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The Bernard Herrmann Web Pages
The Bernard Herrmann Web Pages When we go to the movies, our eyes are often drawn to the good-looking actors or the dazzling special effects. This makes sense -- cinema is a visual art form, after all -- but how often do we listen to movies? The soundtrack is one of the most important parts of a film. It affects our emotions just as much as any director could. Imagine Jaws without that sinister cue of the shark's arrival, or Terminator 2 without that industrial beat.

The best film scores are the modern equivalent of sonatas and operas. They can sweep away movie audiences with romance, get their pulses racing with excitement, and fill them with terror. One man who accomplished all these tasks and more was the late Bernard Herrmann, and an ongoing tribute to him can be found at The Bernard Herrmann Web Pages.

You've certainly heard Herrmann's work, whether you realize it or not. He composed the shocking music of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, the chilling score to Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, and the groundbreaking electronic score to 1951's The Day the Earth Stood Still, which has been reused in countless sci-fi TV episodes over the years. Herrmann (1911-1975) composed music for over 40 films, auspiciously beginning with Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. He's best known to film fans for his long partnerships with two cinema legends: director Hitchcock (North by Northwest, Vertigo, Torn Curtain) and special effects master Ray Harryhausen (7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, Mysterious Island).

The Bernard Herrmann Web Pages are hosted by the University of Bergen in Norway and organized by a team of contributors, led by Kurt George Gjerde. At the site, you'll find extensive reviews of Herrmann compilation CDs and re-releases of his soundtracks, including the extended version of Taxi Driver, his final score. In addition, there are interviews with writers, record producers, and film directors who either have worked with Herrmann or are keeping his work in the public eye.

The site also highlights the ongoing Herrmann revival. The Varese Sarabande label has led the way in high-quality re-recordings of Herrmann's work, conducted by current composers like Joel McNeely and John Debny, whose excellent interpretation of 7th Voyage of Sinbad hit the stores in December. On the site's news section is word of an upcoming CD of Jason and the Argonauts on the Intrada label. It's one of Herrmann's best scores, featuring an orchestra that has no strings, but a huge collection of woodwinds, brass, and percussion, including four tubas!

Browse the site's complete list of Herrmann's musical history, indexed by such categories as film, classical, and television. (He composed the opening themes to many TV series in the 1950 and 60s, including The Twilight Zone and Have Gun, Will Travel.) Fans can also subscribe to an e-mail newsletter that provides the latest Herrmann news and updates from the site. Admirers can go to a Feedback section to post comments about Herrmann's music and related topics, such as the reviled "replica" of Psycho.

I'm delighted that Herrmann's genius is finally getting the recognition it deserves. For too long, he was taken for granted (bizarrely, not one of his Hitchcock scores was even nominated for an Academy Award), and it seemed he might be overshadowed by more, shall we say, audience-pleasing composers who try to squeeze a Top 10 pop song into each score. On that note, the Bernard Herrmann Web Pages also say that he'll be honored in a series of commemorative stamps due in September, along with other film composers like Casablanca's Max Steiner and It's a Wonderful Life's Dimitri Tiomkin. Now that's greatness. Let's see who bothers to re-record the sappy Titanic soundtrack in 20 years!

--Ken Hart

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