book cover Bernard Herrmann

A Heart at Fire’s Center:
The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann

No composer contributed more to film than Oscar winner Bernard Herrmann, who in over 40 scores enriched the work of such directors as Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut, and Martin Scorsese.

In this first major biography of the composer, Steven C. Smith explores the relationship between Herrmann’s music and his turbulent personal life, using previously unpublished information to illustrate Herrmann’s often outrageous behavior, his working methods, and why his music has had such lasting impact.

From his first film (Citizen Kane) to his last (Taxi Driver), Herrmann was a master of evoking psychological nuance and dramatic tension through music, often using unheard-of instrumental combinations to suit the dramatic needs of a film. His scores are among the most distinguished ever written, ranging from the fantastic (Fahrenheit 451, The Day the Earth Stood Still) to the romantic (Vertigo, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir) to the terrifying (Psycho).

Film was not the only medium in which Herrmann made a powerful mark. His radio broadcasts included Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre on the Air and The War of the Worlds. His concert music was commissioned and performed by the New York Philharmonic, and he was chief conductor of the CBS Symphony.

Almost as celebrated as these achievements are the enduring legends of Herrmann’s combativeness and volatility. Smith separates myth from fact, revealing a figure as complex as any character in the films he scored: a creative genius, an indefatigable musicologist, an explosive bully . . . and a surprisingly tender and vulnerable man, whose compassion informed his finest work.


“An exceptional work. I stand in awe of anyone who can piece together the puzzle of a man’s life so fully, especially a man as odd and contradictory as Herrmann. A brilliant job.”

—Leonard Maltin, film critic and historian

“Bernard Herrmann was a master of psychology. His incredibly innovative music ‘inhabited’ the film it was in, creating moods that stayed with the audience long after the film was over. Steven C. Smith captures the very heart of what Herrmann represented. I highly recommend this book to anyone who truly wants a glimpse into the world of this musical giant who changed the very nature of film composing.”

—Esa-Pekka Salonen, former music director, Los Angeles Philharmonic

“Fascinating. The scholarship is impeccable, the judgments sound, and the whole thing as compulsively readable as eating popcorn.”

—Nicholas Meyer, author and filmmaker

book cover Bernard Herrmann

Also by Steven C. Smith:

book cover photo of Max Steiner

Music by Max Steiner:

The Epic Life of Hollywood’s Most Influential Composer

During a seven-decade career that spanned from 19th century Vienna to 1920s Broadway to the golden age of Hollywood, three-time Academy Award winner Max Steiner did more than any other composer to establish the language of film music, while writing many of cinema’s most memorable scores.

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