Cinema and Media Studies Bernard Herrmann
Joan Titus
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0341


Bernard Herrmann (b. 1911–d. 1975) was a prolific American composer and conductor, known primarily for his work in film. He was also active, however, as a composer for radio and television, had written music for the concert and operatic stage, and had a prodigious conducting career later in his life. The majority of the current research on his oeuvre focuses on his film scoring and his collaborations with film directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, and Brian De Palma. He started producing scores for films in 1941, with Welles for the film Citizen Kane, and died just after completing his work for Taxi Driver (dir. Scorsese, 1976). Prior to his experience in cinema, Herrmann wrote music for hundreds of radio dramas starting in the 1930s and continuing until the 1950s, which he credited for his ability to compose so readily for cinema. Herrmann’s most famous collaboration was with Hitchcock, which began with the film The Trouble with Harry (1955) and ended with Marnie (1964). The director-composer duo had a falling out in 1966 over Herrmann’s score to Torn Curtain, which Hitchcock refused to use; the director instead hired John Addison to replace Herrmann. Herrmann went on to compose scores for films by Truffaut, Scorsese, and De Palma in the 1960s and 1970s. While composing for cinema, Herrmann also wrote stock music for television, mainly for CBS, throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Herrmann also conducted concert and film music on several recordings released from 1966 through 1976, including some of his own concert works. In addition to an extraordinary output for film, radio, television, and recording, Herrmann also wrote concert music, some of which he considered most dear. He composed orchestral, ballet, and vocal music throughout his life, starting in his teens and until his death. His opera Wuthering Heights (1951) was especially important to him. In interviews, especially later in life, Herrmann emphasized that he was a composer of music—not one restricted to only film music—and even then, he regarded film music to be equal to that for the concert stage.

General Histories

Considering Herrmann’s status in the film industry and his overall fame, this section includes general film histories that consider Herrmann a significant part of Hollywood music history. It is divided according to the surge of film music scholarship starting in the 1990s, showing how certain pioneering scholars such as Royal Brown, Kathryn Kalinak, and Claudia Gorbman initiated many research topics and approaches in the 1980s that would persist. The 2000s saw another shift in a number of music-focused publications. In all of these histories, even before his death, Herrmann figures prominently as a monumental and influential composer of the 20th century. As such, he is mentioned in many more sources than are listed here. The histories noted here are ones that have significant discussion of Herrmann, primarily as a composer for cinema.

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