Album Reviews

Bernard Herrmann: The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann (él Records)

Bernard Herrmann
The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann
él Records/Cherry Red

Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann’s work soundtracks some of the greatest films of all time. You can hear his work in Psycho, Citizen Kane, North By Northwest, Vertigo, and many other classic films. His compositional style was versatile, and he possessed the ability to transform his sound and style as needed. Though this versatility meant that his sound did not have an immediately recognizable style, it did allow him the ability to experiment as an artist, resulting in some truly original cinematic scores. The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann serves as an excellent introduction to his greatest work. This set compiles selections from five of his most notable scores, from 1947s The Ghost And Mrs. Muir to 1959’s classic The Day The Earth Stood Still.

Herrmann was a master of mood, and could easily create tension, fear, excitement, and jubilation. For instance, with Below The 12-Mile Reef, he could create murky sounds that captured the dankness and the darkness of being below the surface of the ocean (“Undersea”), and then deftly capture the beauty found therein, (“Flirtation,” “The Lagoon”). In  Journey To The Center of the Earth, The Voyage of Sinbad and Jason And The Argonauts, he could capture the mystery and danger that comes from traveling into unknown, hostile, and deadly lands.

But the most well-known of the soundtracks found here is also his most important one, as it remains one of the most influential of its era. While 1959’s The Day The Earth Stood Still often gets miscast as a B-movie, it was in fact a big budget science fiction production that offered up a powerful moral lesson. Herrmann’s soundtrack is notable because it features a Theremin. While the instrument’s use in sci-fi films predated the film, it was the dramatic way in which he featured it that would make critics and composers alike take notice; it also didn’t hurt that it would have a second life in the 1960s TV sitcom Lost In Space.

Herrmann was a master craftsman, wonderfully able to capture the emotional element needed whether the scene was less than thirty-seconds in length or five minutes long. The Fantasy Film World Of Bernard Herrmann wonderfully documents that work, giving the listener a sonic head trip to worlds beyond, unknown, and unnerving.

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