Bernard Herrmann – PSYCHO: A Narrative for String Orchestra (1960)

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Bernard Herrmann’s use of orchestral color was never more ingenious than in this legendary, much-imitated score, written in 1960 for string orchestra only, in which he created what he called a “black and white sound” to mirror Psycho’s stark, black and white images.

Originally, Hitchcock requested that no music be written for the shower murder of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh). Ever true to his own instincts, Herrmann ignored his employer, believing the sequence needed scoring for full impact. According to the composer, at the recording session Hitchcock listened with approval to the score, then expressed regret that he had asked for no music during the shower scene. A beaming Herrmann confessed that he had written something anyway — would Hitch like to hear it? The director listened to the cue, and immediately overruled his own “improper suggestion.”

For decades, film theorists have analyzed the multiple meanings suggested by Herrmann’s shrieking violins, which have been said to reflect the stabbing knife, Marion’s screams, even bird cries that may be a clue to Marion’s killer (taxidermist Norman Bates, who fills his office with dead birds). When asked what he had intended to convey, Herrmann replied with a single word: “terror.”

The Suite, assembled by the composer in the 1960s, closely follows the film’s narrative: Marion’s impulsive theft of $40,000 from her Phoenix employer; her meeting with Norman and her subsequent murder; Norman’s disposal of her body; the slaughter of the detective on her trail; and Norman’s capture and incarceration, in a cell where he chillingly assures us in a final voice-over that he “wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

The Berliner Philharmoniker performed the piece as a part of the Musikfest Berlin 2015.

Igor Stravinsky – Symphony in Three Movements (1942-45)

The Symphony in Three Movements is a work by Russian expatriate composer Igor Stravinsky. Stravinsky wrote the symphony from 1942–45 on commission by the Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York. It was premièred by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Stravinsky on January 24, 1946.

The Symphony in Three Movements is considered as Stravinsky’s first major composition after emigrating to the United States. It uses material written by Stravinsky for aborted film projects.

In 1943, Stravinsky had begun work on rescoring his ballet The Rite of Spring. Although the project was left incomplete, his revisit to this earlier composition appears to have influenced the symphony. The ostinatos and shock tactics of the last movement, for example, recalls the “Glorification of the Chosen Victim” and “Sacrificial Dance” from The Rite, and some woodwind passages are reminiscent of the ballet’s introduction. On the other hand, there are passages forecasting the opera The Rake’s Progress, notably the openings of the slow movement and the finale.

A typical performance of the symphony lasts 20–25 minutes:

Overture; Allegro (about 10 minutes)
Andante; Interlude: L’istesso tempo (about 6 minutes)
Con moto (about 6 minutes)

The symphony is scored for an orchestra of piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 3 clarinets in B♭ and A (3rd doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets in C, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, piano, harp, violins I & II, violas, cellos, and double basses.

Stravinsky, who rarely acknowledged outside inspirations for his music, referred to the composition as his ‘war symphony’. He claimed the symphony as a direct response to events of the Second World War in both Europe and Asia. The first movement was inspired by a documentary on Japanese scorched earth tactics in China. The third movement deals with footage of German soldiers goosestepping and the allied forces’ mounting success.

Material is drawn from projects that Stravinsky had abandoned or reorganized. The pianoforte’s presence in the first movement stems from a piano concerto that was left incomplete. Music for harp is prominent in the second movement, using themes for a film adaptation of Franz Werfel’s novel The Song of Bernadette. Stravinsky was considered for this project but it was later assigned to Bernard Herrmann. The third movement unites the first two movements by giving equal emphasis to piano and harp.

In contrast to Stravinsky’s earlier Symphony in C, the Symphony in Three Movements is much more turbulent and chromatic. While the Symphony in C is based on abstract ideas, his later symphony makes use of pressing social concerns. From a purely musical standpoint, the Symphony harkens back to Stravinsky’s earlier styles of composition while an outstanding achievement of neoclassicism.