North By Northwest

North By Northwest

Bernard Herrmann

Production Credits
Original music composed, arranged,
and conducted by Bernard Herrmann.
Perormed by MGM Studio Orchestra
Rhino Records, April / May 1959
50 Tracks, Total Time 64:24
Contains complete 1959 film score from
North By Northwest, Herrmann.
Score originally recorded in stereo
also includes outtakes and incidental
music by Andre Previn and Cole Porter.

North By Northwest All of the music for North by Northwest was composed and orchestrated in 51 days. This impressive feat was routine for Bernard Herrmann. He began sketching the music on January 10, 1959, immediately after completing the score for the pilot episode of The Twilight Zone. Following his usual practice, he worked through the film from beginning to end, composing everything in very messy sketches before writing out the orchestral score neatly in ink. He reached the last of more than 140 pages of orchestral score on March 2.

The first principal scoring sessions took place on April 23 and 24, but the rest were not held until three weeks later on May 14 and 15. The delay was due to the fact that Alfred Hitchcock spent a good deal of time editing and re-editing the film; once it was put together, a lot of music from the score was on the cutting room floor, and certain scenes had to be rescored. This is especially true of the film's Mount Rushmore sequence; nearly every original music cue in it was considerably reduced in length.

Herrmann and Hitchcock had a very simple and smooth working relationship. Unlike many directors, Hitchcock believed in letting the work be done by those who knew it best. In later years Herrmann would be particularly emphatic about Hitchcock's respectfulness, citing the disagreement over the shower scene in Psycho as an example. Hitchcock wanted no music in this sequence, convinced that the rapid cutting and sound effects would be powerfully subjective enough to carry it. Herrmann felt otherwise and wrote music for it that--on first hearing--prompted Hitchcock's unruffled decision: "Of course we'll use that!" North by Northwest proceeded in a like manner

While many have remarked on Herrmann's use of South American rhythms underscoring the North by Northwest story line that unfolds in North America, it is not hard to understand why it ultimately makes sense as Herrmann has used it. Herrmann referred to Cary Grant's particular "Astaire-like agility" as an inspiration for his use of the Spanish dance called the fandango in the most animated music in the score, typified by the Overture. Because it is the story of a chase, the score is preoccupied with driving, dancing rhythms. The primary character of the Overture is its vigorous, unrelenting cadence--a simple figure chasing headlong through the music.

North by Northwest also relies on two long themes: the love theme and Kaplan's theme. The love theme, most completely expressed in "Conversation Piece," involves the love theme itself and a sequence of descending harmonies borrowed from similar love music from Herrmann's score for White Witch Doctor (Fox, 1953). The theme's resemblance to the love music in Wagner's Tristan Und Isold adds a tone of fatal passion that is an example of Herrmann's tongue-in-cheek attitude toward the film. The lugubrious theme for Kaplan is borrowed and extended from Herrmann's score for On Dangerous Ground (RKO, 1952). It is most completely expressed in "The Cafeteria."

Although the score was originally recorded in stereo, the film itself was released with a monaural track to comply with the sound specifications of movie houses in the late '50s and early '60s. It is offered here in true stereo for the first time, with the exeption of the "source cues" (music integrated into the action of a scene), three of which had been recorded in monaural to create the off-camera presence of a piano-violin duo in the hotel lobby scenes. One additional cue, "Fashion Show" (originating from Andre Previn's score for the 1957 film Designing Women), was used as piped-in music in the dining car sequence.

--CHRISTOPHER HUSTED, from the liner notes
North by Northwest.

A selection of North by Northwest related music.

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