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The Classic Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann

You know, if it weren't for Charles Gerdhart, we film music fans probably wouldn't have half of the releases we get now.  In 1974, Gerdhart singlehandedly started the film score revolution with this album.  He went on to produce about 12 more in the RCA film music series, each more popular than the last.  The combination of the success of this album, plus John Williams' JAWS finally convinced movie studios and record companies that film scoring was a legitimate aspect of movies.  They stopped producing popular movies with rock soundtracks and began (finally) to consistently call on the talents of such people as Goldsmith, Williams, Bernstein, and Morricone.  But I digress...
This CD is a compilation of suites from five of Herrmann's best scores.  Unlike most other Herrmann compilations, this doesn't include any Hitchcock material, instead going back to five somewhat lesser known scores.  I actually enjoy the album more than some of his Hitchcock music, since it's not so psychologically connected to the picture, but still great film music.  Finally, just because this was originally recorded in 1974 doesn't mean that the sound quality is bad.  It's been digitally remastered in Dolby Surround and sounds better than some modern recordings (i.e. McNeely's Torn Curtain rerecording.)  Also, the late Christopher Palmer wrote an incredibly detailed and informative essay for the liner notes.

Track by Track Analysis:
On Dangerous Ground:
1. The Death Hunt (2:23)
This serves as an overture to the rest of the album, being an orchestral tour-de-force and having virtuoso parts for nearly every instrument, especially the French horns.  It begins by stating the basic thematic material, which consists of two parts.  First of all is a brassy, chasing motif signifying the pursuers in the death hunt.  Following this is a wailing horn passage given to the chasees.  These play around with each other for a while, coming into a more subdued middle passage.  Later, as the pursuers overtake the others, the melodic intervals and times between the two sections become closer and closer until they're completely intertwined.  This is an excellent orchestral showpiece, and a fantastic way to open the album.

Citizen Kane:
2. Prelude: Xanadu; Snow Picture (3:17)
We move now into less ferocious territory in the form of the album's title suite.  For the opening, featuring Kane's death and mumbling of "Rosebud," Herrmann has quiet, uneasy chords perfectly depicting Kane's lonely state, as well as the winter scene depicted in the snow globe he holds.  Later in the cue, the tone lightens up for a while, having various twinkling percussion and bells.
3. Theme and Variations (Breakfast Montage) (3:26)
This is one of the most ingenious segments of the movie, showing Kane's gradual alienation to his first wife as his quest for the best newspaper overcomes him.  The thematic material is first stated, a graceful and elegant waltz powered by strings.  Later, the brass come in and state some more of the waltz material.  For one of the final scenes in the montage, the waltz becomes exclusively played by brass and changed into a minor key.  Finally, as the couple begins to read different newspapers, the strings play an even more disquieting minor key statement of the waltz.
4. Aria from Salammbo (4:16)
Another of the most ingenious sequences ever put down to celluloid is Kane's second wife foundering in the extremely difficult opera aria.  For this disc, Gerdhart got a capable soprano (Kiri Te Kanawa) to perform the virtuoso composition, and this becomes one of the main highlights of the disc.  The aria itself is written in the style of Wagner combined with some classic modernism, and it's one of Herrmann's best compositions.  If only he'd written an entire opera on this material...
5. Rosebud and Finale (2:41)
Now we back down into familiar territory.  The opening of this recalls the desolate prelude, but as we see the Rosebud sled, which ties the entire movie together, Herrmann literally throws the principal theme at us in permutations by both the strings and brass.  The finale ends on a perfect cadence.

Beneath the 12-Mile Reef:
6. The Sea; The Lagoon (4:41)
This is completely unlike anything in Citizen Kane.  It's a joyous tone poem characterizing the sea with harp glissandi and trumpets giving us the main theme.  "The Sea" seems to have made a great influence on John Williams' JAWS scores, particularly the second one.  Later the strings and woodwinds get their turn at some of the thematic material, but always accompanied by the gargantuan harp section.
7. Descending (1:51)
One of the more atmospheric tracks comes next, written exclusively for harps.  Basically they all play a giant 2-octave arpeggio, always on different notes.  This segues into:
8. The Octopus; Homecoming (4:54)
After some murky low brass coupled with harps Herrmann gives us the first real action cue on the album.  The octopus is characterized by cymbals and dissonant low brass/timpani glissandis, as well as harps (so what's new?) and trumpets.  The tone turns positive, restating some of the themes from track 6, as well as a new string theme.

