Bernard Herrmann - Anglophile - Editings by Ian Lace from Steven
C. Smith's biography A Heart At Fire's Center - The Life and
Music of Bernard Herrmann. Book
Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) is best remembered
today for his film scores – particularly those for Hitchcock’s
most celebrated Hollywood thrillers of the late 1950s and 1960s.
But Herrmann was also a very keen Anglophile coming over to England
on many occasions from 1937 and even living here towards the end
of his life. His knowledge of English music and literature was
prodigious, a fact acknowledged and appreciated by many of our
leading composers and conductors including: Vaughan Williams,
Finzi, Bliss, Barbirolli, Constant Lambert and Anthony Collins
In fact, and incredibly, Herrmann made, what
was in 1975, and still is, the only recording of Cyril Scott’s
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C (with John Ogdon and the London Philharmonic
Orchestra on Lyrita SRCS 81, n.l.a.)
The following article is based very largely
on extracts from Steven C. Smith’s biography of Bernard Herrmann,
A Heart at Fire’s Centre published by University of California
Press and now available in paperback (Amazon are quoting £10:23).
Bernard Herrmann was born on 29 June 1911 in
New York. At the age of five he had to battle with St Vitus dance.
He developed an early love of literature – ‘especially that evoking
the bustling, foggy London of Dickens and Conan Doyle. And he
remembered music.’ By the time he was 11 Herrmann had composed
‘Bernard’s Anglophilia was due to the nineteenth
century outlook of his teachers. He developed a life-long love
of English poets and English music. His father bought entire sets
of authors: Dumas, Zangwill, Tolstoy, de Maupassant, Twain, Balzac,
Molière, Ibsen, Dickens. Books were lined from floor to
ceiling - and they were read.
‘Hampering Benny’s school years was his social
awkwardness with other children. His scholarly demeanour typed
him early as a bespectacled, uncoordinated bookworm. Their taunting
abuse left deep scars. His creative disposition was drawn to the
brooding poetry of the English Romantics [he was later to become
a colourful member of the Byron Society in England] and the socialistic
lessons of Dostoyevsky, Dickens, and Hardy. One of Herrmann’s
favourite novels was Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, a deeply
pessimistic study of late nineteenth-century English society.
Herrmann identified very much with the sensitive young Jude. Benny’s
brother Louis observed, "The poignancy of life was made evident
to him very early. He felt the hurts and anguish of life very
strongly. You could not value friendships too highly because sometimes
they were used for other purposes. As a result he had a tendency
to view people slightly from a distance, very cautiously…. He
was very demanding of other people being able to fill his sense
‘Yet he was an articulate and compelling speaker.
‘Benny absorbed himself in composer and artist
biographies and 78rpm recordings. He valued Berlioz’s Treatise
on Orchestration as much as the Koran and the book convinced
him to become a composer. Berlioz was to be a major influence
on Herrmann throughout his life.’
1927 – Herrmann at school with Jerome Moross,
then 14 years old with similar ambitions to be a composer. ‘They
illicitly peeked in at Carnegie Hall rehearsals. Herrmann admired
Toscanini’s violent rows (which he would later emulate) more than
his music-making. Benny also admired Ravel and Debussy, calling
the latter the greatest twentieth-century composer. Sharing importance
with the impressionists were two composers of disparate cultural
backgrounds, one an obscure American, Charles Ives, the other
England’s most revered composer, Edward Elgar. ‘From adolescence
to adulthood many of Herrmann’s colleagues were perplexed by his
passion for the conservative Elgar and his championing of Elgar’s
works unknown in America. It was acceptable to admire Elgar’s
Enigma Variations or the popular overtures – but
the symphonic study Falstaff?
‘Yet for Herrmann, the performance of any Elgar
was a spiritual experience, an evocation of the vanished Edwardian
culture he adored. "To have lived with and studied Elgar’s
music has been more than a great musical experience," he
wrote in 1957. "It has been an enriching of one’s whole life,
for it brings in its train not only melodies and harmonies that
remain permanently in one’s memory, but also a great tranquillity
and solace, and at the same time the joy and excitement of being
on a mountain peak. For Elgar’s music is, in the end, an affirmation
of the miracle of life and never a negation of it. This accomplishment
certainly places him with the very greatest of the masters of
‘At the library Herrmann also found the music
of a younger English contemporary, Ralph Vaughan Williams. Herrmann
"As a boy I first heard the London Symphony
– and at that, only the first two movements – at a concert given
by Walter Damrosch. Up to that time I had only been to London
through the magic of Dickens’ prose and the Adventures of Sherlock
Holmes. But through the evocative power of the music I was
there again. At that time the only full score to be had was in
the New York Music Library. I spent days absorbing the contents
and reading over and over again the programme as delineated by
Albert Coates. And all I could do was to wait, with the greatest
of impatience and longing, for someone to play the Symphony. This
happened about two years later. The second impression, and this
time of the full work, only deepened my excitement and fervour
for this great poetic work, which not only held me with its individual
music-making, but also because of its literary and descriptive
powers. I resolved then that whenever I was to have a chance,
if ever I did, I would conduct this Symphony".
‘Another British contemporary had great influence
on young Herrmann’s development as a musician and iconoclast.
The career of Sir Thomas Beecham, England’s pre-eminent conductor,
combined iconographic window-breaking and thrilling performances
of new music – the former characterised by Beecham’s diatribes
on "glorified Italian bandmasters" like Toscanini and
German "humbugs" like Mengelberg; and the latter by
premieres of Strauss’s Salome and the little heard music
of Englishman. Frederick Delius (whom Herrmann adored).’
In the late 1920s Herrmann began to champion
Ives, introducing him to Aaron Copland who also came to champion
Ives, mainly due to Benny’s enthusiasm. But to most teachers at
NYU Herrmann was inexcusably abrasive or, in the words of one
professor, "downright rude".
‘Already in 1929, in such early compositions
as Late Autumn, The Forest: A Tone Poem for Large
Orchestra, Pastoral (Twilight) and Requiescat (after
Oscar Wilde), Herrmann was displaying trademarks that would characterise
his work: extreme sensitivity to orchestral colour (especially
low-register colours of strings and winds); an often static progression
of whole-and half-notes to create a brooding, dramatic atmosphere,
and a fondness for chromatic patterns, rising and falling without
resolution – an unsettling device that Herrmann made his own in
virtually every composition. Through orchestral colour and a carefully
defined harmonic language, his music already conveyed individuality,
poignancy and psychological resonance.
‘His style changed little over the years. The
early concert works would climax with a handful of large-scale
pieces: the cantata Moby Dick, his symphony, and the four-act
opera Wuthering Heights. But most of Herrmann’s music would
be in smaller forms – radio scores and film and television music.
All shared one thing in common: an origin in drama.’
At Juilliard a fellow student was Alex North,
later to become one of the few American composers of film music
that Herrmann admired.
In 1932 Herrmann met Oscar Levant who was admitted
into Herrmann’s little group of professional malcontents. The
Levant-Herrmann friendship led to meeting with Johnny Green, a
23 year old Harvard economics graduate turned composer-conductor
who would later work with Herrmann at CBS and go on to be an important
member of the M-G-M music department.
Also in 1932 Herrmann attended a bi-weekly course
in advanced composition and orchestration led by the brilliant
but wildly unorthodox Percy Grainger.
‘Percy Grainger was Australia’s most innovative
advocate of music past and present, from his childhood days as
"the flaxen-haired phenomenon" of Melbourne to his years
of international fame as folk song collector, composer, and recitalist.
At the heart of Grainger’s unstable, erratic character was a fixation
on truth, contempt for tradition and a passion for the outrageous.
‘Since becoming head of NYU’s music department
in 1931, Grainger had offered a syllabus of musical eccentricity
and frequent brilliance that left many students puzzled and unimpressed.
The class of 1932, however, had one exception. In Grainger, Herrmann
saw qualities he himself was cultivating: individualism and dedication
to one’s craft and beliefs, however unpopular and unfashionable.
‘The relationship between the fifty-year-old
teacher and the twenty-one year old student was one of mutual
respect. "Grainger did not place orchestration examples before
[his students]," Grainger biographer John Bird wrote, "Instead,
he allowed them to choose their pieces and gave them advice when
and where needed. Herrmann for instance, decided to orchestrate
MacDowell’s Celtic Sonata and felt the need to employ the
sonorities of a tenor tuba. The Australian knew little of this
unusual piece of plumbing, so together, they familiarised themselves
with the instrument and found suitable moments to include it."
