Composer, Conductor. Arguably the most innovative and influential musician ever to work in Hollywood, his movie career began with "Citizen Kane" (1941) and ended with "Taxi Driver" (1976). In between Herrmann's brooding, imaginative music greatly enhanced some 50 films, including eight by director Alfred Hitchcock. He won an Academy Award for "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1941). Herrmann was born in New York City, and studied music at Juilliard. From 1934 to 1951 he was a conductor and staff composer at CBS Radio, where he led the CBS Symphony and scored hundreds of programs, notably Orson Welles' infamous 1938 broadcast of "War of the Worlds". In 1940 Welles brought Herrmann to Hollywood to write the music for "Citizen Kane," which won him an Oscar nomination and marked the beginning of a tempestuous relationship with the movie capital. He was unusual among film composers of the time in working on a per-film basis, refusing to be put under long-term contract. He insisted on doing his own orchestrations, giving each film its own individual sound and introducing instruments and techniques that were new to Tinseltown scoring. For "Hangover Square" (1945) Herrmann wrote a Victorian-style piano concerto; for "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) he was one of the first to employ electronic effects in films; "White Witch Doctor" (1953) featured a battery of bizarre percussion, including automobile parts. Herrmann's personal abrasiveness and explosive, irrational temper alienated friends and made him many enemies in the industry, and they retaliated through the Academy. After 1941 he received only one Oscar nomination during his lifetime, for "Anna and the King of Siam" (1946), while nearly all his best work was snubbed. This includes the scores he created for Hitchcock, one of the richest collaborations in cinema: "The Trouble With Harry" (1954), Herrmann's only comedy (albeit a dark-humored one); "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1955), in which he had a memorable cameo as the conductor in the Albert Hall sequence; "The Wrong Man" (1957); the hyper-romantic music for "Vertigo" (1958); "North By Northwest" (1959), with its thrilling fandango theme; "The Birds" (1963), where Herrmann eschewed music completely in favor of electronic effects (another Hollywood first); and "Marnie" (1964). And then of course, there's "Psycho" (1960), a landmark of movie music. Faced with a paltry music budget, Herrmann turned a limitation into a virtue, exploiting the full dynamic resources of a strings-only ensemble. The shrieking accompaniment to the shower murder scene, which the composer called "A Return to Pure Ice Water," is one of the most imitated cues in film history. Herrmann's association with Hitchcock sadly ended when the director, under studio pressure to provide a marketable pop soundtrack, rejected his score for "Torn Curtain" (1966). With his stock running low in Hollywood Herrmann settled in London, where for several years his only notable music was for Francois Truffaut's "Farenheit 451" (1966). Then in the 1970s he was rediscovered by a new generation of American filmakers, among them Brian De Palma, who hired him for "Sisters" (1973) and "Obsession" (1976). Herrmann considered the latter score his finest. He died in his sleep of congestive heart failure, just hours after completing the recording sessions of his music for "Taxi Driver". Director Martin Scorsese dedicated the film to his memory. His next project was to have been the score for De Palma's "Carrie" (1976). In 1977, after 30 years of being ignored by the Academy, Herrmann was posthumously recognized with Oscar nominations for "Obsession" and "Taxi Driver." His other important credits include "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942), "Jane Eyre" (1944), "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" (1947), "On Dangerous Ground" (1951), "Snows of Kilimanjaro" (1953), "The Kentuckian" (1955), "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" (1956), "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad" (1958), "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (1959), "The Three Worlds of Gulliver" (1960), "Mysterious Island" (1961), "Cape Fear" (1962), and "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963). Director Larry Cohen re-used Herrmann's theme for "It's Alive" (1973) in his sequels "It's Alive Again" (1978) and "It's Alive III" (1987), and Elmer Bernstein adapted the original score of "Cape Fear" for Martin Scorsese's 1991 remake. Herrmann also worked in television, writing music for "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "The Twilight Zone," and the theme for "Have Gun Will Travel." Lesser known are Herrmann's activities in the classical sphere. He composed some two dozen concert works, including the cantata "Moby Dick" (1939), premiered by John Barbirolli and the New York Philharmonic, a Symphony (1941), the String Quartet "Echoes" (1965), and "Souvenirs de voyage" (1967), a Clarinet Quintet. The composition closest to his heart was the full-length opera "Wuthering Heights," completed in 1951. Herrmann financed a recording of it in 1966 but never saw it on the stage. A cut version was finally premiered by the Portland Opera in 1982. He also made many appearances as a guest conductor in England and America, and recorded several albums, of his own music and that of Ives, Holst, Debussy, Satie, and others.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards