1960, 1997, Music

Psycho (1997) by Bernard Herrmann, performed by the Royal Scottish Orchestra conducted by Joel McNeely

The score to Psycho is one of the most iconic film scores ever and, at the film’s release, probably was the most iconic film score for a Hollywood or even English language-film. (Searching my memory, I can only think of The Third Man as an earlier English language-film that got this much attention for its score. There were, of course, plenty of non-English language-films with heralded scores prior to Psycho‘s release.) And it remains among the most famous to this day, only equaled in fame by Jaws, Halloween, Star Wars, Superman, maybe The Exorcist.

That in itself is an impressive accomplishment: what Herrmann did here is elevate the film score to as much notoriety as the accompanying film. If that’s all he did, it would be impressive, but he did much more. He created a piece of music that is, to my ears anyway, utterly addictive. And one whose most famous theme is far from its most effective.

This is one of the great accomplishments in film music history, even 20th century music. It’s everything a score should be for a film, while being compulsively listenable without the film.

This particular performance is as close to the original as any I’ve yet heard. Obviously, the original score is to be preferred, but given that we can’t have that (to my knowledge), this works just as well.

Utterly essential music.


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