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Like North, Bernard Herrmann also had a solid musical grounding in New York, and was brought to Hollywood by another prestigious director, Orson Welles, with whom the composer had worked on the Mercury Theatre on the Air radio productions. Welles chose Herrmann to score his first film, the legendary Citizen Kane.
One of Herrmann’s most celebrated scores is North by Northwest. The Overture is a driving toccata for symphony orchestra that provides a propulsive prelude to one of Hitchcock’s most virtuosic and entertaining films. The entire piece is scored in 6/8 but, like Leonard Bernstein’s “America” from West Side Story, the rhythm constantly alternates between measures of standard 6/8 (123-456) and 6/8 with a 3/4 (1&-2&-3&) pattern. This rhythmic alternation gives the entire piece an exciting, if slightly off-kilter feel appropriate to the constantly shifting “wrong man” machinations of the involved plot itself.