THE COMPOSER: Bernard Herrmann

Bernard Herrmann was born in New York City on 29 June, 1911, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. His father encouraged the future composer’s interest in the arts, taking both his sons to the opera, the symphony, and giving each a musical instrument to play at a very early age.

As a student, Herrmann was a voracious reader who enjoyed the works of individualist, iconoclastic writers like D. H. Lawrence, Eugene O’Neill, and James McNeill Whistler, the latter of whose essays “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies” would provide inspiration for him on a more volatile scale, and insure the foundation for his idiosyncratic personality, which colleague and whit Oscar Levant once described “…as an apprenticeship in insolence.” Herrmann also studied the scores of the great symphonists, played his father’s gramophone recordings, and attended Carnegie Hall concerts. By the age of thirteen he discovered Hector Berlioz’s “Treatise on Orchestration,” the book Herrmann later claimed would decide the course of his future career.

Herrmann’s formal music education began in 1927. His first composition teacher, Gustav Heine, introduced Herrmann to all the basics of his craft — and, perhaps, in spite of him, acquired a taste for the singular and uncommon in music, discovering the works of America’s most unique composers, Charles Ives and Carl Ruggles, both of whom he would later champion as conductor of the CBS Symphony.

While a student at Juilliard, he joined Aaron Copland’s Young Composers Group. In the autumn of 1932, Herrmann attended lectures on composition and orchestration given by the expatriate Australian composer- musicologist Percy Grainger, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of the world’s music, coupled with his eccentric style and unorthodox syllabus, would cement Herrmann’s lifelong interest in unjustly neglected scores by composers long since forgotten.

He was hired the following year by CBS Radio’s music director Johnny Green as his assistant. While there, Herrmann programmed and conducted music of his choosing, introducing his listeners to new and unusual works, many heard for the first time anywhere. In 1937 he was chosen to compose and conduct for the “Columbia Workshop,” a CBS radio series featuring the talents of several great writers and directors. He met a twenty-three year old Orson Welle in 1938 and worked on the infamous Halloween production of The War of the Worlds.

Welles invited Herrmann to compose and conduct the music for his first film Citizen Kane (1941). Although Herrmann composed the music for Orson Welles’ next film (The Magnificent Ambersons) his music was badly chopped by the studio. There the Welles-Herrmann collaboration ended. He returned to the CBS Symphony and remained until it was disbanded in 1951.

Herrmann’s film music career, which overlapped his tenure at CBS Radio, was further established through his work at 20th Century-Fox, where the studio’s music director Alfred Newman hired him to score films such as Jane Eyre (1943), Anna and fire King of Siam (1946), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). During the 1950′s — the final decade of Hollywood’s “Golden Age” — he would compose some of his finest scores, establish a breathe partnership with Alfred Hitchcock, one which includes such unqualified masterworks as The Trouble with Harry (1955), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and, perhaps, most famous of all, Psycho (1960). Following the demise of the studio system Herrmann relocated to England, where his formidable talents were rediscovered by a new generation of directors — François Truffaut, Brian DePalma, Larry Cohen and Martin Scorsese.

Bernard Herrmann died in his sleep on December 24, 1975, one day after the final Taxi Driver recording session.

FILMOGRAPHY (highlights)

1976 Taxi Driver

1974 It's Alive

1972 Sisters

1963-1965 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (TV Series) (18 episodes)

1964 Marnie (musical composition by)

1959-1963 The Twilight Zone (TV Series) (7 episodes)

1963 Jason and the Argonauts

1962 Cape Fear

1962 Tender Is the Night

1960 Psycho

1959 Journey to the Center of the Earth

1959 North by Northwest

1958 The Naked and the Dead

1958 Vertigo

1956 The Wrong Man

1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much (music scored by)

1956 The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

1955 The Trouble with Harry (music score)

1954 The Egyptian

1954 Garden of Evil

1952 The Snows of Kilimanjaro

1951 The Day the Earth Stood Still

1947 The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

1946 Anna and the King of Siam

1943 Jane Eyre

1942 The Magnificent Ambersons (uncredited)

1941 The Devil and Daniel Webster

1941 Citizen Kane