1941, 1945, 2010, Music

Hangover Square; Citizen Kane (2010) by Bernard Herrmann, performed by BBC Philharmonic conducted by Rumon Gamba, featuring Martin Roscoe and Orla Boylan

This disc collects a suite of pieces from the 1945 film noir Hangover Square, arranged for orchestra, with a piano concerto Herrmann wrote for the film, with what seems to be the complete (or nearly complete) score to Citizen Kane.

The music for Hangover Square is pretty classic Hollywood noir, even if the first three pieces have been re-arranged. It would be interesting to hear the originals, but I guess I’ll just have to watch the movie. It’s pretty obvious from this early stage that Herrmann had a hand for the medium. ┬áThere’s nothing as radical or iconic as his later stuff, but it’s still full of effective mood music. And it manages to both let the listener know what the film is like and also stand alone as music I might want to listen to (especially the concerto).

I had heard the suite from Citizen Kane but hearing what is likely most of the score (minus repeated themes, I guess) is a real treat. I think this was Herrmann’s first major film job, and he knocked it out of the park. Though I don’t remember thinking much of the music when I saw the film (a few times) many, many years ago, hearing it now I am blown away by its audacity, by Herrmann’s command of so many styles – the aria, for example, not something most film composers write – and, well, everything about it. This is one of the great Hollywood film scores of the ’40s – hell, it’s about as good as it gets before Bernstein, Herrmann himself and Mancini changed what was possible in the genre – and I’m sort of surprised it hasn’t been held up as a classic; I guess it’s dwarfed by the (real and imagined) importance of the film it accompanies.

This is the best collection I’ve yet heard of Hermann’s work, as it pairs one of his greatest scores with a suite from another very good one.


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