Brooding, loud, dark, intense, thoughtful and subject to sudden mood swings. This description might be seen to describe both the music and the personality of one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century, Bernard Herrmann.

What makes Herrmann so unique in the art of film music was his approach to composition. His was the music of emotion. Herrmann said, "I count myself an individual. I hate all cults, fads and circles. I believe that only music that springs out of genuine personal emotion and inspiration is alive and important." He avoided the overly romantic scores of the time, preferring an individual expression that concentrated on atmosphere and sounds, which reflect the emotional turmoil of a fictional character.

The Blue Devils explore Herrmann's methods of portraying a characters psychology through selections from some of his most famous works: Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), Nicholas Ray's On Dangerous Ground (1951), Francois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 (1966), and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1959), Vertigo (1958), and North By Northwest (1959).

The introduction to the show is 'Night Piece for Saxophone and Orchestra', the main title music from Taxi Driver. The scene is contemporary New York, a 'city of dreadful night', and Herrmann in his unique way creates music that reflects the torment of 'God's lonely man.' The first production begins as 'Night Piece' softens in mood. It marks the first time Herrmann merged the traditional orchestration with jazz. The jazz blues motif becomes the theme for Travis Bickle's (Robert De Niro) introspection, revealing a more fragile, human side of a soul in torment.

After a brief percussion interlude, the second production begins with 'Prelude from On Dangerous Ground'. The music reflects a recurring theme of Herrmann's--a fierce reflection of the urban landscape, city streets revealed through the windows of a prowling police car. The sharp, staccato phrases dented by a bruising anvil are the perfect correlation for Jim Wilson's (Robert Ryan) obsessive hunt for a criminal. Woven into the texture this arrangement of 'On Dangerous Ground' are echoes of Psycho, perhaps Herrmann's most well known piece. The 'Narrative for Orchestra' from Psycho reflects the madness of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), truly one of the most infamous characters in the history of film.

The third production relaxes in mood with some of Herrmann's most beautiful and nostalgic music. It begins with the melancholy strains of 'The Book People' from Fahrenheit 451. The music is serene, but still highly complex, infused with a sadness that intensifies the theme of Truffaut's movie-- a futuristic society in which books are outlawed. It is the music of loss. The production evolves into 'Scene d'Amour' from Vertigo, music Herrmann described as a "long crescendo of emotional fulfillment." In the movie, for the full five minutes of 'Scene d'Amour', Hitchcock allowed almost no dialogue, saying to Herrmann, "We'll have just you and the camera." The result is Hermann's most beautiful music of love. The dramatics of the score heighten the sadness and aching nostalgia of Scottie's (James Stewart) longing for Madeline.

The final production is the frantic, agitated sounds of 'The Wild Ride' from North By Northwest. Herrmann described the score as a 'kaleidoscope orchestral fandango designed to kick off the exciting route that follows--the crazy dance about to take place between Cary Grant and the world." The fandango is a Spanish dance that Herrmann employs for its lithe propulsive rhythm. In this comedy-thriller the comedy lies in the elasticity of the dance rhythms underlined by trademark Herrmann techniques, such as repeating small snatches of sound over and over, the brash melodies and tumbling tempos combining to hammer the senses into exhaustive submission.

To Herrmann the music of movies is the communicating link between the screen and the audience, reaching out and enveloping all into one single experience. The Blue Devils invite you to enjoy with them the experience of Bernard Herrmann's music. A wild and fun ride full of music of great passion, intensity, and wit.

Program notes by Jay Murphy, supplemented with "The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann" by Matt Williams (Prism , the BFS Newsletter, Vol. 23. No. 1) and The Composer in Hollywood, by Christopher Palmer.


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