‘Herrmann and Grainger also discovered a shared
love of Whitman and the music of Delius. One of Herrmann’s favourite
NYU memories peripherally involved the latter: one morning the
gaunt, sprightly Grainger leapt onto the lecture stage and announced,
"The three greatest composers who ever lived are Bach, Delius
and Duke Ellington. Unfortunately Bach is dead, Delius is very
ill – but we are happy to have with us today the Duke!" Ellington
and his band then mounted the stage and played for the next two
‘If other Grainger lectures were less dramatic,
they were no less influential to Herrmann: ancient monophony,
folk music, atonality, polyphony, the indigenous rhythms of Africa,
Asia, and the South Seas – each was examined by Grainger with
alternating lucidity and jumbled mysticism. When the scholastic
year ended in mid-August 1933, Grainger considered his work a
failure, as few students had been as responsive as Herrmann; but
it cemented a friendship between him and his intense young pupil
that affected Herrmann for the rest of his life.
Herrmann conducted the New Chamber Orchestra,
an ensemble of unemployed musicians in a concert in May 1933 that
included Purcell’s obscure Overture to The Gordian Knot
United and excerpts from Elgar’s Falstaff (Herrmann’s
first performance of the work, one of his favourites). On December
3, 1933 Herrmann conducted the New Chamber Orchestra with Harriet
Cohen as the guest soloist in Vaughn Williams’s Charterhouse
Suite and Arnold Bax’s Saga Fragment.
Herrmann on his friendship with George Gershwin:
"George once told me there was two different kinds of music
– dry music and wet music…"Herrmann, you like wet music –
I like dry music! Look, you even like those ‘ius composers."
I said, "What’s an ‘ius composer?" Gershwin replied
"Sibelius, Delius – the ‘ius composers!" I was at the
time much taken with the music of Delius and Sibelius, and he
wasn’t that interested in that kind of music – although, funnily
enough, ‘Summer-time’ might have been written by Delius; it’s
full of Delius harmonies…"
Johnny Green remembered about Herrmann that -
"He was not only encyclopaedic, he out-Groved Grove. I had
never heard of Arnold Bax or Turina; he told me about Ives, Constant
Lambert and shed new light on serialism. I knew a lot about Purcell
but I didn’t know the things about him that Benny did. He could
have been one of those early English musicians…"
In 1934 ‘Herrmann’s symphonic score for a CBS
broadcast of Keats’ La Belle Dame Sans Merci was
so successful, so different from any other musical background
then known that the CBS executives promptly commissioned the youngster
to turn out many more. In the CBS recording control room one was
impressed by the divisibility of his concentrative powers. "If
you looked in and saw his face, he was devoutly intent on the
Times, until he’d suddenly push the button and say, "Johnny!
(Green) The horns are too loud at bar thirty." And he’d be
Benny befriended film composer David Raksin who
recalled, "…Despite his rotten manners, he was, in some ways
a gentleman. Benny modelled himself after Englishmen like Samuel
Johnson and others, which led me to call him Sir Shamus Beecham.
It’s interesting; a lot of the English poets we hear about as
having been so beautifully accoutered, were physically something
you wouldn’t want in your living room. Sam Johnson, for instance,
had scrofula and was generally a mess. Benny was like that; he
was a man who, if he had become an angel, would have soup stains
on his jacket after the first lunch."
"As for books", a CBS press release
noted, "there are people who have abandoned the idea of ever
finding one that Benny has not read…he can and does at the slightest
provocation – deliver dissertations, complete with quotations
on the works of Trollope, Shaw, Lefanu, the Sitwells, Virginia
Woolf, Shakespeare, Dickens, Graham Greene, or almost any other
English author you can think of."
Amongst his scores
for CBS was music for three poems of
A.E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad
Herrmann’s first trip to England was in 1937.
‘Through CBS Herrmann arranged a live conducting performance on
the British Broadcasting System, premiering the Prelude and Fugue
of Ives Fourth Symphony. While in England, Herrmann also visited
London’s major music publishers with a bundle of Ives’s most ambitious
scores, with Ives authorisation to sell to any interested party.
According to Herrmann every company rejected the offer.
‘His time in Britain yielded great pleasures.
At last he could meet many of his musical heroes including: Ralph
Vaughan Williams, Arthur Bliss, Constant Lambert, Cecil Gray,
Arnold Bax and the eccentric Lord Berners, an aristocratic composer
little known outside England. For Herrmann (probably the only
American conductor to have programmed Berners’s music) visiting
the composer was a memorably odd experience. Berners’s large estate
was filled with birds dyed in various colours - many sporting
tinkling silver bells. The home itself was near freezing with
only a roaring fireplace in the main den to offer a semblance
The following year, Herrmann reciprocated the
Englishman’s hospitality with his own brand of domestic eccentrism.
On his first trip to New York, Berners came to the Herrmann’s
Second Avenue home for a typical Jewish dinner with Benny’s family.
Apparently Benny wasn’t embarrassed by his family at all and Berners
had a wonderful time. It was like staying in an Arab tent as far
as he was concerned.
Herrmann was a great fan of Walton’s film music
but he was also aware of the lesser-known Alan Rawsthorne (Uncle
Herrmann insisted on doing his own orchestrations
and was very particular about balance sound levels or the dynamics
of the score in a finished film.
Benny considered Barbirolli to be the most poetic
of conductors. Evelyn Barbirolli recalled:
"John was always deeply touched that Benny
admired him so much and said so to everybody. At a time when John
was having a hard time with the New York critics, Benny was always
championing him, and John never forgot that; he always felt that
Benny’s loyalty as a friend and his honesty were completely unpolitical.
If Benny felt a thing was right, my god he’d stick to it – and
what a lovely quality that is…."
In 1942 came an admiring note from Anthony Collins
the British composer-conductor then working in Hollywood (Herrmann
had gone there to score Citizen Kane and The Magnificent
"Your conducting on Sunday was magnificent.
You know how I’ve hated old Schumann…Well, you almost persuaded
me otherwise – it was so spirited. You definitely converted me
to the London Symphony. Here again, as you know, I don’t
like London so I’d made up my mind never to like Uncle Ralph’s
[Vaughan Williams] portrait of it – but from this distance I’ve
learned to like them both….
Bravo Benny - you did and are doing a wonderful
job – don’t ever think of doing anything in this bloody cul-de-sac
but paying it a flying visit."
In 1943 Herrmann composed For the Fallen
his most moving and evocative work described by Benny as a "berceuse
for those who lie asleep on the many battlefields of this war,’
its gentle 6/8 sway echoes Delius’s On Hearing the First Cuckoo
in Spring, while its mood and title recall Debussy’s Berceuse
héroïque, which is subtitled ‘In Memory of the
‘Another early 1940s CBS concert and one of Herrmann’s
finest broadcasts was that of Gerald Finzi’s Die Natalis,
one of Herrmann’s favourite contemporary English works. The performance,
which Finzi later received in acetate form, was instrumental not
only in getting the work circulated among English broadcasters,
but also in initiating a close friendship between Finzi and Herrmann.
(Finzi was also a scholarly collector of musical manuscripts,
especially of the eighteenth century). After the broadcast, which
featured tenor William Ventura, Finzi wrote to Herrmann: ‘The
performance struck me as being remarkably good and some of the
movements – the Intrada for instance – I have never heard bettered.
Everyone present remarked on the care and understanding which
had been put into the performance…You and [Mr Ventura] seem to
have got right inside the work.
‘Another distinguished premiere was the first
American performance of the Vaughan Williams Oboe Concerto played
by Mitch Miller under Herrmann’s direction. For Ben Hyams it was
unforgettable for reasons not entirely aesthetic:
"The concerto has a serene pastoral beauty,
rolling blithely along like the English countryside. At a particular
point there’s an orchestral tutti and the oboe rests briefly for
a matter of a few bars, a few seconds.
"When that time arrived, Mitch instantly
switched off the mouthpiece. He reached for his whittling blade
and gave the reed a few quick strokes. In another moment he was
passing [his cleaning] goosefeather in and out of the tube.
"The tutti was rising to its climax. I don’t
know how many seconds had passed. All I knew was that the oboe
was due to come in and Mitch had it in his lap in pieces with
a bag of blades and goosefeathers at his feet. I was just about
to clamber over three musicians and nudge him when I saw [Herrmann]
glance his way.
"In an instant he jammed the mouthpiece
on, gave a quick twist and the parts flew together as in an animated
TV cartoon. The conductor’s baton jabbed in Mitch’s direction
and he came in square on the downbeat sounding a tone of sunlit
rapture and sailed on triumphantly to the close."
