Bernard HERRMANN (1911-1975)
At The Gates Of The Twilight Zone
Little Girl Lost (1962) [14:54]
Living Doll (1963) [11:28]
Outer Space Suite (1959) selection [14:36]
Esecutori di Metallo su Carta/Marcello Corti
rec. live, 3 December 2017, ContempoRarities Festival, Santeria Social Club, Milan, Italy
19’40” RECORDS [40:58]
I know there are people, music lovers as well as critics, for whom ‘film music’ is not a genre to be taken seriously. It is an attitude that I have never been able to understand; certainly, I have no sympathy with it. Any reading around the subject will make the reader realise that the constraints placed upon composers for film including tight schedules and sometimes impossible demands concerning precise timings and much besides renders this niche area one as equally difficult to work in as the one in which the composer him or herself is the one making the demands on themselves or has them placed upon them by someone commissioning a piece. Composers for film, particularly in the ‘golden days of the movie’ often suffered badly at the hands of film directors who would even go as far as deciding not to use the music that had been commissioned or use it but not credit the composer. Note that I use the words ‘composers for film’ rather than ‘film composers’, which I think implies they are a separate breed who can and do only compose for film. Think Shostakovich who scored dozens of films, including Hamlet or William Walton’s music for Henry V to give a lie to that hoary old chestnut. A favourite composer of mine is Miklos Rózsa who may very well be renowned for his scores for the films Spellbound or Ben Hur but his ‘concert music’ is supremely worth getting to know. Bernard Herrmann also produced some wonderful music away from the film set though
to anyone who is unfamiliar with his name it should be sufficient to say ‘Psycho’ for them to know who is being discussed. Along with ‘the shower scene’ which is perhaps the most recognisable and memorable sequence of film music ever written, along with the main theme of ‘Jaws’ and the Star Wars series (both by John Williams), Bernard Herrmann scored the music for many other movies such as Hitchcock’s North By Northwest and Vertigo as well as Citizen Kane and Taxi Driver. Another film he wrote the music for with which film buffs of my generation will surely be familiar was 1951’s The Day The Earth Stood Still. That film showed Herrmann’s uncanny ability to give a chilling aura to the concept of a visitation from outer space. In a way Herrmann was at his very best representing situations that were ‘out of this world’; ‘Psycho’ gave us an insight into the mind of a severely mentally disturbed person, North By Northwest showed us what it must be like to be chased through a cornfield by a crop-dusting plane and the theme from Vertigo got the audience as near to experiencing the sheer terror a sufferer of that complaint would feel looking down from the edge of a skyscraper, as any would wish to know.
This disc contains Herrmann’s music for a TV series (including from two iconic episodes) that, though made for American audiences, was seen in the UK too. In the Twilight Zone ran in the US for five years (1959-64) and 156 episodes. I’m not sure whether we got to see them all in Britain but I certainly remembered the eerie music that prefaced each episode we did see. A feature of Herrmann’s genius was his ability to use particular instruments to create atmosphere; in The Day The Earth Stood Still it was his inspired use of the theremin that gave audiences chills down their backbone, while that scene in Psycho used screeching violins to jangle our nerves. Though Herrmann only wrote the music for 7 episodes of the long-running TV series it is his that musicians involved in it most remembered and the makers used elements of it to represent the series as a whole in what CBS called ‘stock music cues’. In this rendition of music from In the Twilight Zone the orchestration has been pared right down to a few instruments, ‘standing out’ among them is the bass clarinet, often mistaken for a black saxophone because of its curved neck and horn. This instrument, though used in the original score is made to take centre stage here.
Considered as the first great script of the series ‘Little Girl Lost’ (1962) concerns a young girl who accidentally passes through a portal to enter another dimension and the lengths her parents go to with the help of their physicist friend Bill to find her and bring her back. The episode ‘Living Doll’ (1963) is about a dysfunctional family whose problems are made worse by an evil Talking Tina doll that comes to life to enact fatal revenge upon the father. The ‘stock music cues’ speak for themselves. The disc will certainly appeal to fans of what can loosely be pigeonholed as ‘science fiction music’ but I am uncertain as to whether there will be wider appeal. I have a nagging suspicion that well-meaning though it was the idea of grouping all three lots of this theme music together on one disc may not in the end do Bernard Herrmann’s reputation much good because, if you listen to the entire disc in one go without checking where you are, the music segues from one section to the other without much discernible contrast. In short, the music is pretty similar track for track. The publicity for the disc says “Recorded live at the ContempoRarities Festival in Milan, At The Gates Of The Twilight Zone vividly captures the thematic and atmospheric scores of Bernard Herrmann’s work for Rod Sterling’s ‘The Twilight Zone’”. In that one can’t argue and it is undeniable that arranger, composer Enrico Gabrielli, has done an extremely creditable job in paring the orchestra used in the original down to 16 instruments and ten musicians, including himself on B clarinet, bass clarinet, G flute and synth. The question is that a disc lasting 41 minutes of pretty similar sounding eerie and ethereal music may prove too much of a good thing for many. Perhaps the inclusion of some of his music for other films might have broken it up sufficiently to keep the interest of those for whom the music is more important than the narrow theme of ‘spooky music’ for ‘spooky’ tales alone. Sometimes music taken from its original source finds it difficult to stand apart from it and I fear this may be one such instance. That said the music is beautifully played by a carefully and clever choice of instruments and ver well recorded.
The Italian record label 19’40” is certainly innovative; this release is its twelfth and looking up the others reveals a fascinating list ranging from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (in a ‘mash up’ of original piano version scored for piano and violin and the Emerson, Lake & Palmer ‘art rock’ version for 5 instruments), Stravinsky’s L’histoire du Soldat, Holt’s Planet suite to modern contemporary music from Louis Andriessen to Stockhausen, all played on a small range of instruments giving new insights into the works in question. There is much to be explored and all of worth doing so.
Carlotta Raponi (flute, piccolo)
Enrico Gabrielli (B clarinet, bass clarinet, G flute, synth)
Yoko Morimyo (violin, viola)
Paolo Raineri (trumpet)
Francesco Bucci (trombone, tenor flugelhorn)
Stefano Bertoni (French horn)
Damiano Afrifa (piano)
Ethel Colella (harp)
Sebastiano De Gennaro (percussion)
Giuseppe Gagliardi (percussion)