Music Webmaster Len Mullenger
|Bernard HERRMANN Torn Curtain (the unused score) Joel McNeely conducts The National Philharmonic Orchestra VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-5817 [48:35]||
The James Bond movies of the 1960s reset the clocks for a genre already long-established. The Bond scores and the films themselves were glamorous affairs with a suave super-hero with initially a very black edge (Dr No is quite bleak) which became more colourful but less gripping as each film rolled out. All types of clones sprang up during the 1960s hey-day. James Coburn's Flint movies were fluffy and commercial and the Goldsmith scores were to match. On television The Man From Uncle series were in much the same Flinty territory. They were amusing and trendy.
Torn Curtain starred Paul Newman and Julie Andrews. It explores the spy genre but is closer to Ipcress than Bond. It is a grimly plotted affair. It did not do well at the box office. Its plot and characters failed to gel. It was the ninth and final collaboration between Herrmann and Hitchcock. The music marked a final rift between the two strongly defined and combative personalities. Hitchcock had requested a popular score with a strong main title and a memorable love theme. He did not get this from Herrmann. Hitchcock must have been infuriated because the music was so very different from what he had requested.
Herrmann wrote for a grand and idiosyncratic orchestra of sixteen French horns, twelve flutes, nine trombones, two tubas, two sets of timpani, eight cellos and eight basses. This accounts for the grey pastel shades. The score was a monochrome essay catching the Iron Curtain atmosphere. Hitchcock dropped the Herrmann score although many of the cues had, according to the Herrmann documentary which many may have seen on Channel 4 (UK), by then been recorded. The director then went to John Addison who provided Hitchcock with a better approximation of what he wanted. The break with Herrmann was complete. Herrmann is good at gloom (I wonder if he knew the music of Allan Pettersson) and he plays to this sinewy strength in this score. The variety comes largely from the ear-tickling textures which Herrmann creates. There is little of the slightly icy lyricism of the Marnie score. The solo viola serenade Valse Lente (8) is a very subdued affair - a notch down from Ravel's Pavane pour une Infante Défunte. Track 24 (The Hill) is the only other cue which offers anything like a warmer glimpse of human emotions. The devilish and black-hearted Prelude is stormy with serpent tongues of flame licking around the nightmare scene. There is something here of North by North-West but that score's dynamism is leavened with an innocence lacking in this film and this music. The Ship has an eerie charged calm. The Hotel is also eerie but it starts like some alien village dance. The Murder Scene (16) which Hitchcock decided would be played without music was in fact scored by both Addison and Herrmann. Herrmann's score climbs precipitous heights and the flutes flutter like a black cloud of birds. The often quiet music benefits from being played at a high volume. Track 29 returns to the stormy scenes of the Prelude with the brass punching out in thunderous style. I was struck several times by the use of a rocking horn figure which Bax wrote for Happy Forest but here it is used to darker effect. If it were rocking a cradle I would advise against looking at the contents of the crib!
This recording offers all of the Herrmann score with the exception of two sequences - and very brief ones at that - one runs to 21 seconds the other to 16 seconds. I am not sure why they were left out but it does pave the way for someone else, with the necessary permission, to offer a sequel to this disc at some time in the future - trumpeting an absolutely complete score. I am puzzled by the decision. After all some of the recorded sequences run to as little as 24 seconds (22) and the disc still has plenty of space.
I am indebted to Kevin Mulhall's excellent and fulsome notes and hope he will forgive me for occasionally plagiarising them. This is a fine product documenting some impressive music but without the slightly chilled heart and cold kindness we find in many Herrmann scores. I confess to being more in awe than in love with the piece. I welcome this recording as an important addition to the wonderful blossoming of the Herrmann sound library. It seems to be very faithfully served by the artists and the sound engineers. I have rated and recommend the recording in these terms. However as a score its almost unremitting gloom does not beckon return visits. Herrmann however was obviously enthralled by the style because his next score Fahrenheit 451 was in similar tones. This CD is for the Herrmann completist. Other more humane Herrmann scores are commended to the general listener and to those exploring Herrmann for the first time.
- and Ian Lace's view -
This was the music that Alfred Hitchcock rejected. Why? Universal wanted a commercial exploitable score and so Hitchcock requested unoppressive music highlighted by a rivetting main title and a strong love theme. Furthermore he insisted that the scene of the notorious protracted killing of Gromek, the Russian, should not be scored. (Herrmann recalled that Hitch absolutely did not want music for the Psycho shower scene but in going against the director's wishes Herrmann created horrific music which made the score so memorable and arguably the film so successful.) As you can hear from this unused score, Herrmann disregarded most of Hitch's wishes and when the portly director heard the Prelude and one or two of the cues he was incensed and fired the hapless composer on the spot.
On hearing this CD I have to say I have some sympathy for Hitchcock's decision as I will try and explain. Bernie had assembled an unusual ensemble for the score's recording: 16 French horns; 12 flutes (all doubling on piccolo, alto, and bass flute), nine trombones, two tubas, two sets of timpani, eight cellos and eight basses. All these instruments combined to produce music that was as iron-hard, unrelenting and impersonal as life behind the iron curtain. The only warmth is music associated with the Julie Andrews character in the "Sarah" cue but even there, there is underlying restlessness - the danger lurking in the shadows. Much use is made of heavy treading lower strings and percussion underpinning snarling, rasping brass; the mood is caught immediately in the stern chill of the Prelude. As such, the use of this music would probably have added a depth of horror and increased the tension considerably especially in the central killing of Gromek sequences. These central cues:"the farmhouse", "the killing" and "the body" are by far the most impressive. Herrmann uses his vast woodwind and brass resources to powerful and quite frightening effect; marrying this sound with the frantic attempts to kill the Russian would probably have had the shock value of the Psycho shower scene. (Keen Herrmann fans will also notice that the music for the killing anticipates his score for Obsession.) Herrmann eschews the use of any concrete theme using ambiguity and thematic fragments only to create the necessary dramatic tension and atmosphere. Sometimes you feel a theme is about to emerge as in the "phone" and "photos" cues. So what are my reservations? All the usual suspects are on parade, we recognise all the familiar Herrmann fingerprints, all his devices. Many of the fragments to which I referred are familiar from earlier Herrmann scores and might have confused or sparked off conflicting images for the picturegoer. This is very apparent in the blatantly intact use of the Vertigo love theme in the cue, "the hill". Other fragments from Psycho and Vertigo are recognisable plus bits from Fahrenheit 451 in "the bicycle" cue which forms the central part of music for the sequences when Paul Newman has successfully stolen the formula and is escaping; this part of the score is successful too in that it not only screws up the suspense but it also seems to be vaguely sardonic. Second-drawer Herrmann but then all Herrmann is interesting
see also Bernard Herrmann web page
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