Hitchcock and Herrmann

13 Jun

4th article in our 7 week series on Psychological Thrillers.

By Littlebells

These films are timeless classics.  They have just the right touch of Hitchcock that leaves you on the edge of your seat despite how many times you watch them.  We are all familiar with the themes of Psycho and can name it with just the raise of a hand and imitating the shrieking  “Ree! Ree! Ree!”  Hitchcock had thrilling composition for not only Psycho, but Vertigo and North by Northwest.  For each of these films he used the great composer, Bernard Herrmann.

Bernard Herrmann’s music was very different from those of his peers in Hollywood.  His music is very emotional, dramatic, and moody.  When approaching characters or a scene, he used a lyrical approach as opposed to a melody.  His homophonic style utilized long, drawn-out, slow moving chords as well as a frequent use of minor/major triads.[1]

None of his scores were nominated for an Academy Award, however, according to the American Film Institute, his songs ranked #4 and #12 on a list of 25 all time cinema film scores.[2]  Hitchcock worked around Herrmann’s music.  He would make a scene longer or shorter to fit the music.

A great example of Herrmann’s knowledge of when to use music to underscore a scene or not is as follows:

  • The most memorable scene in North by Northwest is the cropduster sequence. Most film composers would have looked at this scene as an opportunity to demonstrate compositional skills. Herrmann, however, rejected any request for music. Music in the cropduster scene is brought in only at he end, under the “Crash of the Cropduster” when the overture theme is restated. Hitchcock starts with a high angle shot of the open farmland, symbolizing his complete isolation. Having silence rather than music on the soundtrack reinforces his loneliness very effectively.”[3]

Composer Danny Elfman (MIB III, Terminator Salvation, Alice in Wonderland, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Good Will Hunting) has said that Herrmann is his number one inspiration.

  • I loved his scores. I think I was about eleven-years-old when I heard the score to The Day The Earth Stood Still, and it’s the first time I noticed film music and a name. I realized, ‘This isn’t just there. Somebody actually did it.’ Herrmann was always my god in terms of my love of film music.”[4]

Herrmann also composed for such films as Citizen Kane, both versions of Cape Fear, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Fahrenheit 451, and Taxi Driver.

Also see: Alfred Hithcock: The Master’s Mind Manipulation Poster Campaign

Please join us for a discussion Thursday 6/14/2012@7pmE/12UTC

55 Responses to “Hitchcock and Herrmann”

  1. Open Book June 13, 2012 at 4:56 PM #

    This is a great article LB! I love to see this type of respectful collaboration between artist. Really!! Far too often when someone gets famous they forget how to respect people and want to bark out orders instead of collaborating. Its sad because not only do they make working with them intolerable but their own work suffers as a result. Anyway, of the films u mentioned Psycho, Vertigo and North by Northwest. Which film score is your all time favorite?

    • littlebells June 13, 2012 at 5:19 PM #

      Thank you OB! I enjoyed researching. One of my favorite quotes by Herrmann is “Your views are as narrow as your tie.” The guy didn’t seem to be one to tolerate BS and if he didnt think something would work he wouldn’t do it.

      As far as scores…Oh man…I like bits and pieces from each. Herrmann’s music gets your pulse racing with his sinister, haunting, thrilling music. As I read about Elfman and looking at aaaaaaaall the films he has scored, you can definintely see Herrmann’s influence.

      Do you have a favorite score?

      • Comic Relief June 13, 2012 at 5:27 PM #

        OB and LB,

        The “Psycho” music is really famous so I can’t help but appreciate it. Yet I think that the sound track only resembles the “SCREE,” “SCREE,” “SCREE,” “SCREE,” sound emphasis and affects. Sorry for the gore but please check it out and tell me whether you agree.

        Regardless, because of the creativity, you might still prefer it.

        • Comic Relief June 13, 2012 at 5:47 PM #

          You said;
          “Hitchcock worked around Herrmann’s music.”

          Hermann seemed be willing to work around Hitchcock as well. Didn’t the sound track have to come after the film? Sorry, if I’m barking up the wrong tree.

    • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 7:09 PM #

      Since the North by Northwest theme is discussed in the article I thought I would find it. Equallly impressive, It’s so diffentent from the other two.

  2. Comic Relief June 13, 2012 at 5:32 PM #

    When I was a child, when I would spin around (and would eventually fall down). The sound I would eventually hear in my head sounds like the “Vertigo” sound track. So that gets my vote.

    • Open Book June 13, 2012 at 6:03 PM #


      Ah! I can just imagine. Great decision process u have going on here.

  3. Open Book June 13, 2012 at 5:39 PM #

    LOL!! I love that quote by Herrmann. I’ll never forget that one. LOVE IT!! I like that he had his own work ethic. I believe if u first sell yourself out the work will soon follow. Does that make sense?

    My favorite score? Ummm!! I’m conflicted. Wait!!! It’s a toss up between Psycho and Vertigo. O.k. I pick Vertigo.

  4. Open Book June 14, 2012 at 6:53 PM #

    Hi Everyone!

    Welcome new and returning visitors to our discussion tonight.

    • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 7:04 PM #

      Hi OB.

  5. littlebells June 14, 2012 at 7:04 PM #

    Hi OB!

    How are you today?

    • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 7:05 PM #

      Hi LB.

      • littlebells June 14, 2012 at 7:08 PM #

        Hi CR!

        I’m working on you answer to the question you asked regarding score and scene.

        • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 7:10 PM #

          Thank you, yet take your time.

          • littlebells June 14, 2012 at 7:31 PM #

            Ok! Here it is in a nutshell:

            Most composers don’t come into the creative process until the film is near completion or completely finished. However, each composer works differently. Some get rough cuts throughout filming and start writing. Some compose from the get go and see if it matches up to the scenes as far as timing and story.

            Some directors, like Hitchcock, actually work around the music. Speilberg actually re-edited the finale scene to E.T. because of Williams’ amazing score. So whether Hitchcock or others have to call actors back and reshoot or what, I think it shows true collaboration that a director and composer appreciate the other’s talent enough to make the scenes and music come together so beautifully.

            Did that help?

            • Open Book June 14, 2012 at 7:35 PM #

              Thanks LB!!

            • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 7:56 PM #

              Excellent, wow!!!!

  6. ozzie20 June 14, 2012 at 7:12 PM #

    Hi all!

    Very interesting article LB! I didn’t know who composed the music for his films. I love Danny Elfman so to hear he loves the music too makes me like him even more!

    • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 7:18 PM #

      Hi Ozzie.

      • ozzie20 June 14, 2012 at 7:47 PM #

        Hi CR!

    • littlebells June 14, 2012 at 7:20 PM #

      Yes Ozzie! Elfman is amazing and I didn’t realize how many films of his I am familiar with.

  7. littlebells June 14, 2012 at 7:21 PM #

    Hitchcock and Herrmann liked to leave some scenes quiet or use humming and whistling to add suspense. do you think many thrillers rely to heavily on composition to make the audience to feel thrill and suspense?

    • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 7:28 PM #

      I think you are correct about their methods for for enhancing the suspense, yet I am no that familiar with composers generally. Yet Hitchcock is such a master, it seems there is almost always some think to learn.

  8. Open Book June 14, 2012 at 7:27 PM #

    Hi LB, CR and Ozzie!!

    I hope all of u are well!!

    LB-Did Hermmann ever collaborate with other directors besides AH?

    • Open Book June 14, 2012 at 7:32 PM #

      Sorry LB u mentioned he did Citizen Kane in your article which I did not know. I loved the score for Citizen Kane.

      • littlebells June 14, 2012 at 7:41 PM #

        I’m embarrassed to say I have not seen CK *ducks behind couch*, but yes the score is great!

        • Open Book June 14, 2012 at 7:48 PM #

          I’m going to pretend I did not hear that LB….. CR how many times have u seen CK? I’m putting u on the spot because because at one time u had not seen the film and had NO intention of seeing it. Can u please tell LB your impression of the film?

          • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 7:53 PM #

            Sorry LB (but really it grows on you).

            OB, at least 6 times.


            • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 7:55 PM #

              When did I tell you I had no intention of seeing it, I think you are thinking of another film.

    • littlebells June 14, 2012 at 7:33 PM #

      Hi OB!

      Hitchcock was really the only director Herrmann worked the most with. However, he did work with Orsen Welles for Citizen Cane and they seemed to get along.

      • Open Book June 14, 2012 at 7:37 PM #

        Ahh! Gotcha…..

    • ozzie20 June 14, 2012 at 7:48 PM #

      Hi OB!

      • Open Book June 14, 2012 at 7:50 PM #

        Hi Oz!! Nice to see u!!

  9. littlebells June 14, 2012 at 7:43 PM #

    I apologize for having to leave the discussion early, but I will be back to answer any questions. I would like to leave you with my own: What are some of your favorite psychological thrillers, outside of Hitchcock, and do their scores enhance the story?

    • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 7:47 PM #

      Sorry you have to go but I do have more questions… give me a second…

      • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 7:48 PM #


        To add to OB’s earlier question, other composers must have feared not measuring up to the Hitchcock/Herrmann collaboration. LB’s would you also tell us what you thought of some of Hitchcock’s other collaborators?

        • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 7:49 PM #

          This is Composer Christ Frost, who was in charge for the “The Birds” soundtrack.

          • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 7:49 PM #

            Franz Waxman, who was featured on “The Rear Window” soundtrack.

        • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 8:02 PM #

          Dimitri Tiomkin produced the Dial M For Murder Theme:

  10. Open Book June 14, 2012 at 7:45 PM #

    What film composers today besides Elfman has been able to build suspense in films like Herrmmann? This question is for everyone btw.

    • ozzie20 June 14, 2012 at 8:08 PM #

      I don’t know about today but The Godfather had a similar approach to building suspense like Herrmann did with North By North West. The famous shooting scene has no music at all until the deed was done!

      The soundtrack was by Nino Rota.

      • Open Book June 14, 2012 at 8:18 PM #

        Great choice Ozzie!!

        O.k. please tell me u have seen Citizen Kane? Lie to me if u need too. LOL!!

        • ozzie20 June 14, 2012 at 8:46 PM #

          Yes I have seen it! *shifty eyes* 🙂

          No, I haven’t and I don’t know if I will. There is a crazy yet valid reason why but I’m not going to say it on here!

      • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 8:20 PM #

        after watching the movie, that scene is so sad

        • Open Book June 14, 2012 at 8:29 PM #

          ITA CR it is a sad scene. It reminds me of the last scene in CK. The music really does a good job of slowly revealing the real gravity of the situation, which plays on your memory and feelings of the character. ITS BRILLIANT!!

  11. Open Book June 14, 2012 at 7:58 PM #

    My favorites are:

    Play Misty for Me.
    Fatal Attraction
    Silence of the Lambs

    • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 8:07 PM #

      I agree on all yet Jonathen Demme’s soundtrack theme is very unique in that it starts extremely innocent yet grows to be very serious by the end (IMHO).

    • Open Book June 14, 2012 at 8:15 PM #

      Sorry this is in response to LB’s question regarding other Psycho Thriller soundtracks I like. I will have to say Play Misty for Me really does not qualify but I like how the song was used to develop suspense and the character in the film. Now I selected Fatal Attraction and Play Misty for Me to show the difference in suspense using a lyrical song versus a musical composition. Where am I going? Of the two which one do u think works the best in building suspense and why?

  12. Open Book June 14, 2012 at 8:07 PM #

    • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 8:10 PM #

      That represented the film and period well but was nothing like what I expected.

      • Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 8:11 PM #

        sorry speaking of “fatal attraction”

  13. Comic Relief June 14, 2012 at 8:22 PM #

    Unfortunately, I have to leave. Great article LB>

    • Open Book June 14, 2012 at 8:24 PM #

      See u later CR!!

  14. Open Book June 14, 2012 at 8:32 PM #

    Well I’m going to go as well. Thanks everyone for coming. This was a fun discussion LB!!

    See u later OZ!!

    • ozzie20 June 14, 2012 at 8:47 PM #

      Bye OB, CR and LB!

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