Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Herrmann (Louis) collection of Bernard Herrmann scores
PA Mss 153  
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (109.41 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Overview
Table of contents What's This?
Manuscript scores and musical sketches by Bernard Herrmann to compositions for film and television, as well as concert works, dating from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Born in New York City in 1911, Bernard Herrmann was educated at New York University, where he studied with Philip James (composition) and Bernard Wagenaar (conducting); and at Juilliard, where he studied with Percy Grainger (composition) and Albert Stossel (conducting). He was an active member of Aaron Copland's Young Composer's Group during the early thirties, and initiated a friendship with Charles Ives after discovering some of Ives's privately published scores at the New York Public Library. In 1931 he formed the New Chamber Orchestra, with which he conducted works by himself and his peers, including Jerome Moross and Arthur Berger, as well as works by Charles Ives. His exposure with the New Chamber Orchestra attracted the attention of John Green, who hired Herrmann as a staff arranger and conductor at CBS Radio in 1933. His talents as a composer became evident when he submitted a score for narrator and orchestra using Keat's poem La belle dame sans merci in late 1934. He soon became involved in the scoring of radio dramas with the innovative and experimental series Columbia Workshop. He also worked with Orson Welles as music director of the Mercury Theater of the Air. He pursued his interest in conducting with the CBS Symphony, eventually winning an appointment as chief conductor in 1941. His dramatic cantata Moby Dick, for male soloists, male chorus, and large orchestra, received its world premiere with the New York Philharmonic under John Barbarolli's direction in April of 1940. Herrmann's association with Welles led him to Hollywood in 1939 when the Mercury Theater was contracted by RKO Radio Pictures to make a film. Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons resulted, both scored by Herrmann. He continued his work as conductor of the CBS Symphony Orchestra and as a composer of scores for radio dramas through the 1940s, and took four assignments from 20th Century-Fox that appealed to him: Jane Eyre (1943), Hangover Square (1944), Anna and the King of Siam (1946), and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947). His work on Jane Eyre inspired him to adapt Wuthering Heights as an opera (1943-1951), which he ranked as his most important work. With the swift post-war decline of commercial radio, Herrmann's rewarding career as the conductor of the CBS orchestra and composer of music for radio drama evaporated. Hollywood presented the only practical career alternative; Herrmann moved to California in 1951, and for four years worked exclusively at 20th Century-Fox. Most of the work during this time was on adventure films set in exotic locales ( Beneath the Twelve-Mile Reef, White Witch Doctor, The King of the Khyber Rifles, The Egyptian, etc.). In 1955 he began to freelance, and became involved with Alfred Hitchcock's feature filmmaking operation. He went on to score many of Hitchcock's most successful films ( Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, etc.). Herrmann continued to conduct during this period, though almost exclusively in England. He most frequently conducted the Halle and BBC Orchestras. In the early 1960s, Herrmann's career began to unravel once again. His bellicose temper, fed by his failure to secure a conducting post, began to threaten his offers to guest conduct. His recalcitrance over details of production scuttled every opportunity to stage his opera Wuthering Heights. In Hollywood the studio system began to deteriorate rapidly. Popular songs became very much in demand from film producers looking to squeeze every last potential dollar out of their films. This popular music syndrome proved the downfall of Herrmann's relationship with Alfred Hitchcock. Asked to write in a popular idiom for Torn Curtain (1966), Herrmann instead produced a very intense and unorthodox score, in an effort to better serve the dramatic needs of the film. Hitchcock regarded this as an act of insubordination and betrayal, and fired Herrmann only moments after hearing the score for the first time. Unable to find work in Hollywood, Herrmann began to take film assignments in England and make commercial recordings for London Records. His films from this period included two directed by Francois Truffaut, Fahrenheit 451 and La marieé etait en noir. Eventually a younger group of filmmakers began to emerge in the 1970s, led by Brian DePalma ( Sisters and Obsession) and Martin Scorcese ( Taxi Driver). Suffering from a heart condition aggravated by years of chain smoking, Herrmann was unable to take full advantage of this resurgence of interest in his work. The evening before Christmas Eve 1975, after finishing the recording sessions of Taxi Driver, Herrmann died in his sleep at the age of 64.
2.59 linear feet (2 flat boxes)
See "terms governing use and reproduction" below.
Researchers must use microfilm in lieu of originals when available.