of the CBS Symphony Orchestra. Herrmann then met the late great Orson Welles and worked on the music for numerous radio adaptions narrated by Welles. Bernard's first film work came with scoring the classic Citizen Kane for Welles, and it was all uphill from there. Herrmann went on to score many films, frequently collaborating with Alfred Hitchcock and earning himself several awards and nominations. Herrmann passed away December 24, 1975 his last work scoring Martin Scorsese's classic Taxi Driver. He's left a legacy that deserves to be remembered, and for that we pay tribute to him today.


First time I saw Psycho all the way through it was for a Cinema class in college, and I like many others fell in love with it. I’m excited for where they may be going with the prequel TV series Bates Motel, but I hope they realize they have a hell of a legacy to build up to. Hitchcock’s mastery of suspense and Herrmann’s ability to capture that made for a hell of a ride when Marion Crane was making her getaway after her illegal antics. I mean we get thirty minutes of simple unbearable paranoia and who better to musically express that than Bernard Herrmann? Not to mention the legendary cue for the infamous shower scene, feel I could dedicate a whole article to this score alone. Herrmann was a frequent collaborator with Alfred Hitchcock, scoring other films of his such as North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo. Herrmann and Hitchcock had a legendary falling out over a score Herrmann was putting together for Tom Curtain, creative differences ensued and the two never worked together again.


Herrmann’s score for Taxi Driver was the last piece of work the man completed before passing away, and man what a grand way to leave this world. Director Brian De Palma suggested Herrmann to Martin Scorsese for the film based on his work on the formers film Sisters, and the rest was history. Herrmann did nothing short of transporting us into the mind of Travis Bickle, and giving us a glimpse of how he sees the world. I’m a big jazz fan and that feel was very prominent in his score for this film, the saxophone cue particularly rocks my world every single time. Cool little tidbit in this particular soundtrack album, track 12 “Diary of a Taxi Driver” features a Robert De Niro voiceover to Bernard’s score. On the night of Herrmann’s death, earlier in the day Scorsese called Herrmann down to his office where he met Steven Spielberg, he passed away in his hotel room later that night. This score earned Herrmann Academy, Grammy, and BAFTA awards. Taxi Driver was dedicated to his memory.


Bernard Herrmann and Orson Welles were longtime friends and frequent collaborators, with Herrmann working with Welles in the Mercury Theatre and Welles’ radio broadcasts like The Fall of the City and the famed War of the Worlds broadcast. Apparently, Bernard’s method in scoring this film was just as innovative as the filmmaking techniques Welles applied. Herrmann moved away from the Hollywood scoring method of the time of non-stop music and instead incorporated fifteen second cues that matched the mood of a particular scene. The “Breakfast Montage” in particular is famous for visually and musically portraying the passage of time and the breakdown of Kane’s marriage. It’s said for the ending scene of the Rosebud reveal, during that scenes filming Orson Welled played Bernard’s score for that particular scene live on set. The Citizen Kane Score was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost out to another film Herrmann scored ‘All That Money Can Buy’.


Fellow film composer and legendary in his own right Danny Elfman has stated that Herrmann’s score for The Day The Earth Stood Still inspired him to want to get into film scoring, guess we owe Bernard a thank you. That influence, in this piece of work in particular is evident in the material Elfman has put out through the years. Herrmann employed unusual instruments for its time for this score like violins, cellos, vibraphones, pianos, harps, trumpets, trombones, and tubas. I mean you can hear things at work here that inspired many composers for their work in the future; this is one of the pieces of work that define Herrmann’s influence in this particular art form. Fox later made use of Herrmann’s title theme for the original pilot episode of the 1965 TV series Lost in Space, good stuff. Herrmann’s score for this film was nominated for a Golden Globe.


This is a score that was originally featured in a lesser known film titled ‘Twisted Nerve’ directed by Ray Boulting. The original film was a controversial British Thriller about a man named Martin posing as mentally challenged man named George to be closer with a woman he has begun obsessing over, disposing of anyone who challenges his plans. This brilliant piece of work may have not gotten the exposure it deserves if it hadn’t been employed in the future. Quentin Tarantino re-used Herrmann’s title theme for Twisted Nerve in the hospital sequence for Kill Bill Volume One, quite effectively I might add. Most recently, the track can be heard on the first season of a kick ass show known as American Horror Story. A beautiful piece of work if I’m to be quite honest, and the best use of whistling I’ve ever heard.

Extra Tidbit: Let us pretend that is your life's ambition to become a film composer, which composer would you say in interviews has influenced what you'd like your work to be?
Source: JoBlo



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