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In 1958, Bernard Herrmann finally managed to top his other ingenious scores with this, his massive tour-de-force for what is arguably Hitchcock's best film.  For me, this is also Herrmann's best score, and I love it so much it's found a place just behind Rozsa's Ben-Hur and Williams' The Empire Strikes Back as my favorite score of all time.  There's a collection of about 5 main motives, most of them used as love themes between Scottie and the various reincarnations of Madeleine.  Furthermore, the amount of psychological subtext packed into this score is, quite frankly, staggering.  As a matter of fact, I think that Herrmann struck the perfect balance between composing a coherent and listenable concert work and packing every piece of psychological meaning possible into his score.  For me, the most striking example of this is the legendary main title, which tells the entire story of the movie before any characters are introduced, while still being one of the most listenable selections ever scored for the screen.  Joel McNeely's conducting skills are unrivaled when it comes to rerecording Herrmann scores, and the RSNO shines throughout all the difficult material.  The packaging is magnificent, and these are some of the most in-depth liner notes I've ever read.  Although some of the psychological subtexts are more lucid if you've seen the movie, even newcomers to Herrmann will admit that he has crafted one of the most complex scores of all time.

Track by Track Analysis:
1. Prelude and Rooftop (4:35)
Herrmann begins with this, my favorite main title sequence ever.  It packs so many emotions into one coherent piece: love, anguish, despair, uncertainty, mystery, the list goes on.  Also, and I don't know if this was intentional (I think it would have to be) the titles actually convey through music the entire plot of the movie.  Allow me to explain: First of all, we have the diminished arpeggios, which represent Scottie's vertigo, and it permeates the entire titles sequence. Simple enough. Next we have the set of dissonant brass chords followed by quiet restatements of the arpeggio. This could be used to represent Scottie before he met Madeleine, with the brass representing his near-death rooftop encounter, and the quiet arpeggios his memories of it. This goes on for a while, then we get a series of rising violin trills, leading into the next section. The trills can represent Scottie's meeting with Gavin, as well as the subsequent trailing of Madeleine. Next we have the introduction of the abbreviated four-note love theme, always climaxing in brass chords. This obviously personifies Scottie's obsessive love with Madeleine and her mystery (also represented by electronic organ chords featured with all the brass.) The final, unresolved brass can represent her "death" at the mission. However, since we still know basically nothing about her, Herrmann allows some of the brass notes to seep over into the next section instead of cutting off.  More of the arpeggios/brass comes next, signifying Scottie's eventual nightmare and breakdown. Finally, the four note love theme returns, representing his romance with Judy, who actually pretended to be Madeleine. This time, since the story is finally explained and the loose end tied up, the love theme doesn't have the extra brass notes seeping over, and it has infinitely more form. However, the giant brass climax comes again, personifying the death of Judy at the very end. The minor chords ending the sequence show Scottie's final despair, with the reedy bass clarinet pedal point signifying Scottie's looking over the edge and seeing Judy's dead body.  We now segue into "Rooftop," the only real action cue in the score.  The first section is made up of a racing string ostinato, which is later joined by an alternately rising and falling low brass line, perfect for the scene in which Scottie and the cops trail an undefined criminal over the rooftops.  This goes on for a few more cycles, climaxing in a series of absolutely harrowing dissonant brass/woodwind chords.  Later, harp glissandi join in with the atonality, adding to the frenzy.
 

2. Scottie Trails Madeleine (8:22) (including: Madeleine's First Appearance, Madeleine's Car, The Flower Shop, The Alleyway, The Mission, The Graveyard, and Tombstone)
Here Herrmann introduces most of the supporting motives for Vertigo.  The first, introduced in Madeleine's First Appearance, is a mournful theme for her, played exclusively on strings.  It is a slightly more cautious version of the complete love theme, which illustrates simply passion, while this only describes the so-called Madeleine as a person.  "Madeleine's Car" features a lazy woodwind melody over a syncopated ostinato, which seems like a faster version of one of the motives in Psycho.  "The Flower Shop" takes this melody and removes the ostinato, playing it completely in high-range strings.  "The Alleyway" continues the romantically mysterious mood with a slightly more ominous string melody, along with yet another statement of the woodwind theme.  "The Mission" highlights the creepy electronic organ and introduces a new tension motif, somewhat based on this track's woodwind theme.  "The Graveyard" takes the string presentation of the woodwind theme and adds a bass clarinet accompaniment, as well as new supporting chords.  As the liner notes say, one of the most intriguing aspects of this score is Herrmann's use of the chromatic scale, which finds its place into this cue.  "Tombstone" is a short cue consisting of a few giant chords in the clarinet choir.

