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At the Movies: Orson Welles

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Album Review

This is a fascinating CD, encompassing suites from three scores by Bernard Herrmann that the composer wrote during his period of eclipse from Hollywood, overlooked by the major studios and filmmakers — he barely broke stride, so it seems, authoring the scores for Battle of Neretva, Sisters, and Night Digger all in one two-year period. Battle of Neretva was a strange assignment for the composer, who was brought in to write the music for the English-language edit of the movie (running more than an hour shorter than the original European edit, which had been scored by Dusan Radic) — he employed the largest orchestra of his whole career, and also salvaged elements of his unused score for Torn Curtain as well as reviving parts of his concert work "Souvenirs de Voyage"; one can also hear elements pulled from Jason & the Argonauts, Vertigo, 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and others, and music that would later turn up, in somewhat rewritten form, in Obsession. It's a masterful creation and would dominate almost any compilation on which it appeared — except this one, because it is followed by Herrmann's music for Brian DePalma's Sisters (1973), which literally scared this reviewer hearing it, so unsettling was its mix of strings, bells, vibraphone, winds, and Moog synthesizers. It is some of the scariest music that Herrmann had written since Psycho, and worth the price of the CD. And then there's his music for Night Digger (1971), with its use of the viola d'amore — which Herrmann had employed as a featured solo instrument in his score for On Dangerous Ground — and dense string passages that recall his gothic romantic work on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Between the eerie timbral effects, one can also hear musical elements, stings, and swells on the strings that he has salvaged and recomposed from his television work, on The Twilight Zone and elsewhere. It's also well played and nicely mastered, with well-selected index points for the longer pieces, and is as essential listening as Herrmann's better-known, subsequent work on Obsession and Taxi Driver.


Born: 29 June 1911 in New York, NY

Genre: Soundtrack

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Bernard Herrmann was arguably the most innovative film composer of the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, even though he actually rejected the term "film composer," preferring to call himself a composer who sometimes wrote film scores. That was an apt description for a musician who, in addition to his film work, also composed works in a variety of other forms including opera, symphony, musical comedy, and concert music, as well as writing extensively for radio and television, while maintaining a concurrent conducting...
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At the Movies: Orson Welles, Bernard Herrmann
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