HERRMANN A Concert of American Music (1949/56) - PASC232

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HERRMANN A Concert of American Music (1949/56) - PASC232

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Overview

IVES Symphony No. 2
ROBERT RUSSELL BENNETT Violin Concerto
HERRMANN Welles Raises Kane
Recorded in 1956 and 1949
Total duration: 76:44

Louis Kaufman, violin
London Symphony Orchestra
Columbia Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Bernard Herrmann

This set contains the following albums:

Fascinating and brilliant - Herrmann conducts American Music

Three excellent radio recordings newly transferred and remastered


This collection of radio broadcast recordings, brought together as a kind of concert-on-CD, if you like, brings together several aspects of the work of Bernard Herrmann, a composer and conductor who still commands a committed following today, some 35 years after his death.

Having grown up in New York City, schooling first in Brooklyn, later at New York University and Jullliard, it seems only appropriate that this most American of musicians should introduce the British public to the Second Symphony of Charles Ives. Remarkably, it's a work which, somewhat like its composer, was rejected for half a century – Ives began work on it in 1897 and completed it in the first years of the new century, but had to wait until 1951 for its rapturously-received première under the baton of Leonard Bernstein. Five years later it was Herrmann, conducting the London Symphony Orchestra for a studio broadcast concert, who premièred the work in the UK.

The copy here was taken from an open-reel tape from what would appear to be a rebroadcast or disc transcription from the occasional clicks I had to deal with. The FM-quality broadcast sound quality is more than acceptable if prone to occasional peak distortion and a little tape flutter-dropout at the very beginning, the performance a credit both to orchestra and conductor.

Our second work is the Violin Concerto in A by Robert Russell Bennett, and presents another interesting connection. Bennett straddled the worlds of classical music and Broadway musicals in a similar manner to Herrmann and his film music; in both cases the 'other' work has remained longer in the memories of music lovers than what some might consider the composers' more “serious” output, but that should not distract from this most fascinating and delightful piece.

The soloist here the concerto's dedicatee and Bennett's friend, the violinist Louis Kaufmann. It's a very accessible piece (subtitled “in the popular style”) and would surely stand reviving, and includes an astonishing if very short virtuoso display in the third movement.

An alternative release of this piece on CD is currently available – but the sound quality on it is particularly grim and the piece about a semitone out of tune! This new transfer came from a mid-70s 'pirate' LP release which found its way into Edward Johnson's collection. I've endeavoured to remove the unfortunate fake stereo effect applied to the LP release – on which I also noted a bizarre and unpleasant change in equalisation for the finale which amplified mid-range frequencies to the great detriment of the listener; this, too, has been ameliorated. Overall sound is generally very good, perhaps a slight improvement on the Ives thanks to clearer top-end extension, though there is still a slight tendency to peak distortion in some sections, which I've tried to control as much as possible.

The finale of this Concert of American Music is an orchestral suite of Herrmann's own music. Entitled "Welles Raises Kane", its five movements are drawn from the film scores Herrmann wrote for Orson Welles' first two feature films, his early-1940s screen masterpieces Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, both regarded by critics as among the two best American films ever made.

As with the Bennett, this is the only recording of this piece I've been able to trace (though I'm reliably informed it was recorded again by Hermann in 1967 and issued on CD in 1994), and as with the Bennett it has also been issued elsewhere, in poorer sound, and again badly pitched. The Bennett was relatively straightforward to check for pitching – we know from the title that the piece is in A, and there are a number of obvious A's at the beginning of the first movement which lend themselves to frequency analysis. The Herrmann was slightly harder to judge – again the alternative release I found was a good semitone out of tune by comparison to the present recording. Without a score, a modern reference or a named key it took a little more ingenuity to check pitching here – I obtained a copy of the film Citizen Kane, extracted from it the audio soundtrack, and scanned through this until I found the music which Herrmann used for his Overture. It was immediately clear to the ear that this was both in the same key as the present performance and in tune. I rest my case!

