Thursday, January 7, 2010

Never Discuss Love on An Empty Stomach

It's easy to forget how vibrant, how exciting and structurally sinuous Bernard Herrmann's score for Hitchcock's North by Northwest is. In programmes on Herrmann this and several other of his gems are typically overlooked in favor of more prominent works like Psycho and Vertigo. Let me say from the outset that I don't believe NBN rivals the aforementioned; though a remarkable achievement in many ways, it is definitely lighter fair, not quite as shatteringly memorable as Psycho nor as tragic and emotive as Vertigo.

Still, listen to the opening overture and you know you're in for a treat:

Tracks like the above and "Car Crash" highlight the brassy and percussive muscle in this score.
Compare this with the introspection and romanticism of a track like "Interlude":

In short, not only are the concrete themes of the score impressive, but so is its range; part of the Herrmann signature of excellence. Here's an interesting piece that situates NBN in the broader Herrmann-Hitchcock context.

Multiple editions of this score have been released over the years; the version of choice for anyone looking to experience the entire music in its most dynamic, meticulous and comprehensive presentation (including a few reconstructed cues, courtesy of Herrmann scholar Christopher Husted) is the 2007 limited Varese Sarabande North By Northwest: The Complete Score performed by Joel McNeely with the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra.

McNeely's recording is clearly a labor of love. McNeely is an accomplished if not necessarily outstanding film composer in his own right, but I think his enduring legacy to the world of film music will be his dedicated re-recordings of masterpieces by Herrmann, Franz Waxman, John Barry and others. These are significant contributions, and I think they'll be considered definitive statements for some time.

And by the way, I do think it's a bad idea to discuss love on an empty stomach.

Incidentally, I also try and avoid all serious conversations of the heart after 9:30 pm.
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