22/Aug/2014 - Last News Update: 03:56

Bernard Herrmann: The composer behind best-loved films

Category: England

Published: 4th Aug 2012 01:16:46

The new critics poll from the British Film Institute has declared Hitchcock's Vertigo the best film ever, dislodging Orson Welles' Citizen Kane after half a century. Film fans may argue about their relative merits but enthusiasts for the music of Bernard Herrmann may not care much either way: he wrote the scores for both.

People sometimes wonder how to say Bernard Herrmann's first name. Did the composer, American but anglophile, prefer the US or the British pronunciation?

His widow Norma, who's from Sheffield, says the answer is simple: almost everyone called him Benny.

"We got married in 1967 when I was 27 and we had eight brilliant, wonderful years together before he died. And he was always Benny."

When she met the charming and dynamic composer in London, almost 30 years her senior, Herrmann had already written most of the music for which he is admired.

Citizen Kane had made his name in 1941, when he was 30, and he had later contributed hugely to the success of Alfred Hitchcock films such as Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho.

In the Vertigo and Psycho years they worked together beautifully. But what happened later was a damned fierce row and it was dreadful. ”

Even an otherwise ordinary film such as The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947) was made memorable by his music. Many believe him the best of all film composers, as adept at the yearningly romantic as he was at the outright terror of Psycho.

Norma Herrmann says her husband would have been delighted at all the publicity Vertigo is now getting.

"Probably it was his favourite score. Although he's often remembered for the chilling, frightening stuff Benny was really a huge romantic. He loved Vertigo in a big way: it gave him a chance to do his big romantic bit."

Vertigo has a plot of almost operatic passion and improbability: the James Stewart character creates his perfect woman to replace someone he thinks he has lost.

Norma Herrmann said the storyline appealed to her husband: "He loved beautiful women. He loved them as a work of art in the way he'd love a great painting or a poem."

"Benny always said it didn't matter what was on the screen - his music would tell you what you were thinking deep down. And that's absolutely the case with Vertigo.

Benny Herrmann was never a shrinking violet. Norma recalls that people sometimes found her husband impatient and even arrogant.

"Benny had an absolute belief in his own talent. He worked very hard to ensure he had done his best for a particular film - he wouldn't rest until everything was right. His judgement was spot-on and he knew it. If some people thought that arrogance, so be it."

Professor Richard Allen at New York University is a leading writer on Hitchcock's movies. He agrees Vertigo may have been the perfect vehicle for Herrmann's talents.

"When you listen to his earlier scores - both for Hitchcock and earlier such as Kane - you realise his Wagnerian impulses had been around for a while. Certainly he delighted in the vast passions of an opera like Tristan and Isolde.

"Vertigo let him explore those emotions as never before. It was a perfect collaboration of two great artists at their peak."

In all Bernard Herrmann wrote scores for eight Hitchcock films, starting with The Trouble with Harry in 1955. But a decade later the final score, for Torn Curtain, was dumped by Hitchcock and another composer brought in.

Hitchcock and Herrmann never made another film together. Of Herrmann's later work perhaps only his score for Taxi Driver (1975) is as admired as his scores for Hitchcock.

Norma Herrmann says her husband spoke to her of the terrible arguments he and Alfred Hitchcock had had, caused in part by the studio wanting music more suited to modern pop tastes.

"In the Vertigo and Psycho years they worked together beautifully. But what happened later was a damned fierce row and it was dreadful. It was the break-up of a long-standing relationship and it caused great pain."

Benny Herrman died in 1975. In the last decade especially there's been a resurgence in interest in his prolific output. As the person in charge of his estate Norma Herrmann has encouraged that process.

"It's astonishing that it's more than 70 years since he wrote the music for Citizen Kane. He and Orson Welles were the terrible twins of RKO and they made a wonderful film together."

Norma says her late husband would not be surprised to find that the film which has now taken Kane's title as Best Film Ever contains another of his scores.

"You can't say which of those two scores is better. He didn't rate his music from 1-to-10. For Benny everything had to be best."

BBC News External Link Show Citation

Latest News

Harvard Citation

BBC News, 2012. Bernard Herrmann: The composer behind best-loved films [Online] (Updated 4th Aug 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1444446/Bernard-Herrmann-The-composer-behind-best-loved-films [Accessed 22nd Aug 2014]

News In Other Categories

  • Bristol Academy extends reach overseas with first foreign students

    With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
  • Morfa Nefyn 'choking' death girl named as Jasmine Lapsley

    A six-year-old girl who is believed to have choked while on holiday with her family in Gwynedd has been named as Jasmine Lapsley.
  • Porlock Bay rare species found in marine study

    For the first time in 30 years, marine life in Porlock Bay, in Somerset, has been studied by divers for a scientific survey commissioned by the Wildlife Trusts.
  • London priciest European city for culture, says survey

    London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities, a survey has suggested.
  • Gossip column: Anderson, Khedira, Gascoigne, Tiote

    For a list of confirmed transfers, check out the transfers page.
  • Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett join Commons clerk row

    Two former cabinet ministers have called for further scrutiny of the proposed appointment of the new House of Commons clerk amid an ongoing row.