Sonically this 1949 radio broadcast is a little more constricted than the previous two recordings, though in still very clean and listenable AM broadcast sound. It was originally recorded onto 78rpm acetates, and I've endeavoured to iron out the clear differences in surface noise between the sides to allow a greater continuity of sound. As with the other recordings, I've retained all the broadcast announcements available to me.

Andrew Rose

IVES Symphony No. 2 (1897-1901) (UK Première)
London Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Bernard Herrmann
BBC Studio Broadcast of 25 April, 1956

ROBERT RUSSELL BENNETT Violin Concerto in A (in the Popular Style) (1941)
(UK Broadcast Première) [notes]
Louis Kaufman, violin
London Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Bernard Herrmann
BBC Studio Recording of 20 May, 1956

HERRMANN Welles Raises Kane (1943)
(Orchestral suite from his music for 'Citizen Kane' & 'The Magnificent Ambersons')
Columbia Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Bernard Herrmann
CBS Radio Broadcast of 3 July, 1949


Transfers by Andrew Rose from Edward Johnson's private collection
XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, June 2010
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Orson Welles and Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane, 1941)

Total duration: 76:44


BERNARD HERRMANN


conducts English and American Music


The death of Bernard Herrmann on Christmas Eve, 1975, in Hollywood, deprived the film and music worlds of one of their most outspoken, colourful and talented personalities. It is true that his choleric personality and abrasiveness were not exactly endearing but in the words of one who was close to him, he was like a toffee-apple, all crusty on the outside and soft on the inside’.

Benny,” to his friends, was born in New York City in 1911 and showed an interest in music at an early age. After graduating he went to New York University and later became a student at the Juilliard School of Music. His career took a professional turn when he went to work for the Columbia Broadcasting System in 1933. He soon made his mark on their radio programmes, planning them in an unconventional way and featuring rarely heard music seldom played in public concert halls. One American composer whom Herrmann championed for many years was Charles Ives, several of whose works received their premieres under his direction.


Always an ardent anglophile, Herrmann presented a great deal of English music on the CBS network, introducing compositions by Vaughan Williams, Bax, Delius, Cyril Scott and many others. Indeed, when Herrmann became Conductor-in-Chief of the Columbia Symphony Orchestra in 1940, Baker’s Musical Dictionary noted that he was ‘probably responsible for introducing more new works to American radio audiences than any other conductor.’

By 1948 he had also earned a chapter in David Ewen’s Dictators of the Baton in which the author commented on Herrmann’s ‘lack of attention to detail’ but concluded: Whatever his faults as a conductor may be, it cannot be denied that he is a splendid musician, that he has an enthusiasm which is found contagiously in his performances, and that with his detestation of the stereotyped he has been one of the most invigorating influences in the radio music of the past two decades.'

Although he was busy championing the music of others, he did not neglect his own composing career and by the late 1940s several of his concert works had received notable performances. Barbirolli had conducted his Cantata Moby Dick with the New York Philharmonic in 1940 and his Symphony was performed by the same orchestra under Howard Barlow in 1942.That same year Beecham conducted the CBS Symphony in the suite Welles Raises Kane . The Devil and Daniel Webster Suite was given its concert premiere by Ormandy and his Philadelphians in 1944 and was taken up by Stokowski and the New York Philharmonic in 1949.

After the war, Herrmann made many guest appearances in British concert halls and in 1950 completed work on his most ambitious composition, the windswept lyric-drama Wuthering Heights . This was a project which had occupied him for three years and reflected his wide literary tastes.

In 1951 after the CBS Symphony Orchestra was disbanded, he spent more time in England, where he eventually settled. In 1956 he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in two broadcasts, one of which included the British premiere of Charles Ives’s Second Symphony ( PASC 232 ) and Elgar’s Falstaff , a particular Herrmann favourite. He considered it to be Elgar’s ‘supreme orchestral work’ and it was one that he also performed in his CBS days ( PASC 202 ).

