Composers Datebook®

Bernard Herrmann gets a pink slip from Hitch

Composer's Datebook - July 27, 2023


Alfred Hitchcock’s cold war spy film Torn Curtain, opened in New York Theaters on today’s date in 1966. It was the swinging 60s, and Hitchcock had asked his long-time collaborator, composer Bernard Hermann, for a pop score that would be “with it” with a possible hit single as a main title. What Hitch did NOT want was, as he put it, “more Richard Strauss.” Hermann assured Hitch he knew exactly what was required—and then ignored him completely.

Herrmann thought Torn Curtain was a dangerously weak film, and one that needed a huge symphonic score with an eerie choir of massed flutes and ominous, oppressive brass to make it effective. When Hitch heard a Hollywood studio orchestra rehearsing Herrmann’s main title music, he fired the composer on the spot and called in someone else to score the film.

Herrmann was crushed. He had thought that Hitch should have been grateful. “You call in the doctor to make you healthy,” he later quipped—“Not to make you rich!” Hermann may well have right. Torn Curtain is regarded as one of Hitchcock’s lamest efforts, while Herrmann’s rejected score has gone on to be recorded and admired on its own.

Music Played in Today's Program

Bernard Herrmann (1911 - 1975) Unused Torn Curtain film score Los Angeles Philharmonic; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor. Sony 62700

On This Day


  • 1867 - Spanish composer and conductor Enrique Granados, in Lérida; He died at sea in 1916, a victim of the sinking by a German submarine of the S.S. Sussex in the English Channel during World War I)

  • 1877 - Hungarian composer and pianist Ernö (Ernst) von Dohnányi; He was the grandfather of the German-born conductor Christoph von Dohnányi

  • 1899 - American composer Harl McDonald, near Boulder, Colorado; He worked as the business manager of the Philadelphia Orchestra for many years, and that orchestra performed a number of his pieces under both Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy

  • 1912 - Russian-born composer and conductor Igor Markevitch, in Kiev (Julian date: July 14)


  • 1924 - Italian-German composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni, age 58, in Berlin


  • 1941 - Paul Creston: "Prelude and Dance" and "A Rumor," in New York

  • 1941 - Bernard Herrmann: Symphony No. 1, on a radio broadcast by the Columbia Symphony with the composer conducting


  • 1733 - J.S. Bach sends a letter to Frederic Augustus, Elector of Saxony, requesting an official title to bolster his reputation in Leipzig; Accompanying the letter, Bach sends the "Kyrie" and "Gloria" from his Mass in b minor

  • 1966 - Alfred Hitchcock's thriller "Torn Curtain" opens in New York — without the film score that Bernard Herrmann had composed for it (The famous director fired Herrmann during the score's first recording sessions when Hitch discovered Herrmann had composed a "symphonic" score and not the "pop" score that Hitch had specifically requested)

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®