November 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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 Original motion picture score played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Joel McNeely
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Varèse Sarabande's distinguished 'Herrmann for Hitchcock' series continues with this album that one must consider as the definitive and 'complete(?)' recording of Marnie. As before, Joel McNeely leads the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in a blistering, intense reading of this troubled music that continues in the tradition of Herrmann's scores for Vertigo and Psycho. In the entire production, I can only fault Christopher Husted's notes. Husted, admirably and informatively, discusses the final stages of the relationship between the composer and Hitchcock; and Herrmann's decline around this period, provoked in no small measure by the death of his mentor at 20th Century Fox, Alfred Newman, and the accession of his anti-Herrmann brother, Lionel Newman. But this material, together with details of Herrmann's career post-Marnie, occupy too much of the more meagre 8 page booklet leaving too little space for a satisfactory analysis and discussion of the cues. (Or perhaps he had written more and it was edited out to comply with the limited space?) Now, I appreciate that this score has been broken down, on this disc, into 41 separate cues and Husted, quite rightly, has chosen to concentrate on the more important but there are significant sequences that he should have covered. These include 'Red Flowers' where we are first aware of that very distinctive twisted low woodwind figure that is so full of malignancy and menace; it's as exceptional as those stabbing violin chords that shriek at you in Psycho's shower scene. And it makes its disturbing presence at other key points in the drama. I would like to have known what instrument Herrmann chose to use - was it an oboe in low register, was it one of the bassoon family and was a mute used to achieve that gripping, throaty sound? Husted gives us too little detail about the orchestra used save mentioning that it is a smaller ensemble than that used for Vertigo, and that it is mainly string based with harp and four horns and winds in twos (what winds?). Analysis of the music for vital sequences like the first robbery and the final dénouement when we learn the reason for Marnie's psychosis are also omitted.

Husted refutes the theory that the Marnie score has much in common with Vertigo saying that the orchestration as detailed in the last paragraph makes the two scores very different. I cannot agree, they have much in common. I have already mentioned the distinctive figures used in both films but at many points the treatment of the disturbed emotional worlds of Madeleine (not to mention Scotty!) and Marnie are very similar -- so too are the harmonies.

But to some comments about the score as read by McNeely. The Prelude bites immediately. This music swirls dementedly. It is violent with wild, stabbing chords before the discord subsides somewhat to admit romance, but it is desperate romance, full of anguish, and vulnerability, and yearning. Herrmann is adept at intimating many emotions at many different levels all at the same time in his music. 'Marnie' uncovers all Marnie's fears and demons; Herrmann shows her as bewildered and vulnerable, but also furtive, deceiving, conniving and defiant. In a set of cues covering the first robbery -- with that famous long shot where we see Marnie robbing the safe as unbeknown to her a cleaning lady arrives close by -- we have music that is very Vertigo-like. (For the sequences where Scotty is stalking Madeleine near the beginning of Vertigo). Marnie's defiance is strongly vented in Herrmann's vividly dramatic music for 'The Storm' which opens with that malignant low woodwind figure I mentioned earlier. This cue is a tour-de-force with emotions as turbulent and raw as the surging storm outside Mark's office, but with recognition of the wild sexual attraction between Marnie and Mark.

Another highly charged cue is 'Checkbook' where, to swiftly moving and intensely agitated strings, Lil snoops through Mark's account books. The 'Bridal Suite' is forlorn rather than happy and 'Love Scene' is barbed for it is rape rather than romance. What follows, 'The Pool' is another example of the Herrmann genius in heightening action and atmosphere. As a frightened Mark searches for his hysterically disturbed bride, the music becoming increasingly frantic with horns blaring in exasperation, remorse and panic. One of the best-known episodes in the Marnie score is 'The Hunt' with the horns playing arpeggiated chords in triple time; here McNeely's brass sound tremendously thrilling. Moving onto the final sequence of cues, Herrmann screws up the tension almost unbearably as we first see the street where Marnie's mother lives with the shipyard at its end and sense resolution is close. Then there is that revelatory 'Flashback II' full of childhood innocence until Marnie's mother is threatened and 'Blood' is spilled prompting Herrmann to let rip with a blood-curdling orchestral howl. As Husted acutely observes, Herrmann, always the droll observer, finishes on a disconcertingly ambiguous note as 'the lovers' say 'Farewell' to the mother. Herrmann seems to be suggesting that their future is not necessarily cosy.

Notwithstanding the presentation, this is a triumphant addition to this admirable series.

Ian Lace


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