"The camera can only do so much; the actors and the directors can only do so much. But the music can tell you what people are thinking and feeling -- that is the real function of music."
-- Bernard Herrmann 1973 lecture
at the George Eastman House (quoted from Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker's Journey by Harlan Lebo, Thomas Dunne Books, 2016.)
CITIZEN KANE at 75
On May 1, 1941, CITIZEN KANE premiered at the Palace Theatre in New York. It was released nationwide in the United States on September 5 of that same year. Today this film is praised by many film critics and film fans as the greatest American film of the 20th century. I agree but would go one step further.
I believe Herrmann's music for CITIZEN KANE is the greatest American film score from the 20th century, and that film along with THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER are both on my list of 100 Essential Film Scores of the 20th Century.
Why do I think these two scores are so significant and worthy of being on this list?
I believe the main reason is they both provide essential support for the film's story. What the actors are "thinking and feeling" (to use Herrmann's own words). Without the music in both films, they would be much less effective since they tell complicated morality stories and need music to enhance and enlighten them.
Both of these score use a brilliant array of musical devices.
First, there is the elaborate and superbly written story of the life of Charles Foster Kane -- a man obsessed with his own wealth and power. This film is essentially a story of the faithful (Kane's newspaper co-workers) and innocent (his second wife, failed opera singer, Susan Alexander), and cruel (Kane's inflated ego and lust for power).
In his book, Knowing The Score: Notes On Film Music, Irwin Bazelon asked Bernard Herrmann about working on his first film score: "When you wrote the music for Citizen Kane, did you discuss the music with Orson Welles?"
"I wrote the music during the making of the film and discussed it with him. Orson is the only one who has any musical, cultural background. All the other directors I worked with haven't had the temerity to tell me anything about music."
In the same year that CITIZEN KANE was released, Herrmann wrote an article published in the New York Times (May 25, 1941) which explained how he worked on this film.
He wrote this about the important "breakfast montage" scene in the film:
"Here, in the space of three or four minutes, Welles shows the the rise and fall of affection between two married people. The setting is a breakfast table. The young couple enters very much in love. They talk for a few seconds, then the scene changes... For this montage, I used the classic form of the theme and variations. A waltz in the style of Waldteufel is the theme. It is heard during the first scene. Then, as discord crops up, the variations begin. Each scene is a separate variation. Finally, the waltz theme is heard bleakly played in the high registers of the violins."
That scene is worth studying by both young filmmakers and composers to see how so much can be expressed effectively with music in a short amount of film time.
ALL THAT MONEY CAN BUY(THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER) at 75
The other film released in 1941 had several different titles. The preview print was known as HERE IS A MAN, when released it was tittled, ALL THAT MONEY CAN BUY, to not conflict with another similar title released that same year, THE DEVIL AND MISS JONES.
Since it was based on a popular short story by Stephen Vincent Benet, it is today known as: THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER. Unfortunately, because it was not successful upon first release it was heavily edited and reduced by almost a half hour. For many years on television and even on videotape it was presented in its shorter version.
It has now been restored to its full length for DVD.
For this score, his only Oscar winner and he surely deserved to receive many more, Herrmann has composed a homespun score which composer Irwin Bazelon, in his book Knowing The Score: Notes On Film Music, called: "a decidedly American musical profile in spirit and style."
One of the best scenes with musical emphasis is "The Miser's Waltz." Bazelon describes it quite well:
"Bernard Herrmann's musical sounds assume a slow-motion, almost frozen dance tempo. The effect is eerie and chilling; it provokes rather than soothes the senses."
Christopher Palmer, in his book, The Composer in Hollywood, related how Herrmann accomplished one of the unusual sound effects:
"Needing a sound to characterize the first appearance of Mr. Scratch to Jabez Stone, Herrmann had the singing of telegraph wires recorded at 4 a.m. and blended the result with the overtones of C painted on the negative which, when run through the projector, produced a phantom fundamental electronically."
Palmer also provides an explanation for another important film scene:
"Mr Scratch is seen playing the violin at a hoe-down. Herrmann wrote a series of variations for solo violin on 'Pop Goes The Weasel' and had each one recorded by the same player on a separate track. The tracks were then married, resulting in weird combinations, normally unplayable double and triple stops, glissandos moving in contrary motion, and so on - such as no single 'earthly' player could ever have produced."
