How Herrman ended up with a true Yorkshire lass

Tippett Quartet
Tippett Quartet
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WHEN film composer Bernard Herrmann conducted the Hallé in Sheffield soon after his second divorce in 1964, the orchestra’s leader was perhaps aware of some sort of withdrawal symptoms.

He said to him: “Don’t you want one of our Yorkshire lasses? “Don’t you like our Yorkshire lasses?”

Later, not too long after, Herrmann who had taken up residence in England around the time could announce: “I ended up with a Yorkshire lass.”

Indeed he did, and from Sheffield: Norma Shepherd, whom he married on November 27 1967 and who relates the foregoing in a revealing 2004 interview on the Bernard Herrmann Society website.

Sheffield University’s spring concert season starts next Tuesday with a concert that includes music by Herrmann in the centenary year of his birth on June 29 1911.

Promoted by the Department of Music, the occasion is the catalyst for two concerts of film music in the season, on February 20 and March 6, neither of which has Herrmann in it, though the former has some Nino Rota, ‘Godfather Saga’, whose centenary also occurs this year.

There is a talk about Herrmann’s work with Alfred Hitchcock by Neil Sinyard, emeritus professor of film studies at Hull University whose numerous writings include a book on Hitchcock on February 24.

Further, the Showroom Cinema has a Herrmann study day on March 20, which as planned, was to have included screenings of his first and last film scores, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane in 1941 and Martin Scorese’s Taxi Driver in 1976 – Herrmann died on Christmas Eve 1975.

But a hitch in the plans, the non-availability of a print of the Citizen Kane, has meant it being replaced by Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for which, ironically, Herrmann was not credited at the time and is not exclusively his music in the final cut.

Some of it, along with 45 minutes of the film, also ended up on the cutting room floor.

It was Welles who got Herrmann into film music having met him when he began arranging or writing scores for the former’s Mercury Theatre radio broadcasts – most memorably in 1938, HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds, which caused widespread public panic.

He went on to write the music for 51 films, notably The Day the Earth Stood Still (1948), Cape Fear (1962), Fahrenheit 451, The Bride Wore Black (both 1966), Twisted Nerve (1968) and Obsession (1974).

Not always remembered are the scores for such well-known Ray Harryhausen fantasy epics as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and Jason and the Argonauts (1962).

But his most celebrated film scores are the nine (counting the unused Torn Curtain) he penned for Alfred Hitchcock between 1954 and 1965, including Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Birds and, most famously, Psycho.

Hitchcock gave Herrmann full creative control of the music until Torn Curtain in 1965 when they fell out after the composer didn’t give the director the type of score he wanted.

With music provision placed in other hands, the film was only a minor success – a lack of chemistry between Julie Andrews and Paul Newman didn’t help.

Some of Herrmann’s music was later synched into the film and seen to be perfectly attuned to it leaving people asking how much more effective it would have been which begs the question of the importance of Herrmann’s music in some of Hitchcock’s biggest successes.

Crucial, it might be said.

Try to imagine the iconic shower scene in Psycho without Herrmann’s ominous, screeching violins heightening the senses.

Hitchcock originally planned to shoot it without music!

Herrmann’s genius was his ability to visualise a person, thing or situation ideally in music leading him to use a variety of techniques to create innovative sounds, with often-unusual orchestration, which became an integral part of the film.

Ten harps in Beneath the 12 Mile Reef (1953), for instance, to create an underwater landscape (12 flutes in the rejected Torn Curtain score!) and he wasn’t afraid to utilise electronic instruments and devices, most notably in Hitchcock’s music-less The Birds for which he was sound consultant.

He resurrected the serpent, an obsolete brass instrument, for use in White Witch Doctor (1952) and Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959).

But while Herrmann’s lasting fame rests on his film scores, he was a celebrated conductor of other composer’s works and wrote concert music which was conducted by the eminent likes of Stokowski, Beecham and Barbirolli, yet is rarely heard nowadays.

He also wrote a lengthy but highly respectable and atmospheric opera, Wuthering Heights, over a period of time, completing it in 1951.

According to his widow Norma Herrmann, née Shepherd, he was “mad on Emily Bronte” and “his soul was up on the moors with Cathy.”

Well, she was a Yorkshire lass!

One of Herrmann’s concert works, Echoes for string quartet, written in the wake of the Torn Curtain fall out with Hitchcock in 1965, is on Tuesday’s fascinating programme at Firth Hall.

The concert is given by the much-praised young Tippett Quartet and also includes a recently cobbled suite from Herrmann’s music for Psycho.

Except for Four for Tango by Astor Piazzolla, a fan of Herrmann’s music and a piece inspired by Psycho, two other works being played are by composer’s best-known for writing celebrated blockbuster Hollywood film scores

Proceedings begin with Miklós Rózsa’s String Quartet No 2, which like most of his concert music owes a debt to his Hungarian countryman, Bartók.

Erich Korngold, who has just about managed keep a toehold in the concert hall and opera house which is where he started, is represented by the third of his three string quartets penned in 1945.