Bernard Herrmann Biography

Songwriter (1911–1975)
Bernard Herrmann was an American composer best known as the author of scores for Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock films including Citizen Kane and Psycho.


Bernard Herrmann was born on June 29, 1911, in New York City. He began his career as a conductor at CBS, where he worked with the director Orson Welles. Herrmann and Welles worked together on films, including Citizen Kane. Alfred Hitchcock also forged a partnership with Hermann, who scored his classic movies Psycho, Vertigo and North by Northwest. Herrmann died in Los Angeles, California, on December 24, 1975.

Early Life

Bernard Herrmann was born Max Herman in New York City on June 29, 1911, and raised in a Russian-Jewish household. He took an early interest in music, playing the violin and accompanying his father to the opera. After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School in Manhattan, he studied music at New York University and the Juilliard School. At the age of 20, he formed the New Chamber Orchestra of New York.

CBS and Film Career

In 1934, Herrmann joined the CBS network as a staff conductor. In time, he ascended to the rank of chief conductor. Herrmann was known for introducing audiences to new and obscure composers, including Charles Ives.

While working at CBS, Herrmann met the director Orson Welles. He wrote and arranged scores for several of Welles's radio series, and conducted the live performances heard in the famous adaptation of The War of the Worlds. Herrmann followed Welles into the film industry, receiving an Academy Award nomination for scoring Citizen Kane in 1941 and scoring The Magnificent Ambersons in 1942. Around this same time, Herrmann won an Oscar for scoring The Devil and Daniel Webster. It would be his only Academy Award.

In addition to his partnership with Welles, Herrmann forged a close professional relationship with director Alfred Hitchcock. Herrmann scored many of Hitchcock's most celebrated films, including Vertigo, Psycho and North by Northwest. He appears on film only once—as the conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra in the 1956 movie The Man Who Knew Too Much. After many years of fruitful collaboration, Herrmann and Hitchcock had a serious falling out over the score for the film Torn Curtain. The two never worked together again, and rarely spoke.

Herrmann scored a series of 1950s and '60s fantasy films, including Journey to the Center of the Earth and Jason and the Argonauts. He also wrote music for television shows, including episodes of The Twilight Zone and Have Gun-Will Travel.

Later Life and Death

Herrmann lived and worked in England for much of his later life. The final scores of his career include the Brian De Palma films Sisters and Obsession, and the Martin Scorsese film Taxi Driver.

Bernard Herrmann died in his sleep at a hotel in Los Angeles, California, on December 24, 1975, at the age of 64. The cause of his death was cardiovascular disease. Taxi Driver, released the following year, is dedicated to Herrmann's memory.

Personal Life

Herrmann met a young CBS secretary and aspiring writer named Lucille Fletcher in 1934. Although Fletcher's parents objected to their daughter marrying a Jewish man, the couple eventually married in 1939. Fletcher went on to a successful career as a radio screenwriter, collaborating with her husband on several projects before their divorce in 1948. In 1949, Herrmann married his ex-wife's cousin, Lucy Anderson; they divorced in 1964.

In 1967, the middle-aged composer married 27-year-old journalist Norma Shepherd. The couple's primary residence was in London, England, and they remained together until Herrmann's death in 1975.

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