In 1943 Bernard Herrmann scored Jane Eyre
– one of his most conventional film scores using a full symphony
orchestra It was also one of Herrmann’s longest scores with almost
every scene coloured in a dark gothic hue that ideally complemented
the Brontë text – a mood that is retained, albeit somewhat
diluted, in the screenplay ("On a project like Jane Eyre
I didn’t need to see the film beforehand," Herrmann said
in 1975, "One just remembers the book")
‘In 1943, when his only opera, Wuthering Heights
was born, ‘Herrmann thought only of possibilities. During the
making of Jane Eyre, Herrmann had immersed himself in the
Brontës’ writings, from Emily and Anne’s fantasies of the
mythical Gondal to the epic Yorkshire novels like Wuthering
Heights; he became obsessed, not only with the works’ literary
romanticism and portraits of the nineteenth century rural life,
but with the authors’ tragic lives as well. A sense of identification
was building, and soon Herrmann spoke of "Charlotte"
and "Emily" as casually and intimately as if they were
‘Herrmann’s first meeting with Jane Eyre
took place in December 1942. The next March Herrmann broached
the idea of an operatic Wuthering Heights in a letter to
the English composer, Cecil Gray. Replied Gray: "Wuthering
Heights has all the emotional background and atmosphere needed
in an opera but you might find the construction and the writing
of the libretto difficult." By April 1943 Herrmann had begun
his first sketches of the opera. It was a brave concept for Neo-Romanticism
was giving way to the experimentalism of Schoenberg, Stravinsky
and others. And, Herrmann was not the first to attempt an opera
based on Wuthering Heights, though he was the first to
succeed. Delius had tried decades earlier and had given up.
‘Herrmann’s research for the opera was obsessive.
He researched Victorian literature, art, furniture, painting and
even the effect of the corset on Victorian mores. Three years
into the writing of the opera, Herrmann made his first trip to
Brontë country. Although, once the opera’s form was set (no
easy task due to the complexity of the novel’s form and the characters’
complexity, composition came ‘almost distressingly easily’ Yet
it took him eight years to complete mainly due to demands of five
film scores, full time CBS employment, two trips to England and
the upheaval of Herrmann’s and Lucille Fletcher divorce (Lucille
had written the libretto for Wuthering Heights – her knowledge
of music and literature was great even before their marriage)..
Steven C. Smith’s book goes into great detail
about Herrmann’s opera, too much to record here but significantly
he quotes Herrmann as saying "Each act is a landscape tone
poem which envelopes the performers," and comments that Wuthering
Heights’ arias ‘…belie the myth that Herrmann could not write
melodies: for example, Edgar’s lovely ode to Cathy from ‘Love’s
Contentment’ ("Now art thou fair my golden June"); Isabel’s
‘Love is like the wild rose briar’- a childlike contrast to the
lovers’ passion; or Cathy’s first-act aria ‘I have been wandering
through the woods’, a sequence echoing Delius and Warlock without
sacrificing Herrmann’s own command of orchestration.
‘Yet it was not a success. Herrmann’s commitment
to Wuthering Heights cost him far more than his time. Friendships,
professional relationships, and his marriage would collapse, along
with Herrmann’s belief that he would ever see the opera produced.
For him, the work was the culmination of his career, the work
by which he would be remembered. Posterity has not yet agreed.
Wuthering Heights was to be a disillusioning reminder that
Herrmann’s future lay not in concert music or opera but in the
more experimental (and lucrative) media of film and radio.’
In 1945 Herrmann scored the film, Hangover
Square, a chiller about a psychotic pianist terrorising Victorian
London. It required a ten-minute, one-movement piano concerto,
Concerto Macabre, a diabolical Lisztian work, that was
praised by the critics.
‘In the fall of 1946, Herrmann went to England
on the invitation of John Barbirolli to conduct the Hallé
Orchestra. He conducted three highly successful concerts of music
that included Liszt, Schubert and Copland. He also set off on
a brief but intensive study of the British musical scene which
he recorded in a New York Herald Tribune article:-
"The British musical renaissance, first
manifested during the war years, still flourishes. The public’s
almost feverish interest in concerts has survived the blitz, and
seems destined to outlast the post-war austerities. Music-making
continues unabated, before vast new audiences who have an insatiable
appetite for a wide range of tastes.
"In conducting the Hallé Orchestra
of Manchester, it was my privilege to encounter one aspect of
this phenomenon… On a Sunday afternoon in Manchester we played
a concert three miles from the centre of the town, during a bus
strike that tied up the entire transportation system. The rain
came down in torrents, yet an audience of over 5,000 people filled
"This audience is intense, it is fresh.
It is a young audience mostly. Steel-workers, cotton-spinners,
clerks, shop-keepers and students form its bulk. And what is most
exciting, it is open-minded. It wants to hear new, contemporary
music, not only of England but of Europe, and it has an enormous
curiosity about American music…
"The great talent and success of Benjamin
Britten is, of course, much discussed in England. Indeed, musical
England seems to have fallen into pro-and-con-Britten camps. However,
most British composers feel that though his genius is a little
over-publicised at the moment, it is no bad thing for English
music as a whole. The international entrée has been made,
and others can follow.
"If Benjamin Britten is the present white-haired
boy of English music, Vaughan Williams is still its saint. I had
a twilight visit with him at his house in Surrey, and found him,
at 74, intensely interested in contemporary music. He was full
of praise for the music of Samuel Barber. He is now completing
his Sixth Symphony. When he told me he was having difficulty in
obtaining music paper, I suggested that I might send him some
from America. "That would be fine," he said, "but
do not send me too much of it. There must be enough for the other
composers – the young ones. They need it more, and have their
work to do." For such fellow-feeling, he is much beloved
by all British musicians…
"In general, I would say that the younger
generation of English composers falls into two categories. Britten,
Walton, Rawsthorne and Lambert are writing more universal modernism.
Their music is eclectic and brilliant, and stands exporting well.
Rubbra, Finzi, Tippett, and Moeran continue the tradition of Vaughan
Williams and Elgar. They prefer to find in the English musical
past the roots of their texture and their message. English music
therefore stands at a most interesting cross-roads. Never before
has it had so much variety. Never before has it grown in such
an atmosphere so conducive to it. It will be interesting to see
what comes of this exciting musical environment of the ‘40s. Will
music in England grow more personally English, more insular as
time goes on? Or will this new musical virility flower into creations
that will have the universality of the greatest English literature?"
‘ The Ghost and Mrs Muir became not only
the composer’s favourite of his films (1947), but also a companion
piece of Wuthering Heights. Both featured strong-willed,
self-reliant heroines with whom Herrmann empathised; both were
set in England of the past with the turbulence of their natural
settings – the sea and the moors – mirrored in their protagonists;
and both offered the promise of spiritual purification after life’s
disappointments. The two works were wed in Herrmann’s mind, his
passion for opera extending to the fantasy film, with the result
that several motives and sequences appear in both scores (a fact
Herrmann sometimes denied).
‘Herrmann at last received an invitation to guest
conduct two New York Philharmonic Orchestra concerts at New York’s
Lewissohn Stadium. After seven years as chief conductor of the
CBS Symphony, Herrmann had his opportunity to be seen and judged
accordingly – and, as the mercurial rise of Leonard Bernstein
had shown, one concert could make a career.
‘Herrmann’s failure that July (1947) was the
single most devastating event of his career; for despite selections
Herrmann knew and loved (including Vaughan Williams’s London
Symphony and Schubert’s Rosamunde and Delius’s Walk
to the Paradise Garden, his appearances were poorly attended
and unanimously panned. He may have been right in thinking he
had powerful enemies. One critic thought his gestures over-the-top
and many of his cues inaccurate and many of his expressive directions
inept. The players resented what they considered Benny’s abuse
at rehearsals, they were not the only ones to complain of his
impatience and anger.
‘Herrmann writing about the release of film soundtracks
on the newly invented long- playing records, in September 1947,
in Saturday Review mentions Walton’s film music –
"One of the most satisfying of the year’s
film music releases is the handsome album from Walton’s Henry
V. …It is not a typical film score in any sense, for music was
allotted an important, often paramount position in this moving,
brilliant tapestry of colour and sound. But on records, the music
itself shrinks in size, compared to the memory of its brilliance
in the theatre. Since the album features the spoken lines of Laurence
Olivier, no attempt has been made to doctor the music for the
records… Perhaps we will one day have a reworking of the music
by Walton himself into a suite, perhaps a cantata. The epic nature
of the music and its great variety – I regret the omission of
the lovely music of Falstaff’s death – cry out for a treatment
similar in stature to that which Prokofieff gave to his Alexander
Nevsky movie music."
