The following interview with John Morgan was conducted by e-mail in May 1998.
Morgan is the producer of Marco Polo's long-awaited compact disc of
Garden of Evil/Prince of Players,
the first-ever official release for both of these
sought-after scores by Bernard Herrmann. The recording features the Moscow
Symphony Orchestra and was conducted by William Stromberg (who, unfortunately,
was out of the country on another recording assignment at the time of this
interview and was thus unable to take part).
While this is an interview, not a review, it is safe to say that most if not
all Herrmann fans will be delighted by this release and impressed by the level
of talent and care that went into it--care that is evident in Morgan's
thoughtful answers to many specific questions about the two featured scores.
He also offers his insights on Herrmann as a composer and on the world of film
music from his perspective as both a fan and a producer.
- - - - - - - - - -
Can you share some of your thoughts on Herrmann as a composer? Why is his work
so enduring in a field where so much work is so quickly dated?
One of the primary reasons for Herrmann's continual popularity is that his
unobtrusive style is currently in fashion. Of course, there are many more
layers to Herrmann's music than this dramatic trait that today's composers
simply don't possess, but the nonspecific nature of his music to the action is
simply today's film music style. He was also very fortunate to have worked on
several films that are regarded as being the prototype to contemporary film
styles, such as Psycho and most notably,
In your liner notes you talk of taping soundtracks right off the television as
a child. At what age did you first become aware of Herrmann's music? Was he
always your favorite? Who are some others you admire, then and now?
Steiner's King Kong
is the first film that really struck me musically and
dramatically when I first saw it on television in the mid-fifties. Like many
others, I came to initially know Herrmann through his marvelous fantasy scores
of the late fifties and early sixties. Although I enjoy the music of many film
composers, I would hate to pick a favorite. The masters are the ones who have
written a body of work that I can't imagine anyone else doing or equaling. I
can honestly say that Herrmann, Steiner, Waxman, Rozsa, Newman (Alfred),
Williams, Goldsmith, etc. have written scores I can not imagine being
bettered. I would have the same trouble if someone were to ask me my favorite
opera composer or ballet composer!
When did you first encounter these two scores
(Garden of Evil/Prince of Players),
and what was your response at the time? How has your response
changed over the years and especially as a result of working on the
reconstruction and performance of these works with William Stromberg?
Garden of Evil
I first encountered on television. In fact, I have still never
seen the film in CinemaScope or heard it in stereo! I came to this film later
in my life after knowing the earlier work of Herrmann through his Decca
recordings and those early Pye recordings. I had also thought
Garden of Evil
was a score that could hold up to a complete recording away
from the film.
Because of the nature of film music, some great film
music doesn't necessarily
make great listening on its own as music.
Often, Herrmann would create music
that is really a cantus firmus to the sound effects and the music seems to
miss something away from the sound effects. Not dramatically--it's perfect
that way, but in terms of taking the music out of the film and presenting it
on its own. My feeling is that when we rerecord something for CD it ceases to
be film music and must work purely as music. Saying that, I do think there are
several scores that Herrmann composed that work as music in a complete form.
Garden of Evil is one of them. I would also list
Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Jane Eyre, Beneath the 12-Mile Reef
and others. For instance, The Wrong Man is
virtually a perfect film score for that particular film, but certainly
listening to the entire music score on its own could be tedious for most
people. Of course, I am a film music buff too, and I love hearing every note
of every score I admire, but being a musician, I realize this music must work
away from the film itself to have real commercial success on recordings.
How do you think Garden of Evil
fits in with Herrmann's other work, being his
only Western film score?
Garden of Evil
is really a lousy film in my estimation. Some of the dialog and
delivery is so stilted it is laughable, but I think Herrmann turned in one of
his most exciting and colorful scores. When a film was weak, Herrmann turned
to some other quality of the film to get inspired. Being that this film was in
stereo and had very colorful locations, I think he was inspired to write a
vigorous and varied score. He would always grab on to something to inspire him
musically, even if he wasn't inspired by the dramatics in the film itself.
What is its relation to his TV Western works--e.g., for the CBS stock library,
The Virginian, etc.?
I don't really hear very much "western-type" music in this score. There is a
portion of one cue that Bill Stromberg and I always kid about saying Tiomkin
came in and "ghost" wrote it for Herrmann. It sounds like his tip of the hat
to Tiomkin's and Steiner's western scores. Being that
Garden of Evil is
located in Mexico, one can certainly make a case for the sort of habanera
rhythm that Herrmann employs, although he seems to employ that rhythm in
virtually all his scores.