As time went on his public appearances became less frequent, the last of them taking place at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1974, when he conducted the Royal Philharmonic in a Byron Commemoration Concert featuring music by Berlioz, Liszt, Richard Arnell and Elizabeth Maconchy.


Bernard Herrmann’s own concert works haven't really established themselves in the regular repertoire but his name is still kept firmly in the public eye by the many films for which he wrote the music. Quite a few of these appear on TV from time to time and there is no doubt that it was in this sphere of composition he was at his best. He was introduced to the world of motion picture music by Orson Welles, for whose Mercury Theatre Playhouse Herrmann had written background scores in his early CBS radio days. When Welles moved from broadcasting to the cinema he took his Mercury Theatre colleagues with him and made Citizen Kane . This was Herrmann’s first film music assignment and it set him on a second career which he pursued to the end of his life.

One of the most notable director/composer collaborations in cinema history began in 1955 when Bernard Herrmann wrote the score for The Trouble with Harry , the first of several Alfred Hitchcock films on which he was to work. His second Hitchcock film was a splendid remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much and included Herrmann’s only screen appearance. This occurs in the famous Albert Hall sequence marking the film’s climax and featured the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Arthur Benjamin’s Storm Clouds Cantata , the same music that had been heard in Hitchcock’s earlier version of the story in 1934.



Quite the most celebrated of Herrmann’s film scores, however, is the one he wrote for Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960. Using a large string orchestra and employing every trick in the string-player’s book he complemented the hard black-and-white images with a similarly monochrome score. His music for the shower murder, with its frenzied bird-like shrieks from the violins, was something quite new in movie music history and has been much imitated ever since.

His break with Hitchcock came after Marnie , owing to the studio’s insistence that in common with the then-current vogue in film music, all movies should have a hit-parade “pop” tune to help sell the picture. Herrmann demurred and instead wrote a dramatic score that Hitchcock completely rejected. The resulting break in their relationship caused others to provide the scores for Hitchcock's subsequent films. As it happens, these did not match Herrmann’s for memorability, nor were they especially helpful in box-office terms.

The lucrative profession of writing music for the movies undoubtedly helped to finance the recording of Wuthering Heights which Bernard Herrmann undertook in 1966 and which began yet another phase in his career – a considerable amount of work in the recording studios. He not only recorded much of his own concert hall music but also suites and excerpts from a number of his film scores. Sadly, however, there was a general slowing down of tempi in his final years due to increasing ill-health. Even so, many of his later recordings, both on Unicorn and in Decca's 'Phase-4 Stereo' series, were well-received. In particular, his concert suite from The Three Worlds of Gulliver is one of the most enjoyable scores he ever wrote, whilst his championship of other composers’ film music - notably Shostakovich's Hamlet and Constant Lambert’s Anna Karenina - was rewarded by excellent performances.



As an advocate of the lesser-known works of infrequently performed composers, he must have been pleased at the reception given to his recording of Raff’s Lenore Symphony . In Records and Recording , Geoffrey Crankshaw wrote that 'the whole work is replete with vitality and Bernard Herrmann conducts it with immense zest, giving it a tremendous performance which is matched by a superb recording.’

The two CDs issued by Pristine, from studio broadcasts which feature Herrmann's championship of English and American music respectively, each have the 'zest and vitality' that characterises the best of his commercial recordings. In his MusicWeb International review of each CD on their initial release, Rob Barnett wrote that Herrmann's was a 'very fine reading' of the Ives 2nd Symphony and he also found much to enjoy in Robert Russell Bennett's Violin Concerto: 'Tuneful, jazzy, a touch of Broadway here, a slice of Walton there.'

He was equally taken with the all-English collection, noting that soloist Mitch Miller's contribution to the Vaughan Williams Oboe Concerto was 'dignified and forthright.' He also praised Herrmann's performance of Elgar's Falstaff : 'Moods, episodes and interludes are vividly painted and character leaps out at the listener. Elgarians must hear this.' In these two compendiums, Herrmann enthusiastically championed the music of composers he specially admired, so they would surely be welcome additions to any collections that feature his own celebrated movie music.

