Herrmann rarely got to indulge the passions of his personal life for place and time. Specifically, he was entranced by England of the 18th and 19th centuries. So naturally, the universe created by author Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels appealed to him immensely. Opening on an "Overture" that is a grand 18th Century ballroom styled anthem, the listener can't help but be arrested by how remarkable this is for a film score of any age. Should that listener be familiar with Herrmann's work, they will also be impressed with how dissimilar this is from his general style, and even from the other few projects that did indulge his passion (e.g. Jane Eyre or The Ghost and Mrs. Muir). That same listener should be impressed yet further by knowing that this was written mere days after finishing Psycho.
Gulliver's time is divided between the lands of Lilliput and Brobdingnag. That's very apparent in the music which is as distinct from one another as both are from the opening and closing English setting. "The Lilliputians" is almost like a sleigh bell ride, or something out of Herrmann's early Devil and Daniel Webster material. It opens a third of the score that is thoroughly enchanting in its twee depiction of the tiny people. After several grand or restrained marches such as "Naval Battle" (with some subtle use of vibraphone that recalls his Twilight Zone scoring) and a lovely interlude for xylophone in "The Clouds", the contrast to the Brobdingnag adventures is obvious. The music takes on Herrmann's better-known sombre and dangerous personality (e.g. the low, low brass and strings of "Alchemy").
This music originally only featured in a re-recording by Herrmann on his Decca album The Mysterious Film World of Bernard Herrmann released in 1975. The original tracks then appeared on the Silva Screen affiliate label Cloud Nine CD in 1993, which is now extremely difficult to find. This is therefore the best way of owning the music. With Joel McNeely at the baton, who is increasingly becoming the world's leading Herrmann archivist, it's also about the most faithful interpretation of it you'll find too. The only thing peculiar about this release is the curious booklet notes which read like a chapter of a greater work, with Gulliver only briefly occupying the central focus. Otherwise, it's hat off in admiration and gratitude to Varese Sarabande once again.