How does Herrmann treat the Western differently from other film composers? My
sense is that he avoids any number of cliches.
Well, when Steiner composed music for 1939's
Dodge City, it wasn't cliched
western music then. Film cliches (or any cliche) come from overuse and when
you have something that really works, other composers will put it in their bag
of tricks and pretty soon it becomes tiresome and cliched. Certainly
Herrmann's music for Psycho's
shower scene is now cliched from over use and
even parodistic use. Frankly, there is little in the
Garden of Evil score that
has any extra musical associations with the western genre. It was just his
style. I would say if you played 90% of this music to someone who knew nothing
about the setting of this film, they would probably agree that it is an
adventure type of film, but be unable to pinpoint any era or locale.
To what extent do you feel you were able to duplicate the three-channel stereo
effect of the original soundtrack in two channels? How did you do it?
Since Herrmann indicated the orchestra seating and what channels of sound
certain instrumental sections should emanate from, we set up the orchestra in
the same fashion. So the center is really there as far as the listening
experience, although it is a phantom center that equally combines right and
left to make up a center. If you listen with earphones, you can hear some of
the woodwinds and percussion playing off each other in different locations.
That is why we needed three suspended cymbals and three bass drums spread
across the room to get this wide separation.
Talk about the restored cues a bit--what is here on your release that didn't
make it into the original film?
Whenever timings didn't work out, Herrmann's music style always made it fairly
easy to cut out bars here and there or to repeat bars when a cue came in too
short. We didn't do the added repeats, but we did restore the bars as we felt
they were his final thoughts as written on the score. Also, musically
speaking, doing the score as he first conceived it made for a finer sense of
balance and fulfillment. The one completely cut piece that we restored is the
third cue called THE START. It was evidently recorded, but dropped. I really
have no idea why it was dropped; maybe re-editing of the film. It is a very
rare film score by any composer that has no alterations or deletions.
You allude in your liner notes to final changes Herrmann made in the score at
the time of recording. Can you tell us what some of those changes were and why
he made them?
There are a few instances where Herrmann changed an instrument here or there,
probably because of interference with dialog or sound effects. In these cases
(where we felt the changes were made to accommodate the film), we deferred to
Herrmann's original; however, if we felt he made the changes to better the
music, we made the changes. It is impossible to get into Herrmann's head now,
so each time we had to make the call solely on musical considerations and our
Compare your version of the score to Herrmann's version. Aside from better
sound quality and the restored cues, what are the main differences in
approach? How would you describe William Stromberg as a conductor?
Although Bill is very loyal to the music and the original performance, he is
also aware that this is a performance of the music away from the film and
certain awkward tempos to catch some point in the film can be avoided. Some
things Bill took faster, like the SIESTA cue that I feel makes the music work
better as music. I remember an interview with Herrmann where he said he hated
original soundtrack performances because he was always aware of the conductor
"catching" things. I think Bill's interpretation is a legitimate
interpretation of the music. Nothing is really out of whack when compared to
the original. I think the Moscow Symphony with Bill conducting did the music
Like many of Herrmann's works,
Garden of Evil's score centers around what
Christopher Husted calls "a brief, arresting figure." Any comments on how
Herrmann's film music generally depends more on texture ("mosaic forms") than
on long, developed melodies?
Of course, this is what Herrmann is all about. His music is often just plain
mesmerizing or hypnotic when he cleverly uses this texture. Then too, this is
why some people find his music to be repetitive or underdeveloped. The point
is, it is great film music and assists the drama perfectly. In an
interview Steve Smith had with Robert Wise,
Wise commented on Herrmann's cooperation
when music had to be cut at the last minute for editing changes, and how
composers like Max Steiner would fight and complain about how it would ruin
the music and he would have to rewrite it for the new timings. Well, what
needs to be added here is
Herrmann's music is much easier to edit by adding or
subtracting his musical "cells". Steiner worked with more melodic and linear
music that just couldn't work by simply removing a few bars here and there. If
one ever has the chance to look at Herrmann's
Journey to the Center of the Earth
score and follow it with the music as recorded, it seems that every
other bar has been eliminated in the final film.
Husted also calls Garden of Evil
"a remarkable achievement in orchestration."
