mon 18/10/2021

Reissue CDs Weekly: Bernard Herrmann | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Bernard Herrmann

Reissue CDs Weekly: Bernard Herrmann

The music for Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Marnie’ finally gets the treatment it deserves

Tippi Hedren as the titular Marnie in Hitchcock's Bernard Herrmann-scored filmStylotone Records

Debates about whether 1964’s Marnie presaged Alfred Hitchcock’s downslide as a force will run and run.

It is however certain that it was the director’s last film scored by Bernard Herrmann, who had worked on 1963’s The Birds, 1960’s Psycho, 1959’s North by Northwest and, before that, a run of Hitchcock’s films back to 1955. After Marnie, the affiliation continued – for a while. Herrmann’s music was heard in the TV show the Alfred Hitchcock Hour and he provided a score for Torn Curtain which the director neither liked or used. The professional relationship was over.

Although the music for Marnie was written in happier times for the Herrmann/Hitchcock relationship, it’s overshadowed by the non-dialogue aspects of The Birds and Psycho as they’ve become divorced from the films themselves and gained a life of their own. Partly, this is because a soundtrack album wasn’t issued when Marnie was released. It’s also as specific leitmotifs from both the other films were digestible in distinct chunks. The release of the definitive Marnie: Music Composed & Conducted by Bernard Herrmann should draw attention to this powerful score.

Marnie Music Composed & Conducted by Bernard HerrmannThe music will be familiar to Herrmann and/or Hitchcock fanciers. The main theme and its variants set soaring drama alongside passages evoking motion and distress, especially the fox hunt. The rhythmic thrusts punctuating Psycho are present but incorporated into the arrangements overall. Marnie feels more about the whole than discrete musical signposts. This was music for listening to which, considering this its first proper appearance, is ironic.

Back in 1964, all that record buyers could get was a Nat King Cole single where lyrics were added to and sung over the film’s instrumental theme (pictured below left). Herrmann received a co-composer credit for his music but was not involved in the single. He did, though, revisit the Marnie music on the 1969 album Music From the Great Movie Thrillers on which he conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra performing various themes from his work for Hitchcock (pictured below right). The relationship between the composer/conductor and the director was over, but there was commercial mileage in the music.

Marnie_Nat King Cole SINGLE 1964That was it for Marnie’s music on vinyl until the release of the Marnie album in 1974 on the non-legit Sound Stage label. It featured a track apiece per side: “Marnie: A Symphonic Poem Parts 1 and 2”. In 1975, Marnie: The Complete Motion Picture Score was issued by the similarly grey-area Crimson imprint. The album included a series of 24 untitled and muffled-sounding cues from the film. The interest didn’t stop there: the music from the film was issued on CD in 2000 as performed by The Royal Scottish National Orchestra. There was also a German-issued, soundtrack-derived CD which came out in 1994. Dodgy CDRs of the music are also available on a major internet sales site.

This is a tortuous history. Now, happily, clarity has arrived with Marnie: Music Composed & Conducted by Bernard Herrmann. There is no head-scratching involved in trying to work out what’s in the grooves. This is what was recorded on a soundstage at Hollywood’s Goldwyn Studios for the film, as conducted by Herrmann. The audio source is the original stereo tapes, with the mastering undertaken at Abbey Road.

Bernard Herrmann  London Philharmonic Orchestra_Music From The Great Movie ThrillersThe new Marnie spreads the music – 48 tracks – across two albums which were cut at 45rpm. Also within the gatefold sleeve are a poster, a new pressing of the Nat King Cole single with the main theme as its flip, all the music on a CD with three additional tracks which is packaged like the main sleeve, plus a card with download code for the lot in WAV and MP3 formats. Unfortunately, liner notes about the release project and its background are lacking. The CD seems superfluous as the downloads use the same digital source.

What’s captured sounds extraordinary. Listening to Marnie: Music Composed & Conducted by Bernard Herrmann is a strange experience as the dynamic is that of a live setting. It feels as if transportation to the soundstage has occurred. There is a no doubt deliberate and marked arc between soft and loud, and between the sections of the orchestra. It is initially disconcerting to so clearly hear exactly what is going on, and in such a direct manner.

Though this is a release for the dedicated and as such sells for around £50, it is a conscientious case of dealing with unfinished business. Moreover, the minor quibbles above aside, it sets a benchmark for others contemplating taking on similar archive releases.

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