Episode 4: Vertigo

For our fourth episode, we’re moving to a different great director-composer collaboration from a different era. It’s Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann with perhaps their greatest work: 1958’s Vertigo. This film recently dethroned Citizen Kane as the greatest of all time according to the American Film Insitute – but how good is Herrmann’s score, and how does it work? Join us as we take a look at the central musical ideas at work here – and how Bernard Herrmann creates a musical landscape of the subconscious.


Episode Notes:

3:25 – Historical context for the film and the Hitchcock-Herrmann relationship
5:00 – Why did people dislike Vertigo at the time?
8:10 – Herrmann’s compositional style
9:30 – The musical landscapes of Hitchcock-Herrmann films
11:00 – Nick on conducting Psycho live in concert,
13:10 – The Vertigo main titles
16:20 – The ‘Hitchcock chord’
20:15 – Musical spirals in Vertigo reflecting visual and thematic spirals
26:30 – The love theme
29:40 – The sad romance of the love theme
31:35 – Nick blows our minds by revealing that the love theme is hidden in the Prelude
32:50 – Similarities to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and the inability for the music to truly resolve
37:25 – Close analysis of the Scene D’Amour
39:40 – Discussion of Ludovic Bource’s score for The Artist
42:25  – Did Herrmann reference and develop this musical idea in other Hitchcock films?
46:10 – Is Herrmann developing a musical language or is he self-plagiarising?
47:10 – Torn Curtain
50:35 – The Ostinato motif in Vertigo
52:40 – The Habañera rhythm
55:45 – A link to Ravel
58:20 – The development of the Herrmann-Hitchcock ostinato across other films
1:03:00 – The Hitchcock style versus the Herrmann style?
1:05:05 – Alternating polychords in the tower sequence and similarities to The Matrix
1:06:45 – Danny Elfman’s inspiration from Herrmann
1:08:13 – Source music and Mozart in Vertigo
1:12:10 – The musical resolution at the beach
1:14:00 – The film’s finale and musical conclusion – is Herrmann’s music less ambiguous than the images?
1:17:20 – Hitchcock crediting Herrmann with the quality of Vertigo

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