Listening to the Score of Citizen Kane

September 17, 2012 at 20:06:22

I’ve long been an admirer of the film music of Bernard Herrmann, whom I regard as one of our greatest classical composers. He did with film music what a classical composer would have done with concert-hall orchestral music. Like Ginger Rogers, who did everything Fred Astaire did plus she did it backwards wearing high heels, Herrmann did what Aaron Copland or Igor Stravinsky or Kurt Weill did, within the curious confines of film and television (and radio). Plus he wrote for a lot more films than most people probably realize.

Listening attentively recently to the score of Citizen Kane (I think what I was hearing was this recording), I was struck suddenly by a fact that had previously eluded me: almost the entire score is a massive fantasia on a four-note theme, and that theme is the first four notes of the Dies Irae. He shifts the pitches a bit, he inverts them, he turns them inside-out, but they are there in practically every measure. I’m not the first person to notice this, and indeed it was no secret, but it was a shock and joy discovering it for myself, and of course it made me hear and appreciate the music in a whole new way.


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