The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Was Bernard Herrmann’s love theme in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” influenced by Antonin Dvorak’s “American Suite”?

July 8, 2019

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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear spent an interesting and enjoyable Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Two of the most enjoyable things seemed to overlap unexpectedly.

On Wednesday night, I tuned into Turner Classic Movies. That’s when I watched, once again and with great pleasure, Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful “North by Northwest (1959.”

The next morning, on Independence Day, I tuned in to Wisconsin Public Radio and heard a lot of music by American composers and by composers who were inspired by America.

That’s when I heard the “American Suite” (1895) by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (below), who directed a conservatory in New York City and liked to spend summers in a Czech community in Spillville, Iowa, where he was captivated by American music of Native Americans and African-Americans.

What overlapped was the music, the love theme between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint — called “Train Conversations” — by Bernard Herrmann (below) in the film and the opening of the suite by Dvorak.

But The Ear needs a reality check: Is the Ear the only one to hear striking similarities between the two?

Take a listen to the two works in the YouTube video below, decide for yourself and let us know if you hear the same influence.

To be sure, The Ear is not saying that Herrmann – a sophisticated American composer who knew classical music and who is perhaps best known for his edgy score to “Psycho,” which is often played in concert halls – completely lifted the music or stole it or plagiarized it.

But it certainly is possible that Herrmann was influenced or inspired by Dvorak – much the same way that Leonard Bernstein’s song “Somewhere” from “West Side Story” seems remarkably close to an opening theme in the slow middle movement of the Piano Concerto No. 5 – the famous “Emperor” Concerto — by Ludwig van Beethoven. The same goes for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, who, some say, borrowed tunes more than once from Franz Schubert.

Well, if you’re going to borrow, why not do it from the best? And Dvorak was among the great melodists of all time, in company with Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Maurice Ravel and Francis Poulenc, to name a few of the best known.

Anyway, listen to the two scores and let us know what you think.

Can you think of other music that was perhaps influenced by a work of classical music? If so, leave a comment, with YouTube links if possible, in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players end its season this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon by performing music by movie score composers, including Nino Rota, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Bernard Hermann and Wisconsin native Ian Honeyman.

April 30, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Increasingly, movie scores –- at least the best and most original of them — and their composers are being recognized as a logical and legitimate extension of  or integral part of classical music, a close crossover cousin or fusion genre, if you will.

Many of the best movie scores came from classical musicians who, being Jewish, had to flee Nazi Germany. Many ended up in Hollywood, and used their musical gifts to make a living even while they privately pursued their “serious” or “art” music.

That trend of rediscovering and performing such composers and works continues locally this weekend when the Madison-based Oakwood Chamber Players (below), who are musically masterful and programatically adventuresome, will present two concerts with works by famous film composers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Oakwood Chamber Players 2012 3

The concerts are on this Saturday night, May 4, 2013, at 7 p.m. at the Oakwood Village University Woods Auditorium, 6201 Mineral Point Road, and on this Sunday afternoon, May 5, at 1:30 p.m. at the UW-Arboretum Visitor Center (below).

Tickets are available at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students.

Visit for more information.

UW Arboretum Visitor Center

“The Movies” concerts will explore music from a range of backgrounds — Italian, American and Austrian — and will be tied together by their composers’ love of the cinema.

Four composers will be featured during the concerts. The composers will include:

Nino Rota (below): Known for his collaboration Federico Fellini and on the Academy Award winning score for “The Godfather II”, his Nonet for Strings and Winds (at bottom in a YouTube video with Gidon Kremer’s chamber group)  is a roller-coaster ride of moods.

nino rota at piano

Bernard Herrmann (below): He composed a hauntingly beautiful Quintet for clarinet and strings that will showcase this Hollywood film composer famous for his film scores, especially for Alfred Hitchcock, in “Psycho,” “Vertigo,” “Cape Fear,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Citizen Kane.”

Bernard Herrmann at piano

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (below): Setting the swashbuckling tone for “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “The Sea Hawk,” in his substantive and delightful Piano Trio Korngold shows an incredible ability to convey mood with grand gestures.

erich wolfgang korngold at piano

Ian Honeyman (below): Originally from the Madison suburb of Oregon, Wisconsin, and now based in Los Angeles, the 34-year-old award-winning Honeyman has written music for dozens of feature films, short films, TV shows and was a collaborative composer and arranger on the best-selling film “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

His suite from the feature film, “Lilly the Witch: The Dragon and the Magic Book,” represents exciting work. Honeyman’s early influences include Oakwood Chamber Players violinist Leyla Sanyer.  He arranged excerpts from one of his movie scores for the Oakwood Chamber Players, which will receive its world premiere next weekend. 

Ian Honeyman

As Honeyman told Oakwood Chamber Players flutist Marilyn Chohaney in a recent interview: “There is something about writing for a children’s adventure film that really resonates with me.”  He told her that he feels writing for a fantasy film allows him lots of room to explore unusual musical genres, because the stories themselves are outlandish.  The music can be more prominent than in a drama, in which a score is sometimes best when “it is not really that noticeable.”

Ian Honeyman 2

The Movies” concerts are part of National Chamber Music Month (NCMM), a nationwide initiative organized by Chamber Music America. For more information on NCMM, visit

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for 30 years.

Here is a link to the group’s website, where you can find out more and read the eomplete interview with composer Ian Honeyman:

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation, in collaboration with Friends of the Arboretum, Inc.

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