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20 facts about Bernard Herrmann

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Bernard Herrmann was one of the most successful film composers of the 20th century, and quickly became known as a master of psychological and emotional intensity.

Next month, we celebrate the maestro of music in a screen and symphony performance of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic films, with Bernard Herrmann’s astonishing scores performed live by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Ahead of the performance, we have compiled some facts that you may not have known about Herrmann.

  • All of the music for North by Northwest was composed and orchestrated in just 51 days
  • As a teenager, Herrmann was inspired by the work of Charles Ives, who was not widely known at the time
  • Herrmann was born as Max Herman
  • He won an Academy Award for the original score for The Devil and Daniel Webster, later renamed All That Money Can Buy
  • Herrmann was one of the first composers to use electronic music in a film score, using an electronic violin and bass in The Day the Earth Stood Still
  • When creating movie scores, Herrmann required complete control over his music, and he would not allow a producer or director to make any changes
  • Herrmann’s father strongly encouraged him to take up a career in arts, so he began to learn the violin at a young age
  • After divorcing his wife Lucille, in 1948, Herrmann married Lucille’s cousin the following year
  • He was married a total of three times
  • Herrmann had a 25 year career as a conductor and composer for radio, working for CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System)
  • Herrmann appeared as the conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much
  • His nickname was Benny
  • At the age of 13, Herrmann’s artistic talent helped him win a $100 prize for composition
  • Alfred Hitchcock employed Herrmann as his sound consultant for The Birds, a film that had no actual music in it, just electronically-made bird sounds
  • The composer studied with Australian-born Percy Grainger
  • The prologue to Lady Gaga’s 2011 video for the song ‘Born This Way’, features Herrmann’s Vertigo prelude
  • After finding a stray dog at Goldwyn Studios while he was working on The Twilight Zone, Herrmann took it home as a family pet and affectionately named it Twi
  • Herrmann composed more than 50 original film scores over the course of his career, as well as opera and ballet music
  • He worked with a number of high profile film directors, including Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut and Martin Scorsese.
  • Herrmann passed away on Christmas Eve, just hours after he had finished composing the score for Taxi Driver

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Image courtesy of The Bernard Herrmann Estate