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Macbeth
1940 Mercury Text Record

In 1998 Pavilion Records released a CD of the 1940 Mercury Theater production of Macbeth.


Orson Welles and Bernard Herrmann's first collaborative attempt at Shakespeare's Macbeth was for the Columbia Workshop in 1937. John Houseman talkes about what he dubbed "a shambles" (from Run-Through, 1972):

As musical director, [Benny] had composed a score which he had copied and placed before the orchestra at rehersal. Orson arrived late, according to Herrmann, accompanied by an elderly gentleman in kilts -- with a bagpipe. As soon as the reading began it became evident that the script was more than twice too long. By the time it had been cut there was no time for musical rehersal. When Herrmann protested, Orson yelled, "No music! No music at all!" standing, as he always did, in the center of the studio at the main microphone, wearing earphones, which made it impossible for anyone to conmunicate with him on equal terms. To the bagpiper he said, "Every time I raise this hand, you come in and play!" To the trumpets and drums he said, "Every time I lift this hand, you play a fanfare!" And to the infuriated Herrmann, frozen on his podium in front of his assembled orchestra, he said, "Trust me, Benny! Just trust me!"
"And that's how we went on the air," reported Benny. "Every time Orson raised either hand, which he did frequently in the role of Macbeth, trumpets, drums and bagpipes came in fortissimo... and so did a whole lot of other sound cues, including wind machines and thunder sheets."
From Steven C. Smith's A Heart at Fire's Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann (1991).

In April 1940 they had another go at it. Both now (more or less) located in Los Angeles working on Welles' first film, what was going to become Citizen Kane, they recorded Macbeth not for CBS radio but for Columbia Records as the final volume in the Mercury Text Records' Shakespeare series.

Welles does a good job with the play, and although Herrmann's music is in the background, it's very audible at times and most definately his work. If you enjoy a good radio play this new CD is well worth having, but I'm not sure it's a prime Herrmann item (even without bagpipes) since the music is never in the foreground.

Pearl/Pavilion Records will release more of the Mercury Text Racords on CD but Macbeth is the only one with music by Herrmann.


Audio Excerpts

Macbeth: Act 1 Scene 1, "Scotland - A Desert Place" (ra, 156K)
Macbeth: Act 2 Scene 2, "The Heath" (excerpt) (ra, 61K)



MACBETH, Pearl GEM 0011 (Pavilion Records, 1998), 78 minutes




Copyright © 1998 by The Bernard Herrmann Society.
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International Society for the Appreciation of the Music of Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975)