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Our ramblings on sound, music and the moving image.

Hitchcock’s Ear

June 11, 2015 - Film, Music, Sound - ,

For a director who’s career began in the silent film era, his uncanny ability to select the perfect music for his images was almost unparalleled. Obviously we can’t ignore the formidable contribution of his composers, such as Bernard Hermann (Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest) and Miklos Rozsa (Spellbound), both of whom created some of the most memorable scores of all time, but it seems respect was mutual. Herrmann, who collaborated with Hitchcock on seven films, once said there were only “a handful of directors like Hitchcock who really know the score and fully realize the importance of its relationship to a film.”

Hailed as the master of suspense, Hitchcock knew that music can convey emotion in ways images cannot. Probably the most famous pairing of Hitchcock’s suspenseful images and Herrmann’s emotional music, is in “Psycho”. Hitchcock shot the film in black-and-white to save money, while Herrmann responded by writing a psychological score exclusively for strings, as the composer put it – a “black-and-white score for a black-and-white film”. The film’s now famous shower scene is still regarded as one of cinema’s perfect marriages of sound and image, however on this occasion the director’s initial instincts weren’t fully attuned. In a pre-production meeting Hitchcock’s instructed Herrmann, “Do what you like, but only one thing I ask of you: please write nothing for the murder in the shower. That must be without music.”

Hermann scored the scene anyway and after seeing it with music, Hitchcock changed his mind and said, “Improper suggestion, my boy, improper suggestion.” Though Hitchcock was notorious for his reluctance to share credit, he admitted that Herrmann’s music was central to the appeal of these remarkable films. He said that Psycho owed “33%” of its power to the music, while Herrmann remarked that the director “only finishes a picture 60%, I have to finish it for him.”