Christopher O’Riley Performs Bernard Herrmann’s Prelude to ‘Psycho’

2011 marked the 100th Anniversary of the birth of film composer, Bernard Herrmann, known for his iconic musical (and pure music concrete in the case of Hitchcock’s The Birds) landscapes/backdrops for films like Citizen Kane, Cape Fear, Taxi Driver (his last) and memorable and numerous Alfred Hitchcock works. Psycho has long been a favorite film of mine, and Herrmann’s score is perhaps more indelibly inscribed on my memory than even the violently etched black-and-white images Hitchcock created.

In scoring Psycho for strings-only, Herrmann mentioned the intent on keeping a ‘black-and-white’ texture in the spareness of his chosen ensemble. In transcribing a 20-minute suite of pieces for piano, I chose the ebony-and-ivory continuation of that thought. In music so rich, it is astonishing, when putting the notes down on the keyboard, to find the musical materials of Herrmann’s work so bare-motivic, archetypal, and ultimately economic. Though I haven’t yet recorded the sequence commercially, it’s become a staple of my concert repertory especially in this, the Herrmann Centenary. This live performance was captured at a live taping of my NPR radio program, From the Top, hosted by the EG Conference last spring in Monterey, and shot and edited expertly by Reid Mangan.