BERNARD HERRMANN (1911 - 1975)
Bernard Herrmann was born in New York City in 1911, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. His father encouraged Bernard’s interest in the arts. As a child he was a voracious consumer of books and gramophone recordings. In 1927 his formal education in music commenced, and in 1929 he enrolled at New York University where he studied composition and conducting. In 1934 he was hired as a staff conductor by CBS, where in 1938 he worked on Orson Welles’s famous broadcast of HG Wells’s ‘The War of the Worlds’. In 1941 Welles invited Bernard to join him in Hollywood to write the music for his early masterpiece Citizen Kane. Subsequently Alfred Newman, head of music at Twentieth Century Fox, hired him to compose the music for several films and Bernard became one of the major composers of screen music during the 1950s. His collaboration with the director Alfred Hitchcock was particularly notable. Following the demise of the studio system Herrmann relocated to England, where his formidable talents were rediscovered by a new generation of directors. Bernard died in December 1975, one day after the final recording sessions for the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s film Taxi Driver.
Bernard Herrmann was active as a musician on several levels. He left behind a legacy of major film scores, recordings for many labels, and concert works. In many respects he remains the most influential of all composers writing for film. Bernard commented that ‘many great composers of whatever nationality—Auric, Bliss, Copland, Frankel, Prokofiev, Rota, Shostakovich, Walton—composed for the cinema, as but one aspect of their creative output.’ The Snows of Kilimanjaro was produced in 1952 by Twentieth Century Fox. It starred Gregory Peck and was based on a story by Ernest Hemingway about a dying writer looking back on his life. Five Fingers also dated from 1952. It was a true-life espionage account of LC Moyzisch, the spy known as ‘Cicero’, a valet at the British Embassy in Turkey who sold secret files to Germany during World War II, only to discover that they may have double-crossed him for his efforts. Highly successful commercially, it starred James Mason, Danielle Darrieux and Michael Rennie. Bernard Herrmann’s scores for both films are outstanding, not only supporting the dramatic action throughout but also creating a strong sense of atmosphere in both films. His music for The Snows of Kilimanjaro in particular looks forward to one of his later masterpieces, the score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.