Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Portrait of Hitch


Original Facebook post here.
Today's formative-album replay: Bernard Herrmann, Music From Alfred Hitchcock Thrillers. Years ago, after the LA Chamber Orchestra premiered a particularly dissonant string piece by Mel Powell, I remember an older gentleman behind me whispering to his wife, "That sounded like an underwater horror movie." If one legacy of 20th-century concert music is that its allegedly skin-crawling sounds sent concertgoers fleeing for the exits, those same audiences were likely to find that same crunchy harmonic language, employed to make their skin crawl for real, at the movie theater. And few composers of the last century more effectively employed post-Stravinsky tonality and orchestration for unnerving effect than Bernard Herrmann.

Not that I think that Herrmann was cynically stealing tricks from the concert hall to generate cheap thrills; I'd argue that his greatness (and reportedly his intense difficulty as a collaborator) stemmed from how seriously he took his work, and I'd go further, to say that his seriousness was entirely in proportion to the work at hand. Who's to say that composing for the cinema in the 20th century was not the equivalent of composing for the ballet or the opera in previous centuries? When I hear Herrmann's work, even for schlock or B-movie noir, that equivalence seems entirely plausible. (And if you really want to argue it, who's to say Vertigo isn't as great a modernist work as Lulu, anyway?)

This was the record that sold me and turned me into a near-completist of this prolific, mercurial genius. I love Herrmann's work for filmmakers as wide-ranging as Welles and Harryhausen, but his Hitchcock scores are where his obsessive/thwarted-Romantic heart beats most vividly, from the hypnotic spiral of the Vertigo theme to the hard-driving fugue that starts Psycho or the rip-snorting fandango that starts North by Northwest. There are few pieces of music in any genre that hit me as hard or delight me as much.

Comments:
John Prestianni One of my all time favorites was his final score http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bx4aK-YsPeU
Rob Weinert-Kendt John, that's a great one, do you know his Fahrenheit 451 score? Gorgeous. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lllr_2ZF5Tk&sns=em
Chris Coffman You kill me!
Benjamin Walker Sampson His music for Vertigo is one of my favorite pieces of music (as well as one of my favorite movies). I also like his score for Torn Curtain, though they didn't use it in the film.
Jessica Grindstaff North by northwest theme IS the best!
Jim O'Quinn Terrific commentary, Rob, about some terrific music!

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