Hangover Square:
9. Piano Concerto "Macabre" (11:57)
This remains my favorite track on the album.  For Herrmann's only piano concerto, he wrote in the combination modernist/Romantic fashion typically found in some of Franz Lizst's last works, particularly the last few Hungarian Rhapsodies.  The piano itself is put through several cadenza sections, and most of its parts rely on the extremely low register.  The prelude has the melody in the piano, characterized by playing one of the principal themes in the right hand while the left drones on in the lowest octave.  Later, the orchestra introduces a despairing horn call, followed by a fuller statement of the main theme in the piano with the left hand doing arpeggios.  Herrmann expands the theme in the strings, which is the most joyous part of the composition.  Meanwhile the piano does octave runs.  The theme exhausts itself, ending with the horn call.  Piano does some more meanderings, setting the stage for the massive orchestral climax.  The material here is a downbeat version of the orchestra's previous part.  More low, dissonant material follows, finally climaxing in the introduction of a macabre scherzo in 6/8 time.  Typical of Lizst, this includes a few scale runs while the left hand continues with the ostinato.  The orchestra joins in, and the piano and orchestra play off each other for a while.  The scherzo continues to get more and more out of hand, finally tapering off and leading into the horn call.  It is this and the main theme that set up the rest of the concerto.  The piano's usual left hand arpeggios are joined by the right hand, and the orchestra plays the main thematic material.  As the major key section enters, the accompaniment in the woodwinds and piano becomes more and more complex, finally climaxing in a giant chordal crescendo, which backs down into darkness.  The orchestra completely abandons the piano for the rest of the concerto, and it plays some dissonant, desolate, despairing, and demented variations on the thematic material, returning to the lower register constantly.  Surprisingly, this warhorse of a concerto ends on a major chord in the piano, only to be swallowed up by a final pounding bass note.

White Witch Doctor:
10. Talking Drums; Prelude: The Riverboat; Petticoat Dance; The Safari (3:57)
Perhaps the wierdest and most unlike Herrmann section of the album is for this jungle movie.  Several percussion instruments open the track, followed by a giant main title utilizing the Chinese Pelog scale.  Herrmann used this a few times in 7th Voyage of Sinbad, as well.  Another of the principal motives is a small flute flourish based on this scale.
11. Tarantula; The Lion (1:28)
Imagine a jungle version of the Citizen Kane prelude.  This introduces an obscure ethnic instrument called the serpent, which basically sounds like a sick trombone.  It produces a raw guttural sound, and was also used in Jerry Goldsmith's Alien score.
12. Nocturne (3:47)
For once everything is completely subdued.  This is a calming pastoral melody completely unlike most of the other music on this compilation.  It perfectly conjures up images of a tranquil jungle night, as its name implies.
13. Abduction of the Bakuba Boy; The Skulls (1:56)
Another action cue comes next, opening with low mumblings, which segue into another virtuoso action segment.  The Skulls consists of a dissonant brass chord (not entirely unlike one of the main themes in Vertigo) and low serpent wailings.
14. Lonni Bound by Ropes; Departure (2:28)
Now we get a march founded on timpani and other percussion, while the low brass play the thematic material.  "Departure" replays quietly the thematic Pelog scale parts, ending on a giant cadence.

In conclusion, this is probably one of the very best Herrmann albums I have, and definitely the best compilation I've ever bought.  We get a sampler of some of his earlier work played by a virtuoso orchestra under an awesome conductor.  Who could ask for anything more?  Buy it! BUY IT!

This review is dedicated to the memory of Charles Gerhart.

Citizen Kane: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 9/10
Orchestral Performance 10/10
Sound Quality 9/10
Length 10/10

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Citizen Kane: The Classic Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann is Copyright 1974 by BMG/RCA Victor.  Its appearance here is for EDUCATIONAL, NON-PROFIT USE!  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  Opinions on this page are not those of Tripod.  Get over it.
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