Vertigo was composed for the Tippett Quartet which first performed it in March 2011. The music took as its starting point a fragment of music from the score which Bernard Herrmann composed for the Hitchcock film of the same name because the original commission had come from the ‘Partners in Suspense’ conference (held in York that year) which explored the collaboration between Hitchcock and Herrmann.
The link to Herrmann’s music was a given but it was always the intention to create an original piece of music which was authentically my own and which could enjoy a life beyond the conference. It isn’t in any sense an arrangement of Herrmann’s score, rather a creative response to Herrmann’s (and Hitchcock’s) work on a number of different intertextual levels.
Martin Scorsese wrote in Sound and Vision: ‘Hitchcock’s film is all about obsession…it’s about circling back to the same moment again and again…and the music is also built around spirals and circles – fulfilment and despair…Herrmann really understood that Hitchcock wanted to penetrate to the heart of obsession’. So just as Hitchcock uses repetition of themes and events to represent Scottie’s growing obsession with Madeleine and his spiralling decline, my music is based on a strict cyclic structure in which the series of musical events stated at the outset (beginning with an aggressive gesture from viola) is repeated five times and on each cycle is subject to a different process of development or transformation – but still remains recognisable and therefore becomes increasingly obsessive.
The fifth cycle in particular draws closer to Herrmann’s ‘obsession’ motif – a plaintive falling figure, based on the musical technique of suspension; highly appropriate since falling – physically and emotionally – is at the heart of the film – and it is also a theme which has recurred my work on several occasions.
The sixth cycle begins but the spell is immediately broken and the work ends as it began.