Friday, September 13, 2013

Herrmann - Psycho - A Suite For Strings

Bernard Herrmann was a composer who is most well-known for his work in motion pictures. He wrote music for many films and worked with some of the most famous directors in film. He wrote the score for Orson Welles' Citizen Kane and was especially known for his collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock on films such as North By Northwest, Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Psycho.

Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho was a ground-breaking film that was made in 1960. The screenplay was based on a book by Robert Bloch. The grisly and gruesome story of a woman being murdered in a remote motel by a madman created new limits on the amount of sexuality and graphic violence allowed in movies.  Herrman's film score was no less ground breaking and Hitchcock himself credited Herrmann's music with contributing to the success of the picture.

Herrmann was also a composer of concert works and was an accomplished conductor. His music has
Alfred Hitchcock
influenced many composers of concert works as well as for film. It was Herrmann's belief that music for film needed to be composed well enough that it could stand alone as a concert work. He conducted suites of his film music that he arranged for concert use, and the suite from Psycho was arranged shortly after the movie's premiere.

Due to Hitchcock making the film on a very tight budget ( he filmed it in black and white), Herrmann saved the expense of a full orchestra and scored the music for strings alone.  The suite utilizes the main themes used in the film in eleven short parts that refer to events in the film:

1. Prelude - The so called 'Psycho theme', an agitated motif that runs through the prelude, and in the opinion of some musicologists, appears in other music sections of the score. The theme is sometimes repeated verbatim, other times it is transformed.
2. The City - A lazy afternoon in the city as two lovers secretly meet in a hotel room.
3. The Rainstorm - The agitation of the prelude returns as Marion Crane, one of the two lovers in the hotel room, drives away after embezzling $40,000 from her employer.
4. The Madhouse -  Scenes of the house on the hill where Norman Bates and his mother live, a house full
Norman Bates' house
of mystery and madness.
5. The Murder - The violins underline the knife-slashing murder of Marion in the shower. Some have suggested that this was a clue to who actually was the murderer, as the screeching of the violins is in imitation of screeching birds. And Norman Bates' hobby was bird taxidermy.
6. The Water - Blood from the murder victim runs down the drain.
7. The Swamp - Marion Crane's car is disposed of in the swamp near the Bates motel.
8. The Stairs - Marion's sister is concerned about the disappearance of her sister and a police investigator confirms that Marion is a suspect in the embezzlement case of $40,000. When the police investigator goes to the Bates' house, enters it and climbs the stairs a figure comes out of Norman's room and knifes him to death.  Norman Bates climbs the stairs to inform his mother that she needs to be hidden in the basement because of the policeman's murder.
9. The Knife -  When Marion's sister goes to the motel to investigate on her own, she goes to the Bates' house on the hill and is confronted by Norman dressed as his mother as he tries to kill her with the same knife he killed Marion and the policeman with. The murder motive is heard once again.
10. The Cellar - As Marion's sister flails her arms to protect herself, a chair spins around to reveal the corpse of Norman's mother. Marion's sister is saved by her boyfriend. The true killer is revealed.
11. Finale - All of the loose ends of the story are tied up.  Music from the 'madhouse' section is revisited, and a final climax represents the madness of Norman Bates.

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