Before Steven Spielberg and John Williams, Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, there was another director-composer powerhouse whose collaboration was so fruitful it would redefine future expectations of cinema: Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann.
Among the nine films they worked on together, there is one scene that captures this seamless marriage of music and moving image so potently that it has become indelibly lodged in our collective consciousness as one of the most universally familiar pop-culture references: the shower scene from the 1960s thriller, Psycho.
The piercing shriek of Hermann’s razor-edged strings, paired with the look of terror on Janet Leigh’s face as Norman Bates stabs violently through the shower curtain, is one of the most pivotal moments in film history; never before had a director and composer hit upon such a symbiotic relationship. With each serrated chord of Herrmann’s score, the audience could almost feel the blade slashing through flesh. In fact, Hitchcock never once showed the knife stabbing anything but thin air, and yet Herrmann’s blood-curdling music had the power to bewitch the audience, convincing them of a horror far greater than the sum of its parts.
“He’s a giant of the 20th...