Bernard Herrmann

American composer and orchestra conductor (1911, New York – 1975, Los Angeles)

Bernard Herrmann’s interest in avant-garde musicians of his time allowed him to create novel compositions for Hollywood films. His creativity and his influence can still be perceived through modern composers.

Bernard Herrmann developped his talent as a composer at a very early age, even before starting studying music at the Juilliard Graduate School of Music in New York, until 1932. These years at school were marked by different influences, from Berlioz’s Treatise on Orchestration to Charles Ives’ polytonality, including Ravel and George Antheil. From 1934, he joined the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) as a staff conductor, and composed the music of radio programmes. As part of CBS, he met and worked with Orson Welles, who asked him to write the music for Citizen Kane in 1940. The success of the film reverberated on Herrmann, and he later wrote several film scores including for Alfred Hitchcock’s Hollywood masterpieces (North by Northwest, Vertigo, Psycho…). The innovative use of heterogeneous instruments (especially electronic), of repetitive rhythms, of outstanding harmony and of atonal methods constituted his very own language, which set a new standard cinema composition. A disagreement with Hitchcock led him to travel to Europe, where he met François Truffaut, for whom he composed the score for Fahrenheit 451  in 1966. During this period he played and recorded his own compositions of orchestral music or vocal pieces not destined to film, as well as a part of   the 20th century's repertoire that influenced him. After a declining phase, “New Hollywood” called him. He then went on composing the score for Sisters by De Palma in 1973 and for Scorsese'sTaxi Driver in 1976. He died after the first recording session.

Six landmark dates in the life of Bernard Herrmann

1934: Joined the Columbia Broadcasting System as a conductor

1941: Oscar winner for the music of The Devil and Daniel Webster

1951: First time electronic instruments were used in a film (The Day the Earth Stood Still)

1955: Started his collaboration with Hitchcock

1960: Composed the music for Psycho, considered as his masterpiece

1966: Feud with Hitchcock and trip to Europe

Biography from Radio France’s document database, January 2014