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1990 Mercury

Varèse Re-Recording

Varèse Original

Composed by:
Bernard Herrmann

Conducted by:
Muir Mathieson

Re-Recording Conducted by:
Joel McNeely

Re-Recording Performed by:
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Both Varèse Albums Produced by:
Robert Townson

Labels and Dates:
(February 5th, 1990)

Varèse Sarabande
(November 5th, 1996)

Varèse Sarabande
(March 12, 1996)

Also See:
Hitchcock: 100 Years
Hitchcock: Signatures...
Care Fear

Audio Clips:
Varèse Re-Recording:

1. Prelude and Rooftop (0:33):
WMA (215K)  MP3 (266K)
Real Audio (165K)

4. The Bay (0:28):
WMA (186K)  MP3 (228K)
Real Audio (141K)

7. The Beach (0:30):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

13. Scene D'Amour (0:35):
WMA (227K)  MP3 (282K)
Real Audio (175K)

All three albums were regular U.S. releases. The two releases of the original score can be found for discount prices on the secondary market.



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Buy it... on the early 1996 Varèse Sarabande re-recording if you seek the pinnacle in the collaboration between Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann in stunning, digital sound.

Avoid it... on the re-recorded album only if you are a purist for original recordings and can tolerate the damage that the years have done to the score's mono and stereo master tapes.

Vertigo: (Bernard Herrmann) It's painful to imagine nowadays how Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo could have spun past critics and audiences in 1958 with neither group realizing the dizzying success of every aspect of the picture. Based loosely on the myth of "Tristan and Isolde," Vertigo contained all the typical plot twists, identity crises, and blends of beautiful and psychotic imagery that made Hitchcock into a master. It also featured the necessary pairing of Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, sharing almost an equal amount of screen time with the city of San Francisco, which serves as almost a character of its own. Among other techniques best employed by Hitchcock for Vertigo included the revelation of a plot twist to only audience, the inclusion of nightmarish animation, and the integral role for Bernard Herrmann's score. It's difficult to assess just how well Herrmann's music for Vertigo (the fourth, and by far the best collaboration between director and composer at the time) would stand on its own without the stunning merits of the film's other production qualities. Over the years, however, Vertigo has been established as among Herrmann's very best scores, and is often identified as the pinnacle of the famous collaboration. Perhaps by no coincidence, Vertigo is one of the few Herrmann scores for a Hitchcock film that is highly developed in its romantic themes and motifs. It is thus one of Herrmann's more listenable scores on album, with a love theme so recognizable that it stands as a worthy identity to represent Herrmann's larger body of work across all genres. Vertigo is a highly structured score in a modern sense, utilizing its thematic and rhythmic ideas in ways that were largely beyond their time. And while he does this, Herrmann also offers several trademark horror techniques in his instrumentation that fans would come to adore in future projects. In short, Vertigo is the complete package.

The score's opening titles sequence (over Saul Bass' imagery) is unique in that it previews several motifs heard in far different conditions later in the score, but doesn't reappear itself at any time in full. Its broad brass notes over hypnotic triplet rhythms are more in synch with Herrmann's straight horror scores, with a boldness evident in efforts like Cape Fear. A four-note motif representing mystery in the score debuts here, as do fragments of the love theme that would define the score elsewhere. The "Prelude" is thus a battle between the nightmares and dreams of Stewart's character in the film, alternating between horrific single brass notes and tumultuously romantic string interludes. Herrmann, as he would accomplish in a few other places in the score, finishes the sequence with an ambitious, harmonious conclusion complete with resounding timpani and a gong hit. In the days before lengthy end credits, the "Prelude" here would ironically be the perfect closing piece. Immediately after this introduction, Herrmann serves audiences with the recurring motif for Stewart's problems with the fear of heights; his frenzied, dizzying strings wave with an intense dissonance that truly defines the horror of the affliction. The score then simmers for a considerable time, as the relationship between Stewart and Novak's character, and the mysterious behavior of the latter, is followed. Here Herrmann slowly develops two major ideas in the score. First, the "love theme" is rooted in exploratory strings while Novak is trailed; in later scenes, after she is rescued from the bay, the theme begins to pronounce itself in full form as the two leads converse. Of more importance to these investigatory cues is Herrmann's use of the Spanish habanera rhythm as a propulsive element in the mystery. The significance in the ethnic origin of the rhythm comes from several references in the plotline of the film, and its use is as methodic as Stewart's detective tactics. This rhythm, often carried by a woodwind section amplified with five clarinets, assists the slower moments of the underscore in maintaining your interest.

The best known theme in Vertigo remains the one given full treatment in "Scene D'Amour." This love theme is a rare venture into the unashamed melodic romance genre for Herrmann, evoking a touch of mystery and sadness in its performances. With high style from the Golden Age of Hollywood, this theme is as heartbreaking as any you'll ever encounter from that era, and it retains its explosive dramatic effect to this day. As mentioned before, however, Vertigo is made great by its integration and maturation process of these themes, and Herrmann applies them with great psychological effect throughout the score. The love theme makes a grandiose statement during Stewart and Novak's first kiss in "The Beach," a cue notable for ending on a rare major key crescendo from Herrmann. As Novak's real identity and Stewart start a fresh romance in the film's final third, the love theme is brilliantly adapted into a more friendly waltz, stripped of its slushy romantic weight because of Stewart's obsession with Novak's previous identity. The score switches into the minor key for the religious inclinations, utilizing an electric organ for suspense in "The Forest" (when Novak disappears) and in the "Finale" (when a nun causes the ultimate scare). The habanera rhythm is reprised twice in the latter half, both at moments that are flashbacks to the early investigations. First, the remarkable animated nightmare sequence throws the rhythm at you with full force, adding castanets and tambourines for ethnic flavor. A pivotal scene in the film involves Stewart's discovery of the truth in "The Necklace," for which Herrmann uses the rhythms for a final time in the form of sudden muted trumpets with striking force. In "The Letter," Novak's real identity composes and then abandons a letter to Stewart explaining what has happened to him, and during this recounting of the film's first half, Herrmann appropriately touches quickly (literally... in faster tempi) the musical ideas used in those previous scenes. The score teases you with several false endings, especially with the abrupt end of the love theme in "Finale," where a solo organ cuts in and leads to Herrmann's bombastic, tragic brass closing.

