Dissertation Index

Author: Kosovsky, Robert

Title: Bernard Herrmann's Radio Music for the Columbia Workshop

Institution: Graduate Center, the City University of New York

Completed: September 2000


The radio music of Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) is an area of his output that has escaped serious scrutiny and study. This dissertation examines the composer's development as discerned through his compositions intended to accompany radio dramas, bringing attention not only to his craft but also to the very neglected field of radio music. The Columbia Workshop (beginning in 1936) was the first regular series for which he consistently composed new music. As its music director, Herrmann was able to formulate, develop, and refine his compositional responses to narrative situations. His music for the Columbia Workshop therefore forms a logical unit for study.

A brief survey of the state of music on radio reveals that composers made adjustments in orchestration and musical style due to the needs of broadcasting. These alterations lead to the creation of an idiomatic use of music on the radio. The origins and significance of the Columbia Workshop are discussed, focusing on the experimental and adventurous nature of the program. Begun by producer/director Irving Reis (who had begun work as an engineer), the Workshop sought to explore and find innovative ways of using the radio and putting these innovations to work for dramatic narrative.

Herrmann's familiarity with theatre and his compositions for ballet sequences in Broadway plays prepared him for composing music for the radio. His first works for the medium, a genre he called "Melodrams," consisted of poetry recitations to musical scores. This provided a foundation for his introduction to the Columbia Workshop, which began with dramatizations of poetry. His initial efforts for the Workshop revealed certain issues that would remain significant throughout his career on radio as well as in his later work for film and television. These issues involved borrowing and reuse of previously composed music, the influence of narrative sound effects on music, the problem of underscoring dialogue, the creation of a musical continuum parallel to the dramatic narrative, and the creation of structural organization. Various excerpts of incidental music from plays composed during the period 1937-39 are discussed, concluding with an examination of Herrmann's collaborations with author Norman Corwin, in particular the latter's play Untitled.

The history of Herrmann's development as a composer is but one part of a larger history of radio music that has yet to be written. This dissertation may serve as the foundation for such a history.

Keywords: radio music, radio drama, American music


Chapter 1 : Introduction
Chapter 2: Biographical Background on Bernard Herrmann
Chapter 3: The Columbia Workshop
Chapter 4: Music on the Radio in the 1930s
Chapter 5 : The Melodrams
Chapter 6 : Early Dramas
Chapter 7 : Columbia Workshop Plays 1937-39
Chapter 8 : The Corwin-Herrmann Collaboration
Chapter 9 : Conclusion


Robert Kosovsky
121 Bennett Ave., Apt. 25-A
New York, NY 10033
(212) 795-3843

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