MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Bernard Herrmann’s Whitman

aThe latest production from PostClassical Ensemble explores a side of Bernard Herrmann that is scarcely acknowledged today. Herrmann is best known for his chilling score to Psycho and six other Alfred Hitchcock films, as well as his collaborations with Orson Welles. But he started out as a conductor at CBS, becoming music director of the pioneering  Columbia Workshop.

As a significant contributor to the medium of radio drama, Herrmann in 1944 composed music for Whitman, a drama focusing on Leaves of Grass. The half-hour show was produced by Norman Corwin with a contemporary aim: to boost morale back at home during the Second World War. Those were the days when millions of Americans tuned in to radio drama — in this case, a drama about a poet, with a first-rate, fresh score as accompaniment.

Angel Gil-Ordonez conducts the ensemble and William Sharp as the poet in this newly restored version of Whitman released on Naxos. In conjunction with the release, PCE has also produced the documentary Beyond Psycho– The Musical Genius of Bernard Herrmann. The film features commentary by Joseph Horowitz (who regards Hermann as “the most underrated 20th-century American composer”), Gil-Ordonez, Karen Karbiener (a Whitman scholar), Murray Horwitz (an expert on radio drama), Dorothy Herrmann (the composer’s daughter), and Alex Ross. 

Filed under: American music, PostClassical Ensemble, radio drama

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