Learn about

Behind the scenes, Vertigo presented nightmares in both the recording process and on its album variations throughout the years. Due to a strike by American musicians and obscure international laws, Herrmann was forced to have the score recorded in London under the wand of Muir Mathieson. Though some believe that Mathieson's conducting was among the best for any Herrmann score, the composer himself was unsatisfied and eventually recorded his own suite of music from Vertigo. Complicating matters even more, the British musicians decided to strike as well halfway through the recording process, so Mathieson finished the recording in Vienna. The problem with this transition, however, is that the London sessions were in stereo while the Vienna sessions were in far inferior mono sound. Because of this (and many other factors), it would take nearly 40 years for a good album presentation of Vertigo to be assembled. In 1990, a Mercury label CD offered 34 minutes of stereo music from the London sessions, which luckily included most of the major cues (excluding "The Bay" and "The Letter"). Meanwhile, suites from Vertigo, usually including "Prelude" and "Scene D'Amour," began appearing in many re-recorded compilations, and these were typically well performed. The Varèse Sarabande label rectified everything in the mid-90's with both a loyal re-release of the original score and a full re-recording of the score on separate albums. The original score was assembled as best they could in 1996, with many of the mono Vienna recordings placed in film sequence with the major London ones; because of significant damage in the lack of preservation of the master tapes, some material was lost, including the "Graveyard" cue combining eerie high strings with awkwardly low clarinets. Although Varèse's album of original material was double the length of the Mercury release, it has been argued that portions of that previous album sound better. That argument had been made pointless after Varèse commissioned composer/conductor Joel McNeely to lead the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in re-recording an hour of Vertigo earlier in the same year. The performance by the RSNO, as well as McNeely's faithful interpretation of the score, is superior in every aspect. So unless you absolutely require the original recordings, in which case the late 1996 album is the most complete, the early 1996 re-recording on Varèse is a stunningly satisfying solution. No score has deserved such phenomenal treatment as much as Vertigo, and even purists will enjoy Varèse's digital rendering of this classic. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Score as Written for Film: *****
    1990 Mercury Album: ****
    1996 Varèse Sarabande Re-Recording: *****
    1996 Varèse Sarabande Original Album: ****
    Overall: *****

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 4.17 Stars
Smart Average: 3.9 Stars*
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   Vertigo Formula
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 Track Listings (1990 Mercury): Total Time: 33:51

• 1. Vertigo Prelude and Rooftop (4:34)
• 2. Madeleine and Carlotta's Portrait (3:10)
• 3. The Beach (3:28)
• 4. Farewell and the Tower (6:52)
• 5. The Nightmare and Dawn (3:28)
• 6. Love Music (5:02)
• 7. The Necklace and the Return and Finale (7:03)

 Track Listings (Varèse Re-Recording): Total Time: 36:22

• 1. Prelude and Rooftop (4:35)
• 2. Scotty Trails Madeline* (8:22)
• 3. Carlotta's Portrait (2:34)
• 4. The Bay (3:08)
• 5. By the Fireside (3:39)
• 6. The Forest (3:25)
• 7. The Beach (3:27)
• 8. The Dream (2:42)
• 9. Farewell and and the Tower (6:42)
• 10. The Nightmare and Dawn (4:10)
• 11. The Letter (3:53)
• 12. Goodnight and the Park (3:08)
• 13. Scene D'Amour (5:09)
• 14. The Necklace, The Return, and Finale (7:47)

* includes "Madeleine's First Appearance," "Madeleine's Car," "The Flower Shop," "The Alleyway," "The Mission," "Graveyard," and "Tombstone"

 Track Listings (Varèse Original): Total Time: 64:12

• 1. Prelude and Rooftop (4:39)
• 2. Scotty Trails Madeleine* (6:15)
• 3. Carlotta's Portrait (1:56)
• 4. The Bay (2:56)
• 5. By the Fireside (2:53)
• 6. The Streets (2:23)
• 7. The Forest (3:45)
• 8. The Beach (3:27)
• 9. The Dream (2:43)
• 10. Farewell and The Tower (6:54)
• 11. The Nightmare and Dawn (3:30)
• 12. The Past and The Girl (3:11)
• 13. The Letter (4:13)
• 14. Goodnight and The Park (3:03)
• 15. Scene D'Amour (5:04)
• 16. The Necklace, The Return and Finale (7:20)

* includes "Madeleine's First Appearance," "Madeleine's Car," "The Flower Shop," "The Alleyway," "The Mission," and "Mission Organ"

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert notes on all three albums are in great depth. The 1996 Varèse re-recording album contains the most detailed commentary about each cue, as well as a wealth of photos taken from the recording sessions.

  All artwork and sound clips from Vertigo are Copyright © 1996, Mercury/Philips, Varèse Sarabande, Varèse Sarabande. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 7/28/97 and last updated 9/4/06. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1997-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.