What is most impressive to you about Herrmann's orchestration here?
His clarity. Although Herrmann loves doubling many instruments on a line, the
lines are always very clear and concise. Herrmann's real talent is primarily
in his orchestrational abilities. Take a nonthematic related cue from one of
Herrmann's scores and play it on the piano. I bet the casual listener would
have difficulty in distinguishing one cue from another, but with the
orchestration attached, the music comes alive and becomes very distinctive to
that particular score.
Conductor Bill Stromberg and myself were discussing performing Herrmann a few
weeks ago and we both agreed that one of primary considerations in performing
Herrmann is to make sure all accents, phrasing and dynamics are carefully
adhered to, even exaggerated. Because Herrmann's music is so symmetrical, it
usually goes down on tape fairly easily, but all orchestras tend to be lazy
when reading heavily annotated parts and it is up to the conductor to make
sure the orchestra stays on its toes.
Talk about the special instructions in the score to produce a "wind harmonic"
to match the desert ambience of the story. Was this easy to reproduce in your
This is an avant-garde effect that produces weird, wind-like harmonics that
can create an eerie calm in the music. It is a subtle effect, but haunting.
Once the method is explained to the brass players, it is easily produced.
Although they are "fingering" notes with their valves, they are only blowing
air through their instrument, thus giving the "wind" sound that is actually a
"note" or tone.
Steven C. Smith's liner notes describe Herrmann's
Prince of Players overture
as "unique in his film work." How so?
The Prelude really has a marvelous way of introducing us to the world of
stage. It is very symmetrical music, but has a somewhat English flavor
reminiscent of composers such as Walton, Elgar and Bliss. You could certainly
imagine this type of score being composed for one of Laurence Olivier's
Do you see any parallels between Herrmann's portrayal of psychological
disturbance in this film and in, say, the earlier
Hangover Square or the later Psycho?
Not really. I think this score is closer to his other "adventure" scores in
terms of dramatics and thematic manipulation. It firmly belongs to his
mid-fifties Fox period where stereo sound inspired him to compose large scale
scores with colorful orchestrations.
As you note, the orchestra on
Prince of Players is "atypically, a conventional
one," except for an organ and an expanded clarinet section. What are some of
the unusual effects Herrmann wrings from this standard setup, and how does he
do it (I'm thinking of the "chamber-size groupings" you mention)?
Much of the music style of this score reminds me of some of the quieter
The Three Worlds of Gulliver. It definitely has a certain
"English" simplicity to it. Many of the cues are scored for certain sections
of the orchestra as opposed to tutti scoring. For the most part, it is very
delicate music, reflecting the psychological makeup of the characters, but
with that consistent "English" sound to remind you of the literary and stage
world these characters inhabit.
You speak in your notes of incorporating "all major themes and cues from the
film." Did space constraints force you to leave out anything you regretted?
Well, I think our Suite is well-rounded and fulfilling as a piece of music. A
lot of the music we didn't do is more or less repetitious of what we did do.
If we only did
Garden of Evil, the disc would have been less than 60 minutes
and so I decided to prepare a suite that incorporated all the major musical
highlights of this score. I really feel we did this score complete justice,
although I am sure some die-hard fans would have liked it complete. (Of
course, if anyone does record it complete, I'll buy it!)
Would you care to address a discussion thread I know you've followed (and
sometimes contributed to, with Mr. Stromberg) in the online movie music
newsgroup--that is, the pros and cons of rerecording classic scores? Is it
true that the original tracks for
Garden of Evil are no longer in a usable
state? What about Prince of Players?
I believe these two scores have been transferred to DAT. I don't know what
survives or what quality
Prince of Players is in, but Nick Redman mentioned to
me that not all of
Garden of Evil could be saved. The only con to a
rerecording is if it's lousy.
My feeling is any good music should and can hold up to different
interpretations. Whenever you have a large orchestral score, it is impossible
for all its subtleties to be displayed in one recording. I have several
recordings of the same piece by many classical composers, and they all
highlight or bring out something different in the music. I remember years ago,
I would make up my own ideal Mahler Symphony #3 interpretation by combining
movements from different orchestras and conductors! Sometimes a slower
performance will lose some excitement, but gain in revealing inner-line
details or colorations. I don't care for some of Herrmann's Phase 4
rerecordings of his music, but even with the slow tempos--for instance in the
skeleton fight from Sinbad
[The 7th Voyage of Sinbad]--one can notice two
xylophones trading off between
themselves and hear some wonderful orchestrational detail that just flies by
when the piece is played up to speed.
