Easy to Cut

Modular Form in the Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann


  • Tom Schneller Independent Scholar




Herrmann, Sabaneev


One of the defining characteristics of Bernard Herrmann’s film music is its modular construction: his cues are typically assembled from short blocks of musical material rather than extended melodic lines. While this feature of his style has been much discussed in general terms, there have been few attempts to identify specifically how these blocks are constructed and how they are chained together to yield coherent musical statements. Using examples from Psycho, Marnie, and other Herrmann scores, I will demonstrate that the phrase structure and melodic trajectory of much of Herrmann’s music is based on a small set of frequently recurring prototypes. This structural consistency contributes to making the “Herrmann sound” instantly recognizable.


Bazelon, Irwin. 1975. Knowing the score: notes on film music. New York: Arco Publishing.

Brown, Royal. 1994. Overtones and undertones: reading film music. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bruce, Graham. 1985. Bernard Herrmann: film music and narrative. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press.

Curry, Robert, David Gable, and Robert L. Marshall, ed. 2008. Variations on the canon: essays on music from Bach to Boulez in honor of Charles Rosen on his eightieth birthday. Rochester: N.Y.: University of Rochester Press.

Gilling, Ted. 1971-1972. The colour of music: an interview with Bernard Herrmann. Sight and Sound (Winter): 36-39.

Gjerdingen, Robert. 2007. Music in the Galant style. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Murray, Lyn. 1987. Musician: a Hollywood journal. New Jersey: Lyle Stuart.

Raksin, David. David Raksin remembers his colleagues. http://www.americancomposers.org/raksin_herrmann.htm

Rosar, William. 2003. Bernard Herrmann: the Beethoven of film music? The Journal of Film Music 1: 121-51.

Sabaneev, Leonid. 1935. Music for films. London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd.

Schneller, Tom. 2010. Unconscious anchors: Bernard Herrmann’s music for Marnie. Popular Music History 5, no. 1: 55-104.

Smith, Steven. 1991. A heart at fire’s center: the life and music of Bernard Herrmann. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Steiner, Fred. 1974. Herrmann’s “black-and-white music” for Hitchcock’s Psycho. Film Music Notebook 1 (Fall).

Waletzky, Joshua. 1992. Music for the movies: Bernard Herrmann, DVD, Sony.

Wrobel, William. 2003. Self-borrowing in the music of Bernard Herrmann. The Journal of Film Music 1: 249-71.



How to Cite

Schneller, T. (2013). Easy to Cut: Modular Form in the Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann. Journal of Film Music, 5(1-2), 127–151. https://doi.org/10.1558/jfm.v5i1-2.127