Hitchcock’s thriller Psycho is one of the classics of American cinema. The movie tells the story of the psychopathic serial killer Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, who runs a motel off the beaten track and lives alone with his mother in a Victorian villa right next door. Bernard Herrmann provided the film music. Alongside Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Franz Waxman, he was among the most successful Hollywood composers of this time: the squeaking string glissandi that accompany the famous murder in the shower (The Murder) are guaranteed to give you goose bumps, and have become the often-copied topos for depicting horror in film music.
Sir Simon Rattle programmed Herrmann’s Psycho Suite for Strings followed by the music for Arnold Schoenberg’s expressionist stage work The Hand of Fate. The one-act play, pre-arranged by the “logic of the dream” (Kurt Blaukopf), addresses the artist’s (futile) attempt to establish the spiritual creative element in an uncomprehending material world. The music full of spontaneity and conciseness corresponds with the text in a figurative and associative way – including ostinato sound fields and “colour crescendos”, as well as ever-shifting melodies and a constant stream of new harmonic ideas.
After Schoenberg’s Expressionist depiction of a dream, in which the artist (sung by bass-baritone Florian Boesch) surrenders to the laughter of an invisible crowd, the orchestra play Carl Nielsen’s multi-coloured shimmering pastorale Pan and Syrinx and his Fourth Symphony The Inextinguishable – Nielsen’s Expressionist contribution to the European modern era, in which the composer captured in music “the unquenchable will to live” during the catastrophe of the First World War. The work’s humanist message was understood even at the successful premiere – not least due to the finale, in which a second pair of timpani positioned in front of the orchestra duels with the other pair of timpani before the music concludes in a radiant E major.