Hitchcock and Hollywood – New Queen Hall’s Orchestra/John Farrer with Tippi Hedren

All music by Bernard Herrmann except where detailed:
Funeral March of a Marionette [Gounod]
North by Northwest – Prelude
Strangers on a Train – Suite [Dimitri Tiomkin]
Torn Curtain – Suite
Marnie – Suite
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) – Prelude
The Birds [Herrmann listed as “sound consultant”]
Psycho – Suite
Vertigo – Suite

New Queen’s Hall Orchestra
John Farrer

Tippi Hedren with Matthew Boyden (presenter & interviewer)

Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker

Reviewed: 17 March, 2012
Venue: The Concert Hall, Fairfield Halls, Croydon

Bernard Herrmann (1911-75) with Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980)It is no secret that of all the great film directors of his generation, Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) was arguably the most musical, for not only did ‘background’ music play a great part in its evocative and descriptive powers in his movies, but also, within the drama itself, one often encounters subtle references to music, and its influence – occasionally important, sometimes marginal – on the story.qua music: rather, electronic ‘musics’ or ‘musical approximations’ on the soundtrack to accompany the marauding birds – the clip shown was of the frightening scene in which Hedren is attacked by the birds whilst cowering in a telephone box. But Herrmann’s innate musicality guaranteed a quite revolutionary soundtrack (for its time, the importance of which has still not been fully appreciated). Psycho came next – the ‘shower scene’ of course (cut off at the very moment the curtain falls to reveal the ‘mother’, knife at the ready) and the music – for string orchestra – played splendidly. One aspect of the marriage of music and film in this instance which is rarely appreciated is that, Psycho having been shot in black and white, the soundtrack music could not have been a Technicolor-type Hollywood screamer: the film demanded monochrome music, which it got.

Vertigo is one of Hitchcock’s less-than-fully-appreciated masterpieces; it is a very long film, and the action, such as it is, is not consistently dramatic (although it does have its moments). In many ways, this film is better appreciated when one considers as Hitchcock’s equivalent of a Bruckner Symphony – the audience should not attempt to ‘hurry it along’ or to second-guess what’s coming next: it demands to be experienced at its own pace, to let it happen. Vertigo, of all of Hitchcock’s films, teaches the audience patience, through which its greatness as an example of film-art can better be appreciated. In this regard, it is enhanced by a remarkable score – not of Brucknerian length, but one which points the drama at climactic moments in a way almost unique in Herrmann’s writing. We saw the film’s final scene, with James Stewart and Kim Novak quite masterly, and with Herrmann’s music literally underscoring the denouement superbly. This point was most excellently made in the succeeding account of the Suite, with Farrer and the NQHO on top form to complete a memorable evening.

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