North by Northwest, Prelude (Fandango)
Hitchcock’s ultimate "wrong man" thriller, written by Ernest Lehman (whom Herrmann introduced to the director), catapults Cary Grant from the urban jungle of Madison Avenue to the dizzying peak of Mount Rushmore. Its scenario was summed up by the composer as a "crazy dance between Cary Grant and the world"; another milestone in the Herrmann-Hitchcock partnership, it was a rare chance for the composer to write music infused with humor (he’d long wished to score a comedy).
Originally, MGM wanted Herrmann to write "Gershwinesque" music for the 1959 film’s title sequence, a montage of bustling New Yorkers. Instead, the composer chose a less hackneyed path, using the Spanish dance form of the fandango to create a prelude that encapsulates the movie’s wit, its sense of danger, and its breathless energy.
Steven C. Smith is the author of A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann (University of California Press, 1991), and a recipient of the Deems Taylor Award for writing on music. He is currently a writer/producer on the A&E television series Biography.