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Bernard Herrmann

Vertigo [Original 1958 Sountrack]

Format: CD   Release Date: 11/05/1996
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This album (which re-appeared in the late '70s on the Mercury "Gold" line, and later on CD) was, at one time, the best extant version that one could purchase of one of the finest film scores ever written; but life and decisions have since gotten much richer and more complicated for film music enthusiasts. In the 1990s, the score was first re-recorded in full by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under conductor Joel McNeely, and then, a little after that, the original scoring tracks from the movie itself were retrieved, restored, and released commercially, which reduced the significance of this album, without rendering it quite obsolete. As to the music itself, Vertigo was one of best works by Bernard Herrmann, composer for the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock film, and one of his most beautiful and disturbing film scores. He developed longer melodies than usual but employs many of the same variation and motif-mixing techniques that he had previously used, and the result -- listening to just the music, or taking it in as an element of the movie -- is something midway between a symphony and an opera, in terms of the impact on the listener. The work opens in high-energy drama with a propulsive polytonal arpeggio (E flat minor over D minor) in triplets that is one of the central motifs throughout the score (this also recalls the opening of Herrmann's score for The Day the Earth Stood Still, written at the other end of the decade). As an amusing touch, when the credit "Directed by Alfred Hitchcock" appears on the screen, you hear a low rotund D note on the tuba. From that start, you get the musical depiction of violent physical action, sudden death, and the fear motif associated with James Stewart's character that will be central to rest of the plot and the denouement. Along with a bizarrely scored and orchestrated Spanish-themed section, associated with the supposed psychosis of the woman that Stewart's character has been hired to protect (from herself), you get a love theme that has been compared to Wagner's Liebestod from Tristan und Isold in impact and intensity. The score was too complex and challenging to earn any honors from the Hollywood of the late '50s, but it did earn a commercial soundtrack release, the first music associated with a Hitchcock movie so honored. What makes this very complicated for collectors and fans coming in since the mid-'90s is the plethora of Vertigo soundtracks, and the fact that Herrmann didn't conduct them, for the album or for the film itself. It was intended that, as with his other scores, he would do so, in Los Angeles, but a musicians' strike precluded this. Instead, arrangements were made for the score for the movie to be recorded in London under conductor Muir Mathieson, an old film music hand whose work in the field went back to the 1930s. And this was being done when the British musicians' union decided to support their colleagues across the ocean, and so parts of the score then had to be recorded in Vienna, as well, and the latter were in mono, as opposed to the stereo sound on the London-recorded tracks. Finally, when it came time to prepare a commercial soundtrack release, Mathieson was back in England and cut those tracks, 34 minutes' worth of music, with the Sinfonia of London, comprising this album. Those seeking Herrmann's own conducting on the Vertigo music, incidentally, will have to look to the suite that he prepared and recorded on the 1969 album now known as Music from the Great Hitchcock Movie Thrillers. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

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