Don't get me wrong, I love the excitement of original soundtrack performances
and will always look forward to their release. Any good performance is
legitimate. Stravinsky and Copland were competent conductors and there is a
sort of historical importance to their interpretations, but frankly, I enjoy
other interpretations more. I enjoy Joel McNeely's
Vertigo rendition more than
Tell us about your future plans for other Herrmann-related or film-related
projects. Is your new version of
The Egyptian in the can yet? Anything else in
the pipeline we should know about?
is sort of in the can, but Bill and I have not heard the first-edits
yet. I am sure he will be bringing these back from Moscow at the end of
June. When we get the initial edits, Bill and I go through them and indicate
places that we think they can find better replacements for. It usually takes a
few edit sessions to get what we feel is the best. It is really tough, as we
are doing what in fact are live mixes for this music. We record directly to
two-track and the engineer has a score and I am in the booth pointing out what
needs to come out, etc. Since the recording brings out details that Bill
really can't always hear in the recording hall, we must be on our toes in
order to get the best possible balance.
By my count, these are the Herrmann scores that have never had any official
release of any kind (not even a suite or a single cue):
Five Fingers, A Hatful of Rain, The Naked and the Dead, Blue Denim, Twisted Nerve, Endless Night,
Obsessions (not to be confused with [de Palma's]
Do you have plans for any of
was a replacement for another Herrmann album I was
preparing. Initially, we wanted to do the complete
Five Fingers (about 35
minutes of music) and fill out the album with 35 minutes from
The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
We then found out a bigger company wanted to do Herrmann and
those titles were among the titles they wanted to do, so we were denied access
to the materials.
The Egyptian was a very complicated score to do. The
original recording of
The Egyptian had the chorus as an overdub, but we had to
do it live, with the orchestra. This created balance problems. We hope we
solved them! There were a lot of strange overdubs and special recording
manipulations on this score we had to overcome and try to get the same effect
Bill and I very much would like to do some of
The Naked and the Dead, as well
as music from
The Battle of Neretva, which has a ton of music that
it into the film or onto the soundtrack album. The film was heavily cut, so I
don't know if it was even recorded. I am kind of leery about naming titles
this early, as I am sure some bigger company would think: "What a great idea!
Let's do it ourselves."
And the following Herrmann scores have only had portions released or
The Devil and Daniel Webster, Hangover Square, Anna and the King of Siam, On Dangerous Ground, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, White Witch Doctor,
Beneath the 12-Mile Reef, King of the Khyber Rifles, The Kentuckian, The Trouble with Harry, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Wrong Man, Tender is the Night, Marnie, Fahrenheit 451, The Bride Wore Black.
These are some great scores you have mentioned. I still think there is a
in stereo to be released from the original music tracks.
Some of the Fox titles I am sure will come out eventually. I don't think
Universal has any stereo tracks to
Fahrenheit 451, so someday I would love to
do a complete rerecording. There is a fair amount of music that didn't make it
into the final film.
When you add all of his radio and TV stuff (e.g., the pilot for
that was on a vinyl boot years ago) and such specials as
A Christmas Carol and
A Child is Born,
you realize there is still a wealth of Herrmann material
waiting to be unleashed on the world. Any other obscure favorites you're
hoping will come out someday?
I wish someone would do a new recording of Herrmann's
Moby Dick. It would best
be done in England, but it is my favorite nonfilm work of his and deserves a
first-rate recording with great singers.
Any final words for all of those rabid Herrmann fans out there?
We certainly live in a great era for classic film music on CD. There has been
a sort of Renaissance of classic film music in the last several years, both
original and re-recordings. Some good, some bad, but it is a good sign. Doing
these recordings is very expensive. Frankly, all the Herrmann and film music
buffs combined can't buy enough discs to make these things commercial. We must
reach out to connect with other audiences. We at Marco Polo have crossed over
to the classical market, and in some instances, general film buffs that may
not normally buy soundtracks. That is why my main concern is the music
itself--does it work as music
away from the film? It comes down to, is it good music,
not is it good film music.
Copyright © 1998 by Kurt Luchs / The Bernard Herrmann Society.|
Stills from Prince of Players copyright © 1955 by CBS/Fox.
All rights reserved.