Does Bernard Herrmann's "Psycho" theme sample "Ode to Joy"?

Discussion in 'TV & Media' started by Gaith, Feb 11, 2013.

  1. Gaith

    Gaith Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I was just remembering how I'd played Bernard Herrmann's "Psycho" theme for my mother a few years ago, who'd never seen the movie. I noted how particularly haunting the graceful high-pitched melody was in comparison to the rest of the lower-pitched, thundering strings. She agreed, and said it sounded a lot like Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" chorus. I hadn't noticed that, but upon re-listening, was entirely convinced.

    Check it out here, at the 34, 106, and 132 second marks: Psycho Opening Credits

    The first few notes of this melody strike me as very similar to the iconic "BA BA BA BA, BA BA BA BA"s of the "Ode to Joy" chorus. Of course, from there, the likenesses falters and soon sputters out, while the lower thundering strings continue on. And wouldn't it be totally perfect for the movie's themes and daring to violate and cut up perhaps the most famous happy melody of all time?

    But, searching the Googles just now, I was unable to find this observation anywhere else. If it was a deliberate homage on Hermann's part, it seems to have gone unnoticed, at least so far as I can tell.

    Anyone else agree? :)
     
  2. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    It matches the cadence (for the first 13 notes), but not the melody. The part you're referring to goes A#-B-C#-B-A#-G#-F#-F, E-F#-G-A-B-G-F#-E. The part of "Ode to Joy" you're thinking of goes F#-F#-G-A-A-G-F#-E, D-D-E-F#-F#, E-E. In other words, "Psycho" is start-up-up-down-down-down-down-down, down-up-up-up-up-down-down-down, while "Ode to Joy" is start-same-up-up-same-down-down-down, down-same-up-up-same, down-same. There's enough similarity that I can see how one could remind you of the other, but they're clearly different melodies.

    Bernard Herrmann was known for sometimes borrowing pre-existing melodies, but, as with James Horner, it was his own melodies that he recycled. For instance, his Marnie theme was a reworking of the Arabesque portion of the theme to The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
     
  3. Gaith

    Gaith Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Well, I wasn't meaning "sample" in a literal sense, but in a metaphorical one. A note-for-note sample of the Ode to Joy melody would hardly have fit the rest of the theme. And if, as you say, the cadence matches, might it not be a stretch to assume Hermann didn't think of Beethoven's motif while writing the Psycho score?

    I could be making something out of nothing here, but it seems to me that that'd be like a playwright composing a sentence along the lines of "I'm considering offing myself, but maybe I shouldn't", and not being reminded of "to be, or not to be..."
     
  4. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Well, rhythmically, it's just a sequence of a bunch of successive quarter notes in 4-4 time, and that's so basic that there are plenty of pieces of music you could compare it to. It's not even remotely unusual enough a pattern to suggest that there's any direct reference intended between these two specific examples. I mean, the Kreutzer etudes that Jack Benny was constantly mangling on his violin as a running gag also have the same simple rhythmic pattern, but I don't think Herrmann was referencing them. There's also a part of John Williams's Close Encounters score that has much the same rhythmic pattern -- though it's possible that there might've been an actual stylistic influence from Herrmann there.

    There are only so many ways to put notes together in a euphonious way. Lots of bits of music sound kind of like other bits of music, and most of the time it's a coincidence. Heck, plenty of things in life in general will always remind you of other things, because there are plenty of recurring patterns and limitations in the world. So you can't assume that every similarity you notice is evidence of an intentional reference. The overwhelming majority of the time, it won't be.
     

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