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Hitchcock and the Art of the Score

There is a really good article in today's NY Times, a book review by Edward Rothstein entitled "Hitchcock, Thrilling the Ears as Well as the Eyes." In it, Rothstein reviews Jack Sullivan's new book, Hitchcock's Music (Yale University Press). Having chosen quite a few "Song of the Day" tracks from Hitchcock films, written by great composers such as Bernard Herrmann and Miklos Rozsa, I have always celebrated soundtracks not only for the role they play in cinematic integration, but also as works that transcend the medium. (My celebration of film score music resumes in mid-February, with my usual "Ben-Hur" citation, in anticipation of the Academy Awards broadcast on February 25th.) So the new book sounds very intriguing.

Rothstein writes:

Bernard Herrmann, for example, who created the scores for "Psycho," "North by Northwest" and some of Hitchcock's other masterpieces, 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." But it was more than that. For Hitchcock music was not merely an accompaniment. It was a focus. And it didn't just reveal something about the characters who sang the score's songs or moved under its canopy of sound; music could seem to be a character itself. ... Music has as much a role to play in [Hitchcock's] films as any of the characters. It might charm them or be used by them. But it also can reveal more than they know, offering secrets or promising salvation. Hitchcock's music has such an independent life, it also seeps through film’s strict boundaries: Something that seems to be a score turns out to be a radio playing off screen ("Rear Window"); music that starts as part of a film score is heard again in the humming of a hero (in "Foreign Correspondent"). "I have the feeling I am an orchestra conductor," Hitchcock once told Francois Truffaut. He also compared film to opera.
Hitchcock, without ever drawing a line between the popular and high arts, explored his chosen genre with a firm belief about the powers of music. Music can provide an archetype for Hitchcockian suspense. Music can hint at more than it says; it can unfold with both rigorous logic and heightened drama; and despite all expectations it can shock with its revelations.

Excellent observations; I look forward to picking up Sullivan's new book and reading it.

Also noted at the Rozsa Forum.


What scores did your favorite Miklos Rozsa do for Hitchcock? I didn't know!

Chris, if you like Hitchcock, then you'll certainly be interested in this.

Aeon, I think you've given me yet another "must read" on my never ending list...

How can you not mention Hermann's score for Veritago. This is music to go mad with.

Okay, so let's take this one at a time:

1. Rozsa did the Oscar-winning score for "Spellbound."

2. Aeon, that's a great addition to the series! I will pick it up. (I just received the 007 volume in the series as a gift... so I've got my reading cut out for me---and, so, apparently, does Peri! :) )

3. And Chris, good point! :) While the author of the piece never mentions "Vertigo," rest assured that ~I~ have. In fact, I picked "Scene d'Amour" from the film as my "Song of the Day" during the 2005 installment of my annual film score tribute.