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  • unSUNg Team

Halloween tribute: Two iconic film composers who deserve a second, third and fourth listen

This is a bit of a departure for us, but with the proliferation of Halloween "best" lists and special collections for the spooky season on every streaming channel, we've been thinking a lot about film music... particularly the music that drives the cinema of horror and suspense.

While the unSUNg team is formulating our next moves and gearing up for 2022, we'd like to share a few notes on two film composers from Hollywood's previous generations who made their respective marks in similar and different ways.

This is just for fun: we are not film music experts, but share a deep appreciation of that art, particularly as Southern California's arts world is so steeped in and often overshadowed by the neighboring film industry. That ever-present influence is a major factor in the way music is produced and cast here in Los Angeles, and the more you know about film history and how it helped to build the town where we live and work, the more fascinating it becomes. So please allow us to (re-)introduce... Bernard Hermann and Franz Waxman.

If you're a film buff, you've probably heard or seen these names before, as they are truly legends in the field. Both were Oscar-winners and wildly prolific creators of music for the silver screen (when screens were actually silver), and their work is part of enduring classics that have been hallowed and examined to the nth degree. They both worked with Alfred Hitchcock several times, and both have hundreds of credits on IMDb. They were both of German descent, but while Hermann was a New Yorker who lived in the US throughout his life, while Waxman (née Wachsmann) was a Jewish emigré who fled German during World War II. Both found careers in the film industry, yet wrote other music, as well: one of Bernard Hermann's best-known (yet little-known) off-screen works is the opera based on Wuthering Heights, and Waxman's orchestral works are still respected, although not often played. They both championed the work of other composers as well: Hermann did a great deal to support lesser-known composers throughout his career, and Waxman was the founder of the Los Angeles International Music Festival in 1947, which he helmed until his death two decades later.

So these guys are both film music behemoths. What does this have to do with Halloween?

Take a look at some of the films they scored -- this is just a sampling of their films (check out TV, too!), including several that are perfect for this time of year. If you don't have your own copy of any of these, check out JustWatch to see where you might find it available for streaming. Happy watching!

Bernard Hermann (1911-1975)

Franz Waxman (1906-1967)

Psycho (1960)

Cape Fear (1962)

Suspicion (1941)

Rebecca (1940)

Stalag 17 (1953)

NOTE: The lists are in alphabetical order by composer name. But the order of films in each list is entirely preferential, finalized after much discussion (with two spooky and related Christmas departures). Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments!

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