A Haunting Bernard Herrmann Score

Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann (image credit unknown)

I once read a hilarious back page article in GQ relating a satirical correspondence between John Hinckley Jr. and Ted Bundy. The premise is that these two truly messed up individuals, who are very much separated by incarceration, are connecting because of their shared maladaptive behaviors and proclivities. Due to the nature of their crimes, the reader expects some revealing, disturbing or at least interesting conversation. However, Hinckley writes to Bundy about the everyday realities of being imprisoned and misunderstood, casually adding, "P.S. Did you ever see Taxi Driver?"

Bundy responds compassionately but takes issue with Hinckley's obsession, "My sole quarrel is with your taste: The undeniably gifted Miss Foster is, by my admittedly quirky standards, slightly bony. (Flat as a pancake, we used to say.) As for Taxi Driver, I thought it all a tad lightweight. Despite the excellent work of the cast and the haunting Bernard Herrmann score, it failed to deliver the bite I was looking for at the climax." 

The piece stuck with me because of the stark and comical contrast between the abject horror of their deeds with the rigid mundanity of their missives, which perhaps inevitably escalate to threats of violence in the end. It's a real work of art.

One morning at home, a haunted and cinematic mood settled over me. I searched iTunes for the genre, "film noir". Several soundtracks and compilations of music from films are featured, including many with, and even dedicated to, Bernard Herrmann.

Recalling the fictional Bundy's assessment of Hermann's work as "haunting", I chose Bernard Herrmann Film Scores: From Citizen Kane to Taxi Driver by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Setting my iPhone to play through my bluetooth speaker, I brought them into the bathroom and started getting ready for work.

"Citizen Kane - Suite," is the first track. I felt haunted but also as if a mystery was about to be solved. It seemed like a promising selection.

I remembered something in the other room then returned to hear, "The Devil and Daniel Webster - The Devil's Concerto." I was unfamiliar with it but recognized the deep South style. There are fiddles... or violins sounding like fiddles. It is very "Devil Went Down to Georgia" ... if the devil's part was played by an orchestra.

This evocation of intrigue and suspense was still working though. Next up was, "The Man Who Knew Too Much," which conjures an atmosphere of crime solving, zooming in on a detective's door while a disembodied hand reaches for the knob, or a silhouette walking with a cigarette on a foggy dock, a lonely streetlight illuminating just the mist around it. But wait, do I sense a shadow?

I turned on the shower, and while I waited for it to warm, I escaped my pajamas and took the clips and ties out of my mess of hair. It had been days since I'd washed it. After a few minutes, I stepped in and ahhh, the wet heat of a blessed shower. It is great, no? These commonplace contemplations were meandering through my mind while I was massaging shampoo into my soaked scalp when it happened.

The next track began, and it was intense! Like music for a scene in which you're chasing a wounded animal through a damp, early morning forest where a recent disappearance is menacing a nearby village.

For two full minutes, that's the mood. Oh, what adventure awaits us!?

Then the song goes rather silent. For the next minute and a half, a very low and slow building of strings introduces the potential of danger, so you may even forget that you're listening to music especially with the water and the washing and it being an ordinary morning in your own real life.

But then it thrust through! The most unholy screeching ever known to all humanity except for perhaps cats having sex...


I panicked. It was so terrifying! I have glass doors on my shower, so from the safety of the stall, I looked around to confirm that I was still alone in my bathroom. There appeared to be no one lurking nearby.


I considered getting out to forward to the next song or at least turn it down, but I was too afraid to step outside my own shower, so I cowered, anxiously waiting for it to end.


It goes on for a while.


If I'd been in a shower with a curtain, oh hell no. I would've been out of there so fast I probably would have hurt myself. It was the scariest 50 seconds of my life.


Y'know what you never want to hear—loudly and unexpectedly, or really, ever—while you're in a shower?

The theme from Psycho.

The version above has a longer intro and a redux, but it'll still get ya. It's fascinating (and kind of scary!) to watch an orchestra play it, to see how they create that heart-stopping, discordant screech, and in unison. It's a wow.