‘By the fall of 1948, Herrmann was eager to return
to England. Again the professional means came from John Barbirolli
and Ernest Bean, who wrote to Herrmann in October about a return
to the Hallé Orchestra. "Everyone remembers the pleasure
and enjoyment given on your last visit. If there were any chance
of the production of Wuthering Heights with J.B. conducting
the visit would be still more exciting."
‘The opera was still unfinished, and Herrmann
was apparently against arranging excerpts into an orchestral suite,
but the Hallé directors did schedule a Herrmann concert
for November 1949. Of his Hallé performance of Liszt’s
Faust Symphony, the Manchester Guardian wrote: "Mr
Herrmann conducted this work (in its original, all-orchestral
form) with evident devotion, maintaining a regard for its wealth
of fascinating detail without loosing sight of the vast span of
the whole conception…So finely eloquent a performance of the symphony
is indeed exhilarating – indeed, a great – experience."
1951 - Wuthering Heights was completed
after eight years of work. "We shall drink to it tonight,
and one day I do so greatly hope to hear it," wrote Evelyn
Barbirolli that August. "John looks forward to receiving
the score when copies are made, but I think it would be far better
if you could deliver it in person!"
‘That same year the CBS Symphony was disbanded.
Television was now the network’s main priority and the orchestra
was among the first of many casualties in the dying medium of
radio. "What fools they will be," John Barbirolli wrote
to his devastated friend. "What is particularly disturbing
is that your splendid influence or rather your unparalleled influence
and taste is no longer available to the thousands who badly need
‘One afternoon at CBS, Herrmann, encountered
William S. Paley, in the men’s room, and launched into a tirade
of criticism and frustration at the network leader’s decisions.
Paley allegedly replied, "The trouble is, Benny you’re wearing
the old school tie, and there’s no old school anymore."
‘Herrmann now forty years old, was no longer
conductor-in-chief of a unique symphony orchestra. There would
be no more network commissions or broadcast premiers, only a handful
of radio scores left to write. The likelihood of guest invitations
from East Coast orchestras was slim.
‘Herrmann’s options were narrowing – and pointing
west, to Hollywood.’
Daughter Dorothy Herrmann recalled – "When
he lived in California, even though on one level he seemed content
with his film work, Daddy still hoped and dreamed about conducting.
He followed the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s politics very closely.
Intellectually he lived and breathed the world of classical music.
At night he could be writing a score for this picture or that,
but friends would come over and they would listen to some symphony
recording. He never really fitted into the mould of a Hollywood
film composer. I think he was caught in the middle between these
1954 – CBS TV’s Christmas Carol the first
of his two television operas. Maxwell Anderson’s adaptation was
disappointing ‘…but if Dickens’s 1840s England is diminished in
Anderson’s book and lyrics, it survives in the rich modal colours
of Herrmann’s music.’ Herrmann contributed heartfelt music for
Prince of Players the 20th Century Fox film
about theatre’s legendary Booth family. Herrmann and director
Philip Dunne, insisted, against star Richard Burton’s suggestion,
that there should be no music under Edwin Booth’s Shakespearean
performances, Benny insisting – "Those scenes are the musical
November 1954 - Herrmann begins collaboration
with London-born Hitchcock - The Trouble With Harry, The Man
Who Knew Too Much, The Wrong Man, Vertigo, North by Northwest,
Psycho, The Birds, and Marnie.
‘The rapport between Benny and Hitch was strong
from the start. Soon Herrmann and Lucy (his second wife) were
invited to spend the weekend at Hitchcock’s secluded home in Bel
Air, where days were spent in leisurely conversation and evenings
with Alma Hitchcock’s superb cooking. The Hitchcock’s often played
host to the Herrmann’s, especially in the late 1950s. Recalled
the third Mrs Herrmann, Norma Shepherd, "Benny used to wash
dishes with Hitch, and they’d talk about what they’d do if they
weren’t in the film business. Benny wanted to run an English pub,
until somebody told him you actually had to open and close at
certain hours. Benny asked Hitch what he would be. There was a
silence. Hitchcock turned to Benny, his apron folded on his head
and said solemnly, "A hanging judge".
‘Alfred Hitchcock had long wished to remake his
1934 British thriller, The Man Who Knew Too Much…much
of the earlier film’s story was retained in which the child of
a travelling couple is kidnapped to prevent their revealing a
planned assassination, to occur in London’s Royal Albert Hall.
‘The 1934 sequence was a rare showcase for Arthur
Benjamin (a favourite of Herrmann) whose Storm Clouds Cantata
was a perfect mix of concert hall splendour and dramatic scoring
(the assassin’s gunshot is fired at the work’s climactic cymbal
crash. Given the option in 1955 to write a new work for the sequence
(to be filmed, unlike the original, in the Albert Hall), Herrmann
chose not to: "I didn’t think anybody could better what [Benjamin]
had done." Herrmann did re-orchestrate the work, doubling
parts and adding expressive new voices for harp, organ and brass.
Benjamin was also commissioned to write an additional minute and
twenty seconds of music for the film (and, at Herrmann’s insistence,
was paid £100 more than originally planned).
‘Hitchcock made directorial revisions in the
sequence as well, replacing the anonymous orchestra in the original
with an identifiable musical protagonist as its conductor – and
who would be better than Herrmann himself? Consequently, Herrmann
was given the choicest screen appearance by a real-life conductor
since Stokowski shook hands with Mickey Mouse. (Benjamin had recommended
using Muir Matheson, while producer Herbert Coleman suggested
Basil Cameron. The final decision was Hitchcock’s).
1955 – John and Evelyn Barbirolli visit the Herrmann’s
in Los Angeles. ‘Long after their wives had retired for the night,
Herrmann and the recently knighted Sir John entertained each other
with musical anecdotes and analyses. Herrmann drew sharp analogies
between favourite composers – Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Delius
– and a host of obscure English painters and authors, displaying
"more knowledge than any Englishman, " Evelyn Barbirolli
recalled. "It used to terrify, John!"
‘One evening as the Barbirollis were going to
bed, Herrmann brought one of his precious cats into the guest
house and set it at the foot of their bed, explaining to the reluctant
John that it was good luck to sleep with a cat at one’s feet.
Barbirolli agreed – then, certain that Herrmann had gone, chucked
the pet out of the door "with great dispatch." The next
morning, however, Herrmann was certain his efforts had been appreciated:
"I’ve converted him", he told Lucy proudly.
‘By the mid-1950s, Herrmann’s California house
was not only a second home to the famous; it was also the site
of one of Hollywood’s most remarkable private collections of music
scores and manuscripts and of a vast library of period and modern
literature that filled every eighteenth century bookcase and cabinet
in Herrmann’s study. Each volume was not only read and studied
by Herrmann but expanded with a selection of relevant clippings,
often haphazardly pasted into a book’s front cover. ("I may
be a slob," Herrmann once observed, "but I’m a slob
with good taste."
1956 – ‘After his happy experience with the London
Symphony Orchestra on The Man Who Knew Too Much
Herrmann was eager to return to England and the LSO to conduct
a series of genuine concerts and convince London audiences of
his talent. To make his services more attractive, he offered to
pay his own expenses during the trip; the Symphony management
accepted. Four concerts at the Royal Festival Hall and one BBC
broadcast were scheduled, the radio concert to feature the British
premiere of a work Herrmann had long championed: after twenty
years, the British were ready for Ives. In 1946 Herrmann had conducted
the Fugue from the Fourth Symphony on the BBC; it was also broadcast
in the mid-1930s, but to scant notice. Herrmann’s broadcast of
the Second Symphony on April 25 1956, was the first complete performance
of an Ives symphony in England.
‘The most conventionally structured of Ives’s
major works, and filled with accessible American melodies, the
Second Symphony was ideal for introducing Ives in England. Herrmann’s
performance was authoritative and affectionate with an unpretentious
dynamism that Ives would have enjoyed. Those who puzzled over
Herrmann’s photocopies of the score could now judge for themselves:
"We listened in with tremendous enjoyment to your broadcast,
" Edmund Rubbra wrote to his friend. "The Falstaff
[a shrewd programming counterpoint] was splendid and revealed
things that I had never heard before. I like the Ives Symphony
very much. It was easier on the ear than I imagined it would be,
and was full of entrancing material."