3. Carlotta's Portrait (2:34)
Now we get yet another theme having to do with Madeleine, this time connecting her with the portrait of her dead relative that Scottie thinks is taking over her body.  Since the woman in the portrait is Mexican, Herrmann uses a traditional Mexican dance-like rhythm called the habanera, which accentuates the up-beats.  His use of it here, however, is anything but jovial.  The composer adds an air of sorrowful mystery, and, as the liner notes say, it's repeated throughout the entire track to add an obsessive, hypnotic state.  Over this is another chromatic string line, which subtely outlines the ominous woodwind theme from the previous track, which I'll henceforth refer to as the Madeleine theme.

4. The Bay (3:08)
For this cue, Herrmann proceeds to develop Madeleine's theme, which will later be completely permutated into the full love theme.  A second section serves as a suspense cue with a presentation of Madeleine's theme on the celeste with various orchestral accompaniment.  However, Herrmann hurls a fortissimo descending chromatic orchestral tutti complete with horn glissandi.  After a series of quieting woodwind arpeggios, Herrmann plays another statement of Madeleine's theme.

5. By The Fireside (3:39)
This lazy cue throws around a few subdued permutations of Madeleine's theme, continuing to develop it.  Herrmann avoids the trademark high strings until late in the cue.  As if to trick us, he begins to end on a major chord, but throws in some dissonant notes in the last few seconds.

6. The Forest (3:25)
An ominous interlude for brass and woodwinds begins this track, using, like always, Herrmann's chromatic approach and foreboding dissonant orchestration.  However, the pattern is completely disrupted with the introduction of a loud minor electronic organ chord.  The descending chromaticism returns later, and eventually finds its way into the deepest, darkest sections of the orchestra.  Surprisingly, the cue ends on a major key chord.  Also, besides the chromatics, no thematic material whatsoever is utilized.

7. The Beach (3:27)
We're back to thematic development, and, after playing Madeleine's theme once, Herrmann adds a swirling descending chromatic string phrase to it, suggesting a lush, ghostly presence.  After a short bass clarinet interlude, the composer brings back his mystical Spanish habanera.  A tremolo string passage comes next, only to be interrupted by a dissonant trumpet blast, which segues into a tragic reading of Madeleine's theme.  The most potent thematic development comes next- Madeleine's theme has almost been completely mutated into the love theme.  Again, the cue ends on a major chord.

8. The Dream (2:42)
After various ominous string passages, the habanera theme returns in full force, again with high strings outlining Madeleine's theme.  The cue ends with another, more vague permutation of her theme.

9. Farewell/The Tower (6:52)
For one of the most important sequences in the film, Herrmann begins with a return to the urgent ostinato that also began "The Bay," along with more of Madeleine's theme.  A more developed version of the habanera dance comes next, and introduces another previously unheard section of the complete love theme.  Finally, we get a complete tantalizing glimpse at this full love theme, now in its proper form.  Herrmann ingeniously transforms Madeleine's theme into this tragic, lovesick waltz.  However, it later turns malicious, leading back to the dissonant vertigo chords heard in "Rooftops," as well as that chasing string theme.  The vertigo chords are now even more urgent and frenzied, usually with harp glissandi.  Innovatively, near the end of this sinister interlude, Herrmann builds a complete tone pyramid on top of the vertigo chordal theme.  The track ends with an abstract version of Madeleine's theme, never to be heard in its original form again.