Edward Johnson

Abridged and adapted from "Bernard Herrmann: Hollywood's Music Dramatist" (Triad Press: published 1977)


Fanfare Review

This disc should not be missed by anyone who values the Second Symphony—which should mean all of us

In 1909, Ives had a full ink copy of his Second Symphony made; in 1911, he loaned it to conductor Walter Damrosch (1862–1950). Ives twice asked Damrosch for it back, in 1915 and 1935, with no success. Footnote 54 on p. 471 of Jan Swafford’s Charles Ives: A Life with Music: “Ives’s own pre-final drafts of the Second and Third Symphonies survive, which are the versions currently used. Bernard Herrmann told Vivian Perlis he had found the final score of the Second in Damrosch’s papers, but if so he lost it again.”


Herrmann (1911–75) had been a major Ives supporter since 1932, conducting his own arrangement of the fugue from Ives’s Fourth Symphony in 1933 and several times thereafter. It seems improbable, incredible, that he could have “lost” so important, so triumphant a find. By the time of Herrmann’s death, Ives was the center of attention of a raft of American musicologists, and such a score could not have gone unnoticed. In the end, one is forced to question Herrmann’s claim of finding the score—as does Swafford, judging from the sarcastic tone of his footnote. Did Herrmann still have that score in 1956, and did he use it for this BBC radio recording? Oddly enough, I have not seen that question addressed in the Ives literature; perhaps no one believed Herrmann’s story. Although we cannot know what differences existed in the 1909 score, this performance suggests not: It sounds too familiar; yet the wildly dissonant, 11-tone final chord—added by Ives many decades later—is suspiciously consonant here.


Herrmann certainly understood Ives; this performance, although orchestrally a bit vague and occasionally sloppy, fully captures the composer’s nostalgia for the Danbury of his youth. Some of the phrasing is a bit square—the excellent London Symphony was dealing with an unfamiliar score—but a surprising amount of it is right on. What it lacks is the vitality and sparkle of Bernstein’s 1951 radio premiere and of his excellent 1958 stereo recording (Columbia, now Sony) with the New York Philharmonic, which by then had played the symphony 13 times and so knew it well. Herrmann does attack the finale with gusto, but orchestral struggles and a blowsy monaural recording deny us much detail. Still, this CD is a big improvement on the original LP, as Andrew Rose has done his usual superb transfer and production.


For four decades, Robert Russell Bennett (1894–1981) was the leading orchestrator of Broadway musicals—300 of them, from Rose Marie and Show Boat to My Fair Lady and Camelot. His own compositions, in most of the classical forms, are far less known. His 1941 Violin Concerto is bright, happy, extroverted music reminiscent of Broadway, superbly orchestrated. It was written for Louis Kaufman, who, although never a big-name virtuoso, played beautifully and always found the essence of the music at hand. He and this concerto fit each other to a T. The orchestral backing is equally fine and the 1956 mono BBC radio recording is bright and clear, far better than the Ives of four weeks earlier.


Herrmann is best remembered for his scores to Alfred Hitchcock films (Vertigo, Psycho), but he wrote many others, too. The suite Welles Raises Cain is drawn from his music for two Orson Welles films, Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. Herrmann’s music always worked well on the screen, and many enjoy it for its own sake. I am part of a small minority that never cottoned to either Welles movie, nor do I find that Herrmann’s music stands up well on its own. He was a heavyweight whose music fit serious dramas and mysteries better than these two merely narrative tales. This suite is too fragmentary to gel into a whole, each piece needing the context of its place in a story. The playing is charming, the 1949 mono recording excellent for its time.


Although Herrmann’s arrogant, demanding personality grated on musicians who played for him, he was an excellent conductor and a true Ivesian; this disc should not be missed by anyone who values the Second Symphony—which should mean all of us.


James H. North

This article originally appeared in Issue 34:3 (Jan/Feb 2011) of Fanfare Magazine.