‘Herrmann’s championing of Falstaff is
also worth noting. Since childhood it had been one of his favourite
compositions: he once described it as "Elgar’s supreme orchestral
work, in spite of the special difficulty it presents of relating
the music to the understanding of the audience…[For] besides the
arduous and exacting musical demands that it makes upon the conductor
and performers, the audience must bring an understanding of the
play to it."
‘To American ears especially, Elgar’s Shakespearean
portrait was as foreign as Ives’s barnyard dances and hymns were
to the English, and from his first conducting days with the New
Chamber Orchestra, Herrmann had tried to convince his countrymen
of what they were missing. His passion for the work may be better
understood through another remark, describing Falstaff
as "a portrait in many ways of the composer: his deep sense
of the country scene and pastoral tranquillity, his enjoyment
of ceremony and pomp, his intellectual cynicism and, at the same
time, emotional unity with his fellow-man." The eighteenth-century
Briton in Herrmann had found his anthem.
‘The four LSO concerts were far less convivial.
Insecure and defensive on his London concert debut, Herrmann was
not the genial scholar he had been during his Hitchcock visit,
but an argumentative pedant. During one rehearsal, the symphony’s
soft-spoken oboist raised his hand with a question. "Mr Herrmann,
my part is pencilled in mezzo-forte, but its only pencilled in.
Do you wish me to observe it?" "SURE I do," barked
Herrmann. "Whaddya want it in, neon?"
‘Eventually, violinist Henry Greenwood recalled,
"Benny did so many things like that, that the orchestra got
tired of him – and when he did things wrong they let him wallow
in his mistakes. In the end he was desperate saying, "Will
ya quit getting’ at me?" But they just let him sink into
the enormity of his egotism I was so sorry for him, but he asked
for all of it." During breaks, Greenwood offered Herrmann
suggestions and encouragement. Through his loyalty, he won the
composer’s lasting friendship and admiration.
‘During the concerts themselves, Herrmann worked
himself to the brink of collapse, emerging wringing wet at each
intermission for a quick change of dress; yet when an actual crisis
arose, he astonished everyone with his coolness. One night, only
minutes before the concert’s start, Herrmann discovered his conducting
score had been left in his car; he tapped his forehead and said,
"If you haven’t got it up here, what’s the point in coming?"
– and he proceeded to conduct the lengthy piece from memory.
‘Despite the friction between Herrmann and the
orchestra and Herrmann’s often awkward direction ("Benny
wielded his baton like a poker," recalled Greenwood’s wife,
Joan), some of the Festival Hall performances were outstanding.
Two highlights were the UK premiere of Russell Bennett’s Concerto
for Violin and Orchestra (in the Popular style), with old friend
Louis Kaufman, and a performance of Vaughan Williams’s London
Symphony, with its increasingly deaf composer present in the
front row. As one critic noted, the evening’s most touching moment
came after the music: "As the epilogue gently faded out Herrmann
held his baton for a few moments in silence. The composer stepped
forward and shook his hand. The exhausted conductor was obviously
deeply moved. (Herrmann considered the event "a supreme moment.")
‘On the eve of his return to Hollywood, another
note of appreciation arrived, from the Composers’ Guild of Great
Britain. "The Executive Committee…have asked me to convey
to you our very sincere thanks for all the work you do, and have
done for British contemporary music," wrote Guy Warwick.
"Your programmes both in America and while over here have
been a great source of joy to British composers whom we have the
honour to represent, and I send you our sincerest gratitude."
‘Nevertheless, Herrmann would not be invited
back by the London Symphony Orchestra.
‘Another casualty of Herrmann’s temper was Wuthering
Heights, as yet not produced in any medium. Not all music
directors were unimpressed with the work but, in each case, Herrmann’s
insistence on total artistic control – and his unwillingness to
trim a three-and-a-half hour work – brought the same frustrating
1957 – ‘Although few composers in Hollywood enjoyed
his freedom to pick and choose projects, Herrmann was becoming
an increasingly bitter man. Neither of his two chief ambitions,
seeing his opera produced or getting a major conducting offer,
showed promise of being realised. The Chandler family’s cultural
empire in Los Angeles had little use for Herrmann’s temperament,
his conducting or his taste for the esoteric.’
1957 – ‘Gerald Finzi was not only one of Herrmann’s
favourite modern composers; he had become a dear, if rarely seen
friend with whom Herrmann often corresponded. Finzi’s death at
age fifty-five from leukaemia inspired one of Herrmann’s most
eloquent letters to the composer’s widow -
"I was deeply moved and shocked to hear
from Louis Kaufman of the death of Gerald. Although he and I had
very scant opportunities of seeing each other personally, his
music was always very close to me, and through it I felt that
I was in close touch with him.
"The few times we had an opportunity of
meeting always gave me the feeling of having seen a friend of
long standing, and as though the time lapses were of no importance.
"His music has deeply enriched my life,
and its uniqueness and lyrical utterance have been a source of
inspiration to me. As you know, I have frequently performed as
much of Gerald’s music as I could, and wish to assure you that
in future I shall at all times be aware of any opportunity that
allows me to play it.
"I feel that though Gerald would have gone
on to write many more wonderful works, those which he has left
behind are a monument to the sensitivity and exquisite perception
of a superb musical poet; certainly, Dies Natalis and Farewell
to Arms are imperishable masterpieces of their kind. It is
true that a man may die but an artist never does, for the works
he leaves behind are the quintessence of his true personality
and soul – and he is always with us, perhaps in greater reality
than ever before.
"My wife and I will be coming to London
again this spring. I hope that you will afford us the opportunity
of visiting you, for I would like ever so much to visit his home
and grave. We both join you in your sadness and sorrow and assure
you of our affectionate understanding and devotion."
‘At the same time came an apparent offer, from
Germany’s Heidelberg Opera, to produce Wuthering Heights,
as well as a request from English music publishers Novello &
Co. for a short essay on Elgar, to offer "an American’s impressions"
on the composer’s work. Herrmann’s good-spirited reply to Novello’s
"Please forgive the delay in answering your
kind letter. It arrived during my most busy season for television
and radio work - the Christmas holidays – and I have just arrived
at a breathing space. I will do my very, very best to write you
a short essay on Elgar…My secretary promises, faithfully, to nag
me to death to get it done, and this is a sure guarantee that
you will get it.
"I have been invited to conduct in Johannesburg,
but as of this moment have not quite made up my mind to go. If
I do, I hope to do Falstaff there. As of this writing,
I am scheduled to be in London for the month of May to do some
concerts for the LSO and for the BBC; programmes are still vague.
"I think you will be pleased to learn that
my opera, Wuthering Heights, has been accepted, contracts
signed, and all, by the Heidelberg Opera for presentation in April
of 1958. They plan to do it with dual casts in both German and
English, and also transmit it via television. I shall be conducting
and am of course, most excited at the prospect…"
‘Neither the Johannesburg, nor the London visit
would take place (the first presumably by choice, the second because
Herrmann had been over-confident about an LSO invitation); nor
did the Heidelberg offer come through. But in his essay for Novello,
Herrmann provided a lasting tribute to his idol, Elgar; the piece
also nicely articulates Herrmann’s perception of the conductor’s
role as interpreter:-
"Throughout my musical career the music
of Elgar has been a constant source of joy and inspiration. For,
in conducting his music, one was left with the feeling of exhilaration
and excitement that only great music can bestow. And as a composer,
the study of his music has been a deep and satisfying experience,
and at the same time has served as a lesson from a superb master.
It is from these two points of view that I should like to put
down my impressions and observations.
"I have always felt that one of the reasons
why the bulk of Elgar’s music is so little performed outside England
lies in the mysterious sense that a conductor must have of the
flexibility and nuances of tempo which it demands. His works almost
seem to perish if a rigid tempo is imposed on them. This seems
to me to arise from the essential nervousness, and at the same
time the utmost poetic feeling, with which his music is so generously
imbued. The tempo variations that arise in the course of an Elgar
work are so subtle and elastic that they demand from the conductor
and performer an almost complete infatuation with the music. For
Elgar’s music will not play itself; merely to supervise it and
give it professional routine playing will only serve to immobilise
"It may well be, in Enigma Variations,
that the problem is more readily understood by conductors of different
nationality and musical background owing to shortened musical
form, while his music of extended length, such as the symphonies
and Falstaff, has remained a closed book. If conductors
would only realise that these works, too, demand the same fluidity
that the Enigma demands, there would be no difficulty at
all in achieving a more universal audience for Elgar’s music.