10. The Nightmare/Dawn (4:10)
One of the most chilling tracks on the album, this opens with a typical version of the love theme.  However, a sinister bass note introduces a virtuoso fluttering tremolo string line.  The habanera theme returns in a fortissimo presentation, and Herrmann uses just about every single theme heard thus far.  The vertigo motif is used as an interlude, and an abstract outline of the abbreviated four-note love theme makes up the bulk of the cue, accompanied by tambourine and woodblock.  After another statement of the running string transition, the music completely loses control, climaxing in more of the vertigo motif.  "Dawn" begins ominously with an ascending chromatic motif, which builds into a lush presentation of the now mostly developed love theme.

11. The Letter (3:53)
For this flashback sequence, Herrmann conglomerates most of the previously heard themes into a thrilling, suspenseful piece.  After an ominous clarinet intro, the chasing theme from "Rooftops" returns, but fades out after a few seconds.  A new, strikingly haunting waltz theme based on the love theme, forms the basis for the next minute.  Later, high strings return, suggesting the presence of Madeleine, but never actually playing her theme.  The conclusion of the cue is based around a permutation of the love theme waltz.

12. Goodnight/The Park (3:08)
Another string interlude based on the love theme begins this track, eventually playing it almost in full.  However, the second cue  launches into a surprisingly cliched "happy '60s romance" waltz, which is still quite appealing.  This material is never heard again in the score.

13. Scene D'Armour (5:09)
After the main titles, this is my personal favorite cue.  I'm pretty sure it's almost the longest cue Herrmann ever composed. (can anyone confirm this?)  Anyway, the track is positively dripping with lush strings, conveying the reckless ecstasy felt by Scottie as he sees Madeleine reincarnated.  It's been compared with Wagner's "Liebstod" from his romantic epic opera Tristan und Isolde, in terms of sheer passion and reckless abandon.  The complete theme is played twice in total, revealing its many sections, with the orchestration growing louder with every note, eventually adding the whole brass section under the strings.  The first section played is a fantasia on the abbreviated four-note theme, which builds into a statement of it for tremolo strings.  This uneasy interlude builds into a full statement of this first part of the love theme, which is transformed into the yearning waltz.  However, instead of ending unresolved, Herrmann climaxes it in a pattern of fortissimo seventh intervals, and later gives it the center stage.  After the next presentation of the love theme, instead of letting it back down, the composer continues to build into a giant cadence for tutti orchestra.  The score could have ended here, and we could have had a happy resolution...

14. The Necklace/The Return/Finale (7:47)
But of course we have to have this suite, which completely destroys Scottie's life.  All of the themes converge on this track, which opens with the habanera rhythm.  Next is another presentation of the now fully developed love theme.  Next is a positively operatic tense ascending chromatic progression.  "The Return" gives more uneasy permutations of the love theme, which is, in actuality, the main theme of "Vertigo."   However, while still quite powerful, no part of this cue reaches the soaring heights of "Scene D'Armour," instead concentrating on the tragic aspect of the storyline.  Also present a few times is the brass vertigo motif, accompanied by harps.  "Finale" begins with a tense chase motif not entirely unrelated to the "Rooftops" theme, separated by virtuoso clarinet glissandi.  The four-note love motif makes a brief appearance, also.  A short interlude for clarinet choir segues into the final, hopelessly tragic statement of the full love theme.  After this is a short postlude, which permanently buries the love theme.  On the last note, which is probably one of the biggest surprises in the score, Herrmann ends with a perfect major cadence.  How can he do that?  Scottie's life is basically in shambles, and the film ends in tragedy.  It's as if Bernard Herrmann is just seizing a chance to toy around with our now emotionally unstable minds.  This final note is completely evil, yet completely ingenious and inspired!

Wow.  By the time this CD is over, we have been over an entire spectrum of human emotions, all conveyed through music.  This album is pretty much perfect, forming Herrmann's score into a coherent listening experience.  Again, special accolades must be made for the enormously intriguing liner notes, which go into every aspect of the score.  McNeely's conducting simply blows away that of Muir Matheson, the sound quality is great, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra gives us a recording that's light years ahead of the original.



 
VERTIGO: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 10/10
Orchestral Performance 10/10
Sound Quality 10/10
Length 9.5/10



Vertigo is Copyright 1995 by Varese Sarabande.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  All rights reserved.
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