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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 Review

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 etc. etc.

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 an opera.

‘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 of perfection."

‘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 music.

‘At the library Herrmann also found the music of a younger English contemporary, Ralph Vaughan Williams. Herrmann recalled -

"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 hours.

‘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 absolutely right."

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 of warmth.’

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 Silas).

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 Ambersons): -

"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 Fallen.’

‘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 blood relatives.

‘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 the hall.

"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 it."

‘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 two worlds.’

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 numbers"

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 results.

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 Richard Avenall:-

"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.

"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 poet-conductors":-

"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 secretary.

‘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 depicts it.

"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 those bars.

"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 V .’

‘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 RCA.

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 their foundation.

‘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 public concerts.

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 died.

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 faith.

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 Press

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