Echoes for String Quartet is tinged with a certain melancholy, an indication of the composer’s state of mind during its composition. After 15 years, Bernard Herrmann’s second marriage had painfully collapsed, and his once-solid career creating music for films was looking increasingly shaky. Perhaps it was indeed this confluence of events that prompted Herrmann – after well over a decade writing music exclusively for the cinema – to turn once again to the concert hall.
The composer himself described this work as “a series of nostalgic emotional remembrances” and while it contains much that is likely personal, the work also alludes to many of Herrmann’s most memorable musical achievements. The plucked strings near the work’s opening, for example, reference Psycho – the Hitchcock film Herrmann scored at the pinnacle of his career; elsewhere there are hints of the memory waltz from Snows of Kilimanjaro; while the violin harmonics that surface at the quartet’s close evoke Vertigo’s tragic heroine.
In Herrmann’s mind, exploiting film music for use in the concert hall would not have been a source of tension. He considered all music should be assessed solely on its merits – a view at odds with others in the musical establishment who believed film music to be inherently inferior. In fact when pushed, the composer declared that ‘a film score will live longer that any other kind of music’.
Herrmann’s commitment to the artistic integrity of his film music was, in part, responsible fr the decline in demand for his services at the time Echoes was created. Ultimately, it also contributed to his falling out with Alfred Hitchcock – the film director and long-time collaborator with whom Herrmann had produced many landmark scores. While Hitchcock was willing to acquiesce to industry pressure for film scores that would result in a hit song – or at the very least, would be commercially exploitable – Herrmann refused to alter his style accordingly. When Hitchcock finally pulled rank, Herrmann resented the interference, and the relationship came to an abrupt conclusion.