"It is…in the Second Symphony that Elgar
achieved, perhaps, his most intimate and personal expression,
particularly in the first movement, which I feel is unlike any
other opening movement of any other symphony ever written. For
this movement, with its vibrancy and ecstatic flood tide of sound
and the great urgencies of its innumerable lyrical themes, brings
to mind the Spring landscapes of Van Gogh and Samuel Palmer. Its
embracing joy and delight which he wished to capture, have certainly
resulted in a most unique and personal vision.
"One could go on to describe the transparency
and pliant quality of his orchestral technique, and one could
devote many pages to the skill and ingenuity of his counterpoint
and harmonic subtleties, but to me one of the most splendid things
about this music is the pleasure and joy that sweeps over the
faces of the players as one of the great climaxes of his music
is reached. This certainly is one of the finest tributes that
can be paid to a composer."
1957 – ‘Despite his work in Hollywood, Herrmann
kept a close eye on the comings and goings in the concert world.
On October 16 1957, the Hallé Orchestra celebrated its
centennial, an occasion that also recognised the key role John
Barbirolli had played in the orchestra’s regeneration. More than
any other English ensemble, the Hallé had been Herrmann’s
staunchest supporter, and its conductor one of Herrmann’s closest
friends. Herrmann’s longtime acquaintance Irving Kolodin, now
chief music critic of Saturday Review, asked the
composer to write a Review cover story on the orchestra
"to explain just what place the Hallé has in musical
life, and…to deal with the motivating theory – namely that a one-man
orchestra can do more for music than a succession of guests."
As Kolodin had expected, the piece was no mere valentine from
one admiring artist to another, but a skilful overview of twentieth-century
conducting and Barbirolli’s place "as one of the few remaining
"Today we have hundreds of conductors, many
of whom are efficient, professional, and accurate so far as their
limited imagination allows, but they can hardly be considered
as creative conductors, for in reality they are kapellmeisters,
subservient to prevailing musical fads and fashions, and in some
cases interested in music only as a means to personal aggrandisement
and career. But they can hardly be called co-creators, which is,
in reality, what a conductor should be. He is the partner – the
artist who, through musical empathy and poetic imagination, is
able to enter into the creator’s mind and to arrive at an understanding
of how the composer’s work should be projected…
"Today the orchestras of the world are beginning
to assume a monochromatic greyness of sound. It is considered
unfashionable for orchestras to have resplendent tonal sound –
for climaxes to be brilliant and thrilling – for strings to sing
– for woodwinds to be principal actors on the stage. Today all
is resolved into a uniformity and conformity of sound that makes
the orchestra perform as though it were an organ with one set
of registers pulled out for the entire evening…
"But partly to blame for this paucity of
imaginative playing is the fact that present-day orchestras have
perpetual guest conductors; they are no longer led, and the guest
for a few days must accept overcooked or undercooked playing as
the case may be. For an orchestra without a permanent conductor
cannot become a really great orchestra. Someone must give it a
style, a tonal palette, and a source of vitality…
"Recently I had the pleasure of hearing
Barbirolli conduct a performance of Rossini’s Overture to The
Italian Girl in Algiers that so bubbled and effervesced with
joyous good humour and witticisms that the audience at Festival
Hall chuckled with pleasure. What a rare tribute to a performance.
At the same concert, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra
was done as effortlessly as though it were some simple work instead
of the formidable one that it is. Then a performance of Brahms’s
Fourth Symphony that conveyed all the tragedy and autumnal eloquence
inherent in this great work… When I complimented Sir John on this
splendid performance he replied, "As Hazlitt said of Shakespeare’s
King Lear, it is a rock of granite, and all we can
hope to do is chip off a fragment or two,"
"I was privileged to be present at one of
the rehearsals of Vaughan Williams’s Eighth Symphony and to sit
beside the composer. In the opening set of variations, Sir John
made a slight pause between each one, and when it was suggested
to the composer that it might be a good idea to incorporate these
pauses into the published score, Vaughan Williams replied, "Oh,
no! Everyone else will make it too long. Sir John does it just
right, and the length is impossible to indicate."’
"In all the years I have known Sir John,
I have never heard him refer to himself in relation to a piece
of music – never has he said "my interpretation, " "my
music", but always his comment has been about the joy and
excitement of the music at hand. One has the impression that he
is rediscovering the music anew and afresh every day of his life."
Shortly after the article was published, Herrmann
received a short handwritten note from Sir John:- "Your article
has just arrived, and I confess I am in tears as I read it. If
you really think that of me (and I believe in your complete sincerity)
much of what I have had to go through to arrive there will have
been worthwhile. My love and blessings on you."
‘Barbirolli’s letter clearly meant more to Herrmann
than his check from Saturday Review, which he gave intact to his
‘Ursula Vaughan Williams, a friend of both Herrmann
and Barbirolli, provides a final insight on the artistic bond
between the two men: "John was to conduct a recording of
Ralph’s Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. ‘It must
be done in a stone building, not a studio,’ said Benny. (The work
had been commissioned for a Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester,
and it had its first performance in the Cathedral in 1910.) He
suggested the Temple Church, one of London’s oldest churches –
and there we went for a session that started at midnight to avoid
traffic noises. Coats and bags and thermos flasks were piled round
the effigies of Crusader Knights. Benny was there, listening to
the balance, listening to the music, and the recording is by far
the best ever made of the work."
‘Herrmann himself returned to the concert podium
a month later in October, in his second and last concert with
the Glendale Symphony. Rehearsals went badly… Herrmann exploded…Yet
by the evening concert, Herrmann had evolved into the first-rate
conductor he always thought himself to be. Lost in the beauty
of the Elgar he almost danced on the podium, and throughout the
concert his readings were imaginative and finely shaded. It was
the finest West Coast concert Herrmann ever gave and, for many
of the musicians, the most skilfully conducted Enigma Variations
they had ever heard.
‘Nevertheless, Herrmann’s conducting career was
virtually at an end. His countless rows with orchestra heads and
musicians had taken their toll, coupled with Herrmann’s erratic
baton technique and predilection for slow, sometimes ponderous
playing. But if his inability to find concert work would inspire
great bitterness in later years, Herrmann still had many of his
finest scoring achievements ahead of him – none greater than his
fourth collaboration with Hitchcock [Vertigo].
1958 – ‘The concert world was also changing.
In Europe, "new music" referred almost exclusively to
modernism, a school that Herrmann mostly rejected as emotionally
hollow. Another symbol of music’s ticking clock was the death
of Vaughan Williams on August 6th 1958. His passing,
like that of Ives four years earlier, prompted nostalgic reflection
for Herrmann – on his New York childhood, and his first discovery
of the Englishman’s works in the 58th Street Music
Library. His remembrances took the form of an article, this time
for London’s Musical Times : -
"In reading the warm and affectionate tributes
paid to the late Vaughan Williams by his many friends, I began
to think about the personal enrichment that his great art had
brought to my musical life and about the six bars of music from
the original version of the slow movement of his London Symphony…
"When I first began to perform the work,
the only set of parts and score available to New York was that
of the first version. The slow movement at that time possessed
six remarkable bars at the letter K, which later the composer
omitted, and I wish to say a few words here about those bars.
It has always been my intense reaction, and of course a subjective
one, that these bars were one of the most original poetic moments
in the entire Symphony. It is at this moment as though, when the
hush and quietness have settled over Bloomsbury of a November
twilight, that a damp drizzle of rain slowly falls, and it is
this descending chromatic ponticello of the violins that so graphically
"Years later this set of parts was withdrawn
by the New York agents and a new set of the revised version of
the Symphony was sent out with, alas, these magical six bars omitted.
On one occasion I spoke to Vaughan Williams about these bars and
expressed my deep regret about their deletion. He replied that
he had revised this work three times – ‘Oh, it’s much too long,
much too long, and there was some horrid modern music in the middle
– awful stuff. I cut it out – couldn’t stand it.’ And that was
as far as I could get with him to discuss the possibility of restoring
"I, for one, shall always regret this deletion,
for it remains in my memory as one of the miraculous moments in
music, and its absence in the present version is felt like the
absence of a dear, departed friend. It will always be an enigma
to me why these bars were removed, for in their magic and beauty
they had caught something of a London which Whistler captured
in his Nocturnes."
