Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Psycho for Sale

One of the problems for students of film scores can simply be finding the materials: studios often owned not only the copyright, but also the scores and parts, so composers could neither reuse the musical material nor ensure that it was physically preserved. But actually the studios didn’t really care about this stuff: the score was recorded; unless they wanted to re-record the music as library tracks, the manuscript was useless. Hence occasional clearouts would see them skip hundreds of pages of – to them - valueless paper.

Of course, since then, the interest in film music has developed and there is a greater value to these things, though ironically Hollywood’s obsession with rights means that often the material, though it exists, is hardly more accessible.

Still, even in earlier days, things slipped through the system, increasingly as composers rose to prominence and were able to negotiate more favourable terms.

One such was Bernard Herrmann. Hence he included chunks of his scores to Jane Eyre and The Ghost and Mrs Muir in his opera Wuthering Heights. But he also held onto the material and various donations mean that the University of Santa Barbara has a handsome collection.

But not everything. Like any other piece of music, film scores go through various versions on their way to completion and so it is that Herrmann’s widow Norma has decided to sell the most significant collection of film music related material to come on the market for several years. It comes up at Bonhams on 24 March (lots 110-11, and 193-218), details, here.

The highlight is a full autograph score of the concert suite Psycho: a Narrative for Orchestra, and anyone who has 40 grand knocking around would be tempted. Though it's a fair copy, there are a few alterations but I'm not sure it's going to revolutionise our view of either the film score or the concert work. Still, a lovely thing to own, perhaps framed in the shower.

But there are also things like a typically blunt missive from Schonberg, thanking Herrmann for a broadcast performance of the Second Chamber Symphony, which he felt was good though it suffered from electrical interference (and CBS’s engineers who disliked his music, and “always distort by the mixtures the sound.”)

Amongst Herrmann’s other left-field interests was Joseph Raff (1822-82), and you can buy Herrmann’s marked up copy of the 5th Symphony (Lenore). This may have been preparatory to his self-financed recording with the LPO, which inspired an epic shirt-ironing session.

A particular bargain (it seems to me) is a collection of eighteen letters from Charles Ives, of whose music Herrmann was a regular promoter. Having said that, Bonhams’ wide-ranging £4-8,000 estimate implies that they’re not entirely sure what it might raise.

Finally, a reminder of Herrmann’s romantic roots comes from his numerous volumes of Alfred Stieglitz’s seminal Camera Work, filled with early 20th-century photography (another 30k to find!) Herrmann’s Anglophilia is nicely (though coincidentally) illustrated by Alvin Langdon Coburn’s The Bridge – London.