James Bernard (composer)

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James Michael Bernard (20 September 1925 – 12 July 2001) was a British film composer, particularly associated with the horror films produced by Hammer Film Productions. Starting with The Quatermass Xperiment, he scored such classic films as The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula.

Early Years and World War II[edit]

Bernard was educated at Wellington College, which had previously been attended by the future actor, Christopher Lee, later to star in many Hammer horror films scored by Bernard. In an interview late in his life, Bernard recalled that three of his favourite books during his mid-teens were The Devil Rides Out, She, and The Hound of the Baskervilles.[1] While still a schoolboy, Bernard met Benjamin Britten when the composer came to consult the school's art master, Kenneth Green, about the stage designs for Peter Grimes.[2] Britten took interest in an inter-house music composition, and advised Bernard on the music he was writing. The two stayed in touch during Bernard's service in the RAF from 1943 to 1946, and Britten encouraged him to learn the principles of composition. During the war, Bernard worked with the team dedicated to breaking the code of the German Enigma machine, specialising in deciphering intercepted Japanese messages.[3] He stayed in touch with Britten during those years, and on occasion came to London to turn pages for the composer while he played piano in recitals.[3]

In 1944 Bernard met Paul Dehn, who was then a Major working for Military Intelligence, Section 6 (MI6). This was the start of a lifelong partnership, the two moving in together in an apartment on King's Road while Bernard was still serving with the RAF in 1946.[3]

Musical Training and first scores[edit]

After being demobbed, Bernard enrolled as a student at the Royal College of Music (RCM) in 1947, studying under Herbert Howells.[3][4] He graduated in 1949. In 1950 Britten asked him to copy out the full score of his new opera Billy Budd for his publishers Boosey & Hawkes,[4] inviting him to stay at his home in Aldeburgh. He went to the opera's opening night with Benjamin Britten's housekeeper and the librettist, E. M. Forster.

Paul Dehn, by now a writer and critic, asked Bernard to collaborate with him on the original screenplay for the Boulting Brothers film Seven Days to Noon (1950). For this Paul Dehn and James Bernard shared the 1952 Academy Award for the Best Writing, Motion Picture Story. Then in 1953 Bernard received his first commission to write incidental music: for a radio play by Patric Dickinson, The Death of Hector.[5] Not having been taught orchestration at the RCM, Bernard often turned for advice to Imogen Holst, whom Britten had recommended when Bernard had asked for someone "with whom I could study or go to or take things to".[6] Bernard also sought her assistance when writing incidental music for a broadcast radio production of The Duchess of Malfi, which starred Richard Burton, Peggy Ashcroft and Paul Scofield.[7] The music for this so impressed John Hollingsworth, effectively the music director of Hammer Film Productions, that when the composer originally scheduled to score The Quatermass Xperiment fell ill the job was offered to Bernard.[3]

Work for Hammer[edit]

The Quatermass Xperiment was scored for strings and percussion only at John Hollingsworth's instruction: "I don't think he trusted me with anything more than a small string orchestra", Bernard later suggested. "At that time John Hollingsworth was one of the chief conductors of the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, so he used players from the Opera House orchestra," Bernard elsewhere wrote. [8] The score, predating Bernard Herrmann's for Psycho by five years, has been cited as the first film score to treat strings in an unconventional, non-romantic manner,[9] including the use of tone clusters and asking string players to bow on the wrong side of the bridge.[10] Again, Bernard showed the score to Imogen Holst before he committed it to the recording sessions for the soundtrack.[9]

Bernard scored Hammer's first horror film, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957); this included some music he had originally composed for The Duchess of Malfi.[11] Next came Dracula (1958), in which the title cue featured a motif based on the sound Dra-cu-laaaaa, inspired by a suggestion Paul Dehn made to Bernard.[1] Other Hammer scores include The Kiss of the Vampire (1962), The Plague of the Zombies (1966), The Devil Rides Out (1968) and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969).

A distinctive trait in Bernard's Hammer scores are their use of clashing harmonies, often created by doubling a motif a tone higher, as in his famous Dracula theme. His music is also frenzied and pacey at times, frequently making use of percussion such as timpani and snares. The Devil Rides Out (1968) and The Plague of the Zombies (1966) are good examples of this. However, he could also write lushly romantic melodies, such as appear in Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) and Scars of Dracula (also 1970). Unlike the majority of film composers, Bernard orchestrated almost all of his work.[12]

Final decades[edit]

Paul Dehn died in 1976. Working on She (1965), Bernard first met the man who later became his second life partner, actor Ken McGregor, with whom he lived in Jamaica until McGregor's death there in 1994. Bernard then moved back to London and lived there for the remainder of his life.[13]

In later years, he was called upon by silent film historian Kevin Brownlow to write an original score for F. W. Murnau's classic silent horror Nosferatu (1922/1997) and for Brownlow's documentary Universal Horror (1998) on the horror films of the American studio. He also wrote the score to Paul Cotgrove's 2001 short horror film Green Fingers (starring Hammer veteran actresses Ingrid Pitt and Janina Faye). David Huckvale's critical biography of the composer, James Bernard - Composer to Count Dracula was published by McFarland in 2006.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b James Abbott (15 September 2011). "An Interview with Composer James Bernard, Part III". The Jade Sphinx. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  2. ^ Huckvale (2008): p. 106
  3. ^ a b c d e James Abbott (14 September 2011). "An Interview with Composer James Bernard, Part II". The Jade Sphinx. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Bridcut, p. 254
  5. ^ Huckvale (2006): p. 39
  6. ^ Huckvale (2006): p. 40
  7. ^ Huckvale (2006): p. 41
  8. ^ Larson (1996): "Introduction" by James Bernard, p.xii
  9. ^ a b Huckvale (2006): p. 49
  10. ^ Huckvale (2006): p. 51
  11. ^ Huckvale (2006): p. 45
  12. ^ Tom Vallance "James Bernard", The Independent, 18 July 2001. Retrieved on 27 March 2009.
  13. ^ Alexander Gleason "Obituary: James Bernard", The Guardian, 20 August 2001. Retrieved on 27 March 2009.
  • Bridcut, John. Britten's Children. Faber & Faber, 2006. ISBN 0-571-22839-9
  • Larson, Randall D. Music from the House of Hammer: Music in the Hammer Horror Films, 1950-1980. Scarecrow Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8108-2975-4
  • Huckvale, David. James Bernard, Composer to Count Dracula: A Critical Biography. McFarland, 2006. ISBN 0-7864-2302-1
  • Huckvale, David. Hammer film scores and the musical avant-garde. McFarland, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7864-3456-5

External links[edit]