‘One of Herrmann’s favourite pieces of film music
was Walton’s Passacaglia for Falstaff’s death in Olivier’s Henry
‘On the set of TV’s Twilight Zone, Herrmann
found the next great love of his life: a flea-ridden stray pup
that he adopted and named ‘Twilight’ (Twi for short). As even
his wives acknowledged, Benny’s passion for animals often seemed
to dwarf his relations with humans. No pet received more of Herrmann’s
childlike love than Twi, with whom he posed in a portrait modelled
especially after a photo of Elgar and his pet…’
1960 – ‘In London to score The Three Worlds
of Gulliver – Herrmann joined the Saville Club…he rarely visited
it in later years; the act of belonging was enough. At the nearby
Westbury Hotel was another visiting American conductor, twenty-seven
year old Charles Gerhardt. Gerhardt was then embarking on what
would be a highly successful recording and producing career with
1961 – ‘In the spring Herrmann eagerly returned
to England, for a series of concerts in Manchester with the Hallé,
and in London with the BBC Northern Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic
Orchestra (the result of his friendship with the widowed Lady
Beecham, whose husband had founded the Orchestra)…
‘Herrman’s trip, that Spring, was one of the
happiest, not only because of his concert appearances but for
the uniquely English indulgences the composer loved. In London,
he and Lucy finally purchased a large, inviting flat on Cumberland
Terrace, a tree-lined street near the London Zoo in Regent’s Park.
The contrast with Hollywood could not have been sharper. Writing
home to America, he commented that his concerts "have been
really first class – and full houses everywhere and the youngsters
line up to see me as if I were a movie star. I made a speech about
Sir Thomas Beecham at my first concert and everyone was pleased
with it…Have been twice to Manchester and had a wonderful time
there – the orchestra gave me a standing ovation – which means
that I will be asked again for at least ten years – that’s the
trouble with being a guest conductor – be good – but not too good.
We shall see…’
‘Herrmann’s account of his conducting success
was hardly exaggerated; but despite good attendances, and glowing
notices, these concerts represented the beginning of the end of
his conducting career. Offers became scarce, mainly because of
Herrmann’s temperament. After Beecham’s death that March, Herrmann
was confident he would be offered a conducting post with the Royal
Philharmonic. He was not.
‘Herrmann’s 1961 English visit had an ironic
footnote. While conducting the BBC Northern Orchestra near Liverpool,
his curiosity took him to hear a little-known pop band that had
recorded a few German singles. "I came back from England
and brought back the early records of the Beatles that they made
for Deutsche Grammophon [actually Polydor]. Nobody would record
them in England. They were turned down by every major company…They
were playing in a nightclub there; I met them, and they gave me
their records. I took them to all the big powers in [Hollywood]
and they laughed at me…I took the music to Universal and CBS and
played it for the big mandarins of jazz in this town and they
said, ‘There’s nothing in that crap.’ I said I thought the Beatles
had something new and different to offer. But nobody agreed. A
few years later, of course, Hollywood not only discovered rock
music but insisted on it – alienating Herrmann still further from
the film industry.
1964 – ‘On a conducting trip to Manchester that
spring – Herrmann’s last. He discovered that concert-goers no
longer packed the Free Trade Hall as they had in the thrilling
post-war days of Britain’s cultural revival; in fact, these would
be the most sparsely attended of Herrmann’s Hallé appearances.
‘The first, on April 19, was unique for the presence
of an important listener: Sir John Barbirolli. It was no coincidence
that Herrmann conducted the first Hallé programme Sir John
attended as a member of the audience since becoming the orchestra’s
director in 1943. Ironically, while Herrmann’s selections were
typically Anglo-orientated (Delius’s Walk to the Paradise Garden,
Handel’s Water Music) Barbirolli’s own request was American:
Bennett’s Symphonic Pictures from Porgy and Bess. Reviews
were extremely favourable (Herrmann’s Delius was "like a
second Beecham", his Handel "as though he had been on
the river himself that afternoon", according to the Daily
Express), but it was Barbirolli’s description of the concert
as "a wonderful experience" that meant most to Herrmann.
‘His May 20 concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra
at London’s Festival Hall was equally praised. The Delius piece
again appeared ("full of fine shading and delicacy",
wrote the New Daily), along with Wagner’s Tannhäuser
Overture, Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, and the Enigma Variations
– "a moving and beautiful reading," in which almost
every possible idea that piece could have was extracted and projected.’
1965 – Herrmann in the middle of divorce proceedings
(second wife) composed a bleak and confessional string quartet
that he named, Echoes (available on Unicorn-Kanchana UKCD2069)
‘While many of its memories remain private (making echoes, in
an unassuming way, Herrmann’s own Enigma Variations), others
can be guessed by allusions to past works. The quartet received
its premiere on December 2, 1966 in London’s Great Drawing Room
in St James Square, in a recital that also featured Edmund Rubbra’s
Third String Quartet. (Herrmann had long been one of Rubbra’s
great champions in America and England.) The concert received
scant notice, although a 1967 recording of Echoes inspired
a positive notice in Gramophone: "The quartet repertory…is
surely badly in need of other pieces which are something other
than fully serious large-scale works; here is such a piece, and
it includes many passages of real beauty into the bargain."’
1966 – The year Herrmann composed the score for
Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451, Herrmann gave scoring advice
to Paul McCartney working on The Family Way, a gentle English
comedy starring Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett. In exchange for
the consultation, Herrmann was given a Chagall.
But ‘…he was still deeply frustrated by lack
of interest in Wuthering Heights; the most recent rejection
of the opera, this time by a German company, was because of its
non-"problematic" style in an era of experimentalism".
If no one was interested, Herrmann decided, he would produce it
himself – on disc.
‘No record company was interested in financing
such a venture: who would listen to an album of an opera no one
had ever heard, or heard of? Undaunted, Herrmann formed a co-financing
arrangement with Pye, an obscure London record company, in which
he paid most of the expenses. Next came the selection of vocalists,
which Herrmann tightly controlled. A brunette soprano named Morag
Beaton was chosen as Cathy, baritone Donald Bell as Heathcliff.
‘By the time rehearsals began in late summer
of 1966, Herrmann, excited by the recording, had become a less-than-benevolent
dictator, as his good friend, Ursula Vaughan Williams recalled:
"Benny was in a very nervous and edgy state, and without
a piano, so the rehearsals for Wuthering Heights took place
at my home in Gloucester Crescent. This was an obvious venue,
because I had Ralph’s Steinway. A young composer named Jeremy
Dale Roberts (Benny thought he was called Jeremiah), who was a
good pianist, lived in a flat in the basement, and Morag Beaton
was staying with me. Joseph Ward ([cast as] Edgar Linton) was
already my friend, and with Donald Bell and Elizabeth Bainbridge
(Isabel Linton) he came to rehearse; I think it was all much calmer
when Miss Bainbridge was there. Benny was perhaps more passionate
about his opera than any other of his works, and conducted Jeremy
as if he were a full orchestra; Morag was deeply nervous, Donald
seemed to get taller and paler as the hours passed, Joseph thinner
and thinner, and Morag cried frequently. I brought in gallons
of coffee when the strife was at crisis point.
"At the recording sessions in Barking Town
Hall, there were more storms and tears; Benny behaved atrociously
to Morag and made her dreadfully nervous. He had collected a wonderful
ad hoc orchestra [the Pro-Arte]; one of the players asked me,
"What are you doing here?" "Prisoners’ friend,"
I said. ‘After those ghastly sessions the record was lovely.’
‘…In London, Herrmann gave the work its "premiere"
with a listening playback for friends, including Truffaut and
singer Marni Nixon. That evening he also met Gerard Schurmann,
a thirty-nine-year-old composer whose modern idiom was very different
from Herrmann’s style. Nevertheless, Herrmann admired and championed
his work, finding him a publisher in Novello & Co. (who had
recently begun publishing Herrmann’s music).
Back in America ‘…copies of Wuthering Heights
found their way into the homes of nearly everyone Herrmann visited.
One afternoon during a social gathering at cellist Lucien Laporte’s
home, Herrmann played the entire recording; but few guests remained
by the time of Cathy’s dying breath…While most listeners were
no doubt grateful to hear Wuthering Heights in a form other
than Herrmann’s croaking recitations, few were entirely satisfied.
After a Sunday listening to the opera (during which Herrmann "conducted"
the entire piece) Alfred Newman remarked privately to his wife,
Martha, what an extremely long work it was. His words to Herrmann
were naturally congratulatory. Arthur Bliss conveyed little more
than polite encouragement: -
"I spent most of yesterday playing over
the records of Wuthering Heights that you very kindly sent
me, and following the opera in the vocal score. Yours is a very
dramatic score, [powerful and lyrical by turns], and I do hope
you will have the satisfaction before long of seeing it staged
somewhere, so that the full impact of the work can be felt.
