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A Lecture on the Film Music Of American Composer Bernard Herrmann

By Dirk Bakker

The most famous piece of music ever composed for a movie was written against the express orders of the film’s director. In February 1960, Alfred Hitchcock had wrapped up cinematography for Psycho, today regarded as one of the director’s masterpieces, and the movie was in post-production. Hitchcock had spent an entire week filming the so-called shower sequence, during which (spoiler alert) the female lead, played by Janet Leigh, is stabbed to death in a motel shower. He told Bernard Herrmann, the composer scoring the film, not to provide any music for that sequence. Herrmann ignored his instructions, and wrote a “cue” (movie parlance for a piece of music composed for a specific sequence), in which string instruments play screeching glissandi at intervals of minor seconds. Hitchcock was delighted when he saw the shower sequence with Herrmann’s music. The composer reminded the director of his orders not to write a cue for that scene. “Improper suggestion, my boy, improper suggestion,” Hitchcock replied.

The Film Music of American Composer Bernard Herrmann
By Fredric Dannen
Thu, Aug 4, 5pm
Teatro Ángela Peralta
170 pesos

Bernard Herrmann (1911—1975) composed his first movie score for Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) and his last for Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976). In between, he wrote the music for some of Hitchcock’s greatest films, including Vertigo, North by Northwest, and the aforementioned Psycho. Championed as a major American composer by conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and music critic Alex Ross, Herrmann remains underappreciated by classical music cognoscenti.

On Thursday, August 4, at 5pm, at the Teatro Ángela Peralta, as a feature of the 38th annual San Miguel International Music Festival, Fredric Dannen, author and music historian, will give a lecture on Bernard Herrmann’s film music, Dannen and guests will perform samples of Herrmann’s work, and Dannen will explain how Herrmann forever changed the way music for the cinema is written. Tickets are 170 pesos. All proceeds benefit the festival and can be purchased at the door or online at

“Film scores are a significant component of 20th century classical music,” Dannen says. “Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Walton, Copland, Bernstein, Antheil, and other important classical composers all wrote for the cinema. Though he composed an opera and a number of concert works, Bernard Herrmann’s greatest achievements were in the medium of film. I am delighted to have an opportunity to delve into his music in my upcoming lecture.”

Following the lecture, the Cine Bacco (inside the Ristorante Bacco in the Hotel Sautto, Hernandez Macias 59) will screen a number of movies with musical scores by Bernard Herrmann, including Hangover Square (1945, John Brahm) and Fahrenheit 451 (1966, François Truffaut). Visit for details.


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