Monday, October 31, 2011
Bernard Herrmann & The National Philharmonic Orchestra – Psycho (Complete Music For Alfred Hitchcock's Classic Suspense Thriller)
And finally this month, a special treat for this Hallow's Eve - the complete score to Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock's terror classic, released in 1960 and still just as creepy and scary as hell over fifty years later. This is arguably the greatest movie score of all time, in terms of its originality, lasting impact, and direct effect it made on the viewer's reaction to the film - Hitchcock himself was quoted as saying that "33% of the the effect of Psycho was due to the music" (a modest understatment, in my opinion). Hard to believe that Bernard Herrmann's participation in this movie, and the sounds he created, almost didn't happen.
Paramount, the studio producing the movie, lowballed Hitchcock on the production costs, forcing the great director to make Psycho on the cheap - utilizing his "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" TV crew instead of a real film crew, cutting corners and toning down a lot of the lavish aspects and touches that graced his classic films of the 1950's (like Rear Window and North By Northwest). Hitchcock had worked with Herrmann on five of his previous films, and wanted him for Psycho as well, but Herrmann was initially reluctant to do so, as Hitchcock offered him a lower fee than before due to the film's smaller budget. When he finally signed on to write the movie music, Herrmann took advantage of the limited funds available to score the music for a smaller string ensemble, instead of the full symphony orchestra used in earlier Hitchcock films. He also (wisely) blew off Hitchcock's request for Psycho to have a complete jazz score. The results of Herrmann's work speak for themselves. The "shower scene" score is, to this day, still considered the most frightening theme from any movie:
This recording was made on October 2nd, 1975, with Herrmann conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra at Barking Assembly Hall, London, England (just a couple of months before the great composer's death). It was originally released on vinyl that year, and later released on CD by the Unicorn-Kanchana label in 1989. This is considered to be the best of several Psycho soundtrack recordings currently available. I've had this thing for forever - I'm pretty sure I bought it at the late, lamented Olsson's Books & Music at their Georgetown, DC location. That place always had interesting, off-the-wall music available, not to mention outstanding books and a laid-back atmosphere. The demise of that small but important bookstore chain a couple of years ago was a heavy loss to the DC area. Outside of Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle (the only halfway decent indie bookstore left in DC), no one has been able to completely fill the void left by Olsson's - sadly, Kramerbooks doesn't have a music section. Oh well.
If you want to really scare yourself tonight, turn off all the lights, then play track 17 in the pitch dark - I guarantee you'll be creeped out for the rest of the evening. Whether you do so or not, I wish all of you a safe, scary, bloodcurdling Halloween! Enjoy, and I hope to see you all here next month!
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