Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Taxi Driver soundtrack

Yesterday morning I had the chance to sample the opening scenes of Taxi Driver in 2K and 4K. Since then the prelude of Taxi Driver, composed by Bernard Herrmann, has been playing in my inner soundtrack.

In the soundtrack album the Theme from Taxi Driver is the name of the jazzy-bluesy theme played by an alto saxophone.

But for me the true main theme is the one introduced in the prelude, with variations during the film, and building to a shattering climax in the finale. With radical minimalism, it consists of two chords only, played with magnificent intensity, with a heavy emphasis on dark brass and powerful percussion instruments. Crescendo, diminuendo. Crescendo, diminuendo. There is not much in the way of melody. It's all about orchestration. Although Herrmann was not the conductor, the soundtrack sounds like him. The tempo is slow. It is the sound of the ocean, not calm, not stormy, but with infinite power.

Herrmann was a versatile talent. He was the composer of two all-time top ten films, Citizen Kane and Vertigo. He created darkly romantic neo-Wagnerian music to Vertigo and delightfully fantastic fandangos to adventure films such as the Sinbad films and North by Northwest. He loved to experiment, for instance with the theremin in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Psycho, played by strings only, is minimalist in inspiration. Herrmann was a sound consultant to The Birds, a film without music.

Herrmann's best score is in my opinion On Dangerous Ground. There he established his "deranged mode", which was continued in Psycho and Cape Fear. Also the effectively contrasting "adventure mode", vigorous and relaxed, started in it. The main themes of Taxi Driver are brilliant conclusions to the "deranged" and "adventure" continua in Herrmann's work. Herrmann died the night after he had finished his work for Taxi Driver.

1 comment:

MJG196 said...

I played the main theme to my 10 year old and asked him what it sounded like to him. "A dark cave."