For his main title music for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Bernard Herrmann used alternately ascending and descending arpeggiated chords in contrary motion in the treble and bass voices; no clear direction, up or down, is established, nor is a harmonic center confirmed.
With its almost uninterrupted, destabilizing undulation, the music provides a musical evocation of vertigo that is reinforced by Hitchcock’s spiraling geometric images.
This according to “The language of music: A brief analysis of Vertigo” by Kathryn Kalinak, an essay included in her Settling the score: Music and the classical Hollywood film (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992) and reprinted in Movie music: The film reader (London: Routledge, 2003).
Today is Bernard Herrmann’s 110th birthday! Below, the virtiginous title sequence in question.
4 Responses to Herrmann-induced vertigo
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This is one of my favorite film scores. Thanks for calling attention to it. Hermann is more well known for the Psycho theme, but I prefer Vertigo because it’s understated and more original, while the Psycho song sounds so much like some of Shostakovich’s darker compositions. I was greatly upset recently to hear Hermann’s Vertigo score featured in a Lady Gaga video.