Bernard Herrmann

Bernard Herrmann

Bernard Herrmann was an American Academy Award winning composer who was known for his prolific career in film industry.

Bernard Herrmann was born in New York City on the 29th of June, 1911. His childhood would be marked with regular visits to the opera with his father, who strongly encouraged him to take up a career in arts. Soon, Herrmann learned how to play the violin and his talent helped him win a composition prize at the tender age of thirteen. He then went on to study music at the New York University with esteemed personalities like Percy Grainger and Philip James. After a while he found himself at the Julliard School, which was a performing arts conservatory. He finally formed his own opera group called the New Chamber Orchestra of New York.

Herrmann’s professional career started when he was employed as a staff conductor for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). He soon found his way to music director of the Columbia Workshop and Principal Conductor of the CBS Symphony Orchestra. CBS offered him the perfect platform to introduce his unique style and taste to the public. CBS was also where he met Orson Welles, with whom he arranged several scores for radio broadcasts. His collaboration with Welles produced plenty of successes, including the celebrated radio adaptation of ‘The War of the Worlds’ and the film score for ‘Citizen Kane’, which earned Herrmann his first Academy Award nomination. During this time he also wrote the score for ‘The Devil and Daniel Webster’, a William Dieterle classic that eventually earned Herrmann his first and only Academy Award for Best Music Score of a Dramatic Picture. He also wrote the cantata ‘Moby Dick’, which many believed he put a personal touch to, for he was a great fan of the book and his father often went on whaling expeditions.

Perhaps Herrmann is most known for his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock. Herrmann wrote plenty of scores for the English Director, including the score for the highly acclaimed ‘Psycho’, which many perceive to be one of the most innovative film scores of all time thanks to the novel use of violin music. Herrmann partially wrote the score for Hitchcock’s remake of ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’. Two other scores for Alfred Hitchcock, ‘Vertigo’ and ‘North by Northwest’, garnered Herrmann even more praise for his gift in beautifully depicting emotions in relevance to the film. Other works for Hitchcock by him included the scores for ‘The Trouble with Harry’, ‘Marnie’, and for Hitchcock’s TV show ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour’.

Herrmann was also known in the industry for being very particular about the way he produced his music, and for the level of freedom he demanded from his directors in writing their film scores. Wellesnet once reported him to have said “I have the final say, or I don’t do the music”. A notable example of this quality was when he threatened legal action against Welles for ‘The Magnificent Ambersons if his name was not to be removed from the film’s credits, simply because Welles had heavily edited the final score without Herrmann’s knowledge.

Bernard Herrmann died on December 24th 1975 due to heart failure. In addition to his numerous Academy Award Nominations, he was also the winner of several American Film Institute Awards.


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