With best wishes for it…"
‘Other responses were less kind. According to
Herrmann the BBC returned its copy (submitted by the composer),
the album wrapper unopened, with a terse note saying it was "not
appropriate" for broadcast.
1967 – ‘January, Herrmann composes his Souvenirs
de voyage for string quartet and solo clarinet (available
on Unicorn Kanchana UKCD 2069). ‘It is nostalgic and often melancholy
but its romanticism and tonal colours are warm…’ There are three
distinct artistic inspirations. The first movement owes its origin
to A.E. Houseman’s poem, ‘On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble’
from the Shropshire Lad collection. ‘Unlike Vaughan Williams’s
song adaptation of the poem in his cycle On Wenlock Edge,
Herrmann’s use of the verse is more suggestive than literal evoking
in Christopher Palmer’s phrase, "the force which plays havoc
with the minds of men, now as in the days when Wenlock Edge was
part of a Roman encampment." Herrmann alternates a tumultuous
setting, filled with gusty clarinet arpeggios and fluttering string
tremolos, with a lovely valse triste for violin; the coda
suggests Houseman’s last stanza:
The gale, it plies, the saplings double
It blows so hard, ‘twill soon be gone
To-day the Roman and his troubles
Are ashes under Uricon
The second-movement, Berceuse, also carries
Vaughan Williams allusions, shifting to Ireland’s Aran Islands,
site of John Millington Synge’s novel, Riders to the Sea,
which had inspired an opera by the English composer. In the Berceuse
one can envision a cloud-drenched, autumnal sunset off the Irish
west coast, Herrmann’s swaying, dreamlike rhythm for strings and
sighing clarinet appoggiaturas rising like wave crests against
‘These dark colourations of "remembered
loss" make way for a third movement that is contrastingly
lush and romantic – not surprisingly, given that Turner’s dazzling
Venetian watercolours served as the movement’s inspiration. (This
is Herrmann’s only "official" Turner setting, though
the artist’s influence can be heard throughout Herrmann’s music,
especially Moby Dick). A love theme is sung by violins,
its gentle ripples heard in viola and clarinet arpeggio responses;
"as the lagoons shimmer in the evening sunlight, echoes of
a trumpet summons from a distant barracks are born in the wind"
– a remote clarinet shanty, one of Herrmann’s loveliest and most
simple depictions of nature’s enticement…’
‘The Clarinet Quintet was Herrmann’s last concert
work, but hardly his last word on the medium. Encouraged by the
recording of Wuthering Heights, he decided similarly to
preserve other of his concert works, again mainly at his own expense.
Pye agreed to distribute two more albums, Moby Dick and the suites
Welles Raises Kane and The Devil and Daniel Webster,
which were recorded in May and June respectively. The Orchestra
was the London Philharmonic, always ready to bolster its income
by recording the music of film composers, if not to give them
1971 – Herrmann, in London, moves from Cumberland
Terrace to 31 Chester Close in North London (the house that had
once been the residence of the notorious Christine Keeler). Herrmann
scores a John and Roy Boulting production based on Agatha Christie’s
Endless Night starring Hywel Bennett and Hayley
Mills. He chooses to integrate a Moog synthesiser introduced to
him by English composer, Howard Blake.
[In London’s Kingsway Hall, in 1974, with producer
George Korngold and acclaimed Decca engineer, Kenneth E. Wilkinson,
Charles Gerhardt recorded an album of music from some of Herrmann’s
most colourful film scores with the National Philharmonic Orchestra
(a composite ensemble made up of some of the finest players from
the London orchestras) that comprised: Citizen Kane (featuring
the voice of the then little known Kiri Te Kanawa in the Salammbô
aria), On Dangerous Ground, Beneath the 12 Mile Reef,
White Witch Doctor, and the Concerto Macabre from
Hangover Square (CD version – RCA Victor GD80707).
A battery of percussion was arrayed for the recording
of White Witch Doctor. Herrmann, who was present at the recording
sessions, ‘drove everybody crazy because he wanted just the right
sound for the clang in the opening…He finally ended up using a
car brake drum.. Tris Fry, the head of percussion,…brought brake
drums to the session plus an enormous anvil which weighed a ton
– all this just to try things. Here we were trying to record the
main title and Benny was over in the percussion section clanking
away. We had one Rolls Royce; that didn’t make it. Then one from
Volkswagen – and Benny said, "That’s it!" It was as
if an oboe player were changing his reed."’
Between 1968 and 1974, Bernard Herrmann recorded
a series of albums of film music, in London, for DECCA’s Phase
4 Stereo Series. These included a compilation of ‘Great British
Film Music’ performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra (now
on Decca CD 448 954-2 ) that comprised: Walton’s Richard III
and Escape Me Never, Constant Lambert’s Anna
Karenina, Bax’s Oliver Twist, Arthur Benjamin’s An
Ideal Husband, Vaughan Williams’s 49th Parallel,
and Bliss’s Things to Come. His scores for Hitchcock films
(Psycho, Vertigo, Marnie, North by Northwest
and The Trouble With Harry), performed, by the London Philharmonic
Orchestra, are now available as CD 448 895-2. A third CD, Decca
CD 4 448 948-2, includes, besides some of his sci-fi film music,
Citizen Kane and Jane Eyre. And a fourth album,
recorded with the National Philharmonic Orchestra, had scores
for Shakespearean films (Decca 455-156-2): Hamlet (Shostakovich),
Julius Caesar (Rózsa) and Richard III (Walton).
For Unicorn-Kanchana, Herrmann recorded, with
the National Philharmonic Orchestra, in 1975, his own Symphony
and his The Fantasticks song cycle to words by Nicolas
Breton (1545-1626) (Unicorn-Kanchana UKCD 2063). Also released
by Unicorn-Kanchana as UKCD 2050/1/2 was Herrmann’s opera Wuthering
Heights, recorded by Benny as described in the article above.
Herrmann’s Moby Dick and For the Fallen was
also released by Unicorn-Kanchana as UKCD 2061 with Bernard Herrmann
conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Delius’s A
Late Lark and Warlock’s Four Motets also figured in these
recordings. ‘The session, on a beautiful June afternoon in St
Giles, was the usual mix of Herrmann cantankerousness and unchecked
emotionalism: as John Amis recalled, "when the Delius got
beautiful, Benny blubbed."
In the 1970s Herrmann was once again in demand
in Hollywood, this time by a new generation of Hollywood directors:
Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese. But Scorsese’s Taxi Driver,
that drew an embittered jazz-based score from Herrmann was to
be the composer’s last film. After the completion of its recording,
in Hollywood, on Christmas Eve 1976, Herrmann dined out with friends.
‘During their conversation Herrmann proudly demonstrated a new
digital watch with a battery light.: "They’ll have to put
one in my coffin so I’ll know what time it is in the grave,"
he chortled. During the night of that Christmas Eve Bernard Herrmann
Footnotes: In November 1982, Wuthering Heights
received its world premiere by the Portland Opera Company.
The performance would not have taken place had Herrmann been alive:
forty minutes of the opera were cut, its ending changed to the
upbeat resolution Julius Rudel had fought for thirty years before.
Most reviews were unenthusiastic, but for those who followed the
work from its beginnings it was, in part, a vindication of Herrmann’s
While I was compiling and editing this article,
I received from Lewis Foreman some memories of Bernard Herrmann:-
"I encountered Benny during the Lyrita
recording session for the Cyril Scott 2nd Piano Concerto when
he was on top form and we spent very amiable breaks chatting about
British music - his great special pleading at the time was about
Edmund Rubbra and his Third Symphony, about which he had very
warm feelings having recently done it with the BBC.
"Later Benny appeared at a session to record
Bliss's Things To Come when he was getting old and slow.
You will know the recording which is not good. Trudy was there
and tried remonstrating with him during the takes. Trudy: "Mr
Herrmann it’s too slow". Benny (pulling himself up to his full
height on the podium, putting on a strong Brooklyn accent) "Lady
Bliss! Whose conducting dis - you or me!".
"He must have been the only musician who ever reduced Trudy
to silence. Problem was, she was right." Ian Lace 2003
Extracts from Steven C. Smith's biography, A Heart at Fire's
Centre, The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann, reproduced
by kind permission of the publishers, University of California