Musical composer Bernard Herrmann led a life that was marked by a serious interest in music of all kinds. His life would demonstrate that he applied the love for music that was cultivated during his young life as well as the knowledge of musical theory and the musical diversity of others that he studied and utilized to develop his own remarkable style. Herrmann’s musical legacy spans a number of musical genres and venues including orchestration, radio and film.
Bernard Herrmann was born in 1911 to immigrant parents in New York City. His Russian Jewish heritage and his father in general, who cultivated in his children a healthy interest in the musical arts, would contribute to Herrmann’s early start in a musical career. The fact that Herrmann’s first instrument was the violin as well as his early discovery of Hector Berlioz’s Treatise on Orchestration may have also contributed to the strong focus he would eventually place on composing for orchestration.
Herrmann, like most kids, was educated early on in the New York City public school system, where despite what might have provided limited exposure to the musical arts that he was used to in his family life, he managed to find time to study the works of many great symphonists. When he began his formal music education at DeWitt Clinton high School he started to focus on American composers who fed his interest in different musical styles. This interest would inevitably lead him into associations with other students and instructors that would become famous composers including Aaron Copland, Gershwin and Gould. By the age of 22, Herrmann was conducting orchestrations of not only the composers he admired most but was also presenting orchestrations of his own work. Herrmann would move on to composing the musical accompaniment and themes for radio broadcasts in the decade following, where he would gain significant exposure among producers and directors of the film genre.
Herrmann began developing a more noticeable profile when he moved into creating compositions for musical and dramatic radio broadcasts and then film. One well known association early in his career was that with Orson Welles. Herrmann had worked with Welles on radio but made an even greater musical contribution to the relationship when he composed and conducted the musical score for Welles film “Citizen Kane”, which would be Herrmann’s first opportunity to score a film. Unfortunately, the film’s producers did not appreciate Herrmann’s next score for Welles on the film “the Magnificent Ambersons” and his professional association with Welles never went any further.