The man behind the low woodwinds that open Citizen Kane (1941), the shrieking violins of Psycho (1960), and the plaintive saxophone of Taxi Driver (1976) was one of the most original and distinctive composers ever to work in film. Bernard Herrmann started early, winning a composition prize at the age of 13 and founding his own orchestra at the age of 20. After writing scores for Orson Welles's radio shows in the 1930s (including the notorious 1938 The War of the Worlds broadcast), he was the obvious choice to score Welles's film debut, Citizen Kane (1941) and subsequently The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), although he removed his name from the latter after additional music was added without his (or Welles's) consent when the film was mutilated by a panic-stricken studio.

Herrmann was a prolific film composer, producing some of his most memorable work for Alfred Hitchcock, for whom he wrote nine scores. A notorious perfectionist and demanding (he once said that most directors didn't have a clue about music, and he blithely ignored their instructions--like Hitchcock's suggestion that Psycho (1960) have a jazz score and no music in the shower scene). He ended his partnership with Hitchcock after the latter rejected his score for Torn Curtain (1966) on studio advice. He was also an early experimenter in the sounds used in film scores, most famously The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), scored for two theremins, pianos, and a horn section; and was a consultant on the electronic sounds created by Oskar Sala on the mixtrautonium for The Birds (1963). His last score was for Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976) and died just hours after recording it. He also wrote an opera, Wuthering Heights, and a cantata, Moby Dick.


Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory | October 6, 2000