Herrmann deserved to win an Oscar for this very effective and unusual score.
For completists who are not annoyed by having the dialogue along with the music, -- there is this double LP album (Mark 56 Records, 1978) of the complete film soundtrack.
As far as recordings from CITIZEN KANE, I believe that one of the best, though only a sampling, is Music From Great Film Classics
conducted by Bernard Herrmann with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, released on a London Phase 4 CD, originally recorded in 1970 for LP. This release also has two short cues ("Sleigh-ride" and "Swing your partners") from THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER.
Another outstanding release is the National Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Charles Gerhardt (Sony Masterworks, 2011). That recording is especially recommended for Kiri T Kanawa's beautiful singing of the aria from the imaginary opera, "Salammbo." This RCA CD release of "Classic Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann" has been remastered from the original analog tapes and it is highly recommended for those wishing a Herrmann sampler. It contains music from ON DANGEROUS GROUND, CITIZEN KANE, BENEATH THE 12-MILE REEF, HANGOVER SQUARE, and WHITE WITCH DOCTOR.
This re-recording with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Joel Neely (Varese Sarabande, 1999), despite the few Bonus Cuts and digital technology which at times sounds rather harsh, does not have enough dramatic intensity. Part of the problem is that the entire score is presented in short cues that do not provide a satisfying listening experience and would be better served as combined tracks, as Herrmann himself provided in his "Welles Raises Kane," made up of themes from both KANE and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. The Salammbo Aria sung by Janice Watson, though competent enough, is not nearly as effective as the dynamic and glorious singing by Kiri Te Kanawa on the National Philharmonic Orchestra CD, which is the best recorded version of that aria. But this Varese Sarabande release is the most complete score for CK if you must have it on one disc.
For THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER, I recommend this CD
conducted by Herrmann:
One of the selections on this CD is "Mr. Scratch" from THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER
London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Williams,
who worked for Bernard Herrmann
in his early career.
For more information about Herrmann's first film score read this article --
Herrmann Raises KANE!
What more need be said about these two film scores from 1941 except to say --
-- article by Roger Hall, May 1, 2016/updated October 1, 2016
Roger Hall has written extensively about Bernard Herrmann including an entry in the American National Biography and an article in Film Score Monthly, April/May 2000-- "From Hitchock to Harryhausen: Ten Essential Herrmann Scores."
Both are included and much more on the DVD:
OBSESSION - A Tribute to Bernard Herrmann
Radio Tributes (1940s-1990s)
For the 75th anniversary, there is a special CD with over one hour from both CITIZEN KANE and THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER, on several radio programs with film music critic, Roger Hall:
--50th anniversary tribute to CITIZEN KANE on May 1, 1991. Click link in the box to hear an excerpt from this film.
--Herrmann tribute on WGBH public radio in Boston, which includes excerpts from
THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER, conducted by Bernard Herrmann.
--rare radio broadcast from 1949 with concert suite, "Welles Raises Kane,"
New York Philharmonic, conducted by Bernard Herrmann.
This special CD is titled:
Bernard Herrmann 1941 (Playing time: 66:18)
The CD with over an hour of commentary and music
is only $17.95 including First Class shipping (USA only)
Click on the "Add to Cart" button,
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Comments regarding this article can be sent to
Film Music Review
Other Herrmann Tributes:
Bernard Herrmann: A Centennial Tribute
Bernard Herrmann's "Walking Distance"
Film Music Master -
A Tribute to
Recommended radio program:
A two-and-a-half hour radio documentary in three parts about Bernard Herrmann's music was produced by Bruce Crawford and Bob Coate and broadcast on KIOS-FM in 1988. It included discussions of CITIZEN KANE and THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER.
Read an extensive article about this radio program by Steve Vertlieb -- click here
Listen to this complete radio documentary -- click here
This is the best researched and most interesting read on the subject. Full of fascinating details, including about the music score by Bernard Herrmann.
This is a must read for all admirers of CITIZEN KANE or filmmaking in general.
-- Roger Hall, Film Music Review
Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker's Journey
by Harlan Lebo
(Thomas Dunne Books, 2016)
Blu-ray 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition (3 discs)
DVD - CITIZEN KANE (2 Disc Special Edition)
DVD - THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER
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