This year marks the centennial of composer Bernard Herrmann, whose remarkable film career began with “Citizen Kane”; encompassed such other classics as “Vertigo” and “Psycho”; and ended with “Taxi Driver,” recorded just hours before his death in 1975.
Film festivals and live musical events around the world will commemorate the composer’s life and career, beginning this weekend and extending into the fall. It’s shocking to discover that — despite collaborations with Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut and Martin Scorsese — he was Oscar-nominated only five times and won just once, for the relatively obscure “All That Money Can Buy” in 1941.
“During his lifetime, Herrmann was underrated,” says biographer Steven C. Smith, “certainly by the Academy and often by other composers who felt his music wasn’t melodic enough. But time has vindicated his approach. No one used orchestral color more brilliantly, and no one made screen action more immediately involving.”
Centennial events begin on Saturday with the West Coast premiere of Herrmann’s cantata “Moby Dick,” by the American Philharmonic of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa, Calif., conducted by John Kendall Bailey. The Minnesota Opera will perform Herrmann’s only opera, “Wuthering Heights,” for five performances beginning April 16 in St. Paul, Minn. Sara Jakubiak and Lee Poulis will sing the roles of Catherine and Heathcliff, with Michael Christie conducting.
On the film side, the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival will screen six Herrmann-scored films during its April 28-May 1 run in Hollywood: “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,” “Citizen Kane,” “The Trouble With Harry” and “Taxi Driver.” Five other films will run on TCM April 28: “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “The Wrong Man,” “North by Northwest,” “The Magnificent Ambersons” and “On Dangerous Ground.”
Perhaps the most all-encompassing Herrmann concert this spring will be May 22 in Kaarst, Germany, where Tobias van de Locht will conduct such Herrmann obscurities as “Marnie,” the unused score for “Torn Curtain,” Truffaut’s “The Bride Wore Black” and “The Night Digger.”
John Williams will pay tribute to his friend Herrmann with a suite from “Citizen Kane” May 25 with the Boston Pops. London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will pay its own homage June 2 with “Kane,” “Taxi Driver” and such Hitchcock classics as “Psycho.” Germany’s Brandenburg State Orchestra will perform Herrmann’s rarely heard piano concerto from “Hangover Square” June 17 in Frankfurt.
Perhaps proving that the language of music is universal, the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra will play Herrmann’s entire “Psycho” score live with the 1960 film on June 25. And at year’s end, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will perform a still-unnamed Herrmann work as part of its “Hollywood Sound” concert Dec. 8 at Disney Hall, with Thomas Wilkins conducting.
Recordings of Herrmann film music are also on the release schedule.
The “Citizen Kane” album, a now-classic 1974 re-recording by conductor Charles Gerhardt, heads the list of 13 “Classic Film Scores” CDs just released by Sony Masterworks. And the powerful music from two of Herrmann’s war films, “The Battle of Neretva” and “The Naked and the Dead,” will be released later this year on the Tribute Film Classics label.
Conductor William Stromberg led the Moscow Symphony in those debut recordings (and also recorded other Herrmann scores including “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Kentuckian”). He called Herrmann “the most original film composer to ever come along.”
“He wasn’t interested in writing the next great tune,” Stromberg said. “He would get into the psychology of the characters. He wanted to create the atmosphere that would carry along the story in an enriching way. He was writing ‘cells’ (brief musical phrases) that you could easily edit, the way film music is done today — although he was more creative at it.”