Home > Reviews > BATTLE OF NERETVA/THE NAKED AND THE DEAD – Bernard Herrmann


October 20, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy


Battle of Neretva is based on actual historical events and was made to celebrate the victory of Yugoslav partisans over the Nazis. In the beginning of 1943 Hitler issued a personal order for his generals to commence operation “Weiss”, which was designed to root out and destroy Yugoslav partisan units. Pushed by far more powerful enemy, the partisans reeled under the attack incurring many casualties, 4500 wounded and a typhus outbreak. As they retreated, they found themselves surrounded in Neretva valley. Only one bridge remained, with heavy enemy forces waiting on the other side, set to massacre the remaining fighters and fleeing non-combatants. Marshall Tito ordered the partisans to destroy the bridge apparently trapping his forces. The move surprised the Germans who responded by transferring their forces to the other side, predicting that Partisans would attempt the suicidal break through. But, during only one night, the partisans managed to build a provisional bridge near the destroyed one and cross to the other side, tricking the enemy. The film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film but failed to win.

The Yugoslav film was bought, severely reedited from 175 minutes to 127 minutes, which rendered the original score by Croatian composer Vladimir Kraus-Rajteric unusable. As such, producers Henry Weinstein and Anthony Unger of Commonwealth United Entertainment hired Bernard Herrmann to score their new English language version. Herrmann was afforded a massive 98-piece orchestra with doubled woodwind and horn sections. Most interesting is that Herrmann purposely incorporated music from not only some of his earlier scores but also from his concert works. He stated that he intended to “dress them up” and restate his themes in a new context. I would have to say that he succeeded on all counts. The score features a multiplicity of themes including the ethnic Heroic Theme, which animates the film. Emblematic of the partisans, it is infused with a Slavic sensibility that is emoted by strings and unison horns. The aggressive and militaristic War Theme is a repeating two note minor second statement carried by bellicoso snare drums and low register horns, which often appears during battle scenes. The Nazi Attack Theme, which was taken from the rejected “Torn Curtain” score. This theme is a terrifying marcia dell’inferno, an aggressive, militaristic repeating five-note statement emoted with menacing horns and potent percussion. The theme is perfectly conceived and embodies the cruelty and barbarity of the Nazi war machine. There is also the Riva’s Theme, where Herrmann transplants his main theme from his “Souvenirs de Voyage” concert piece for clarinet quintet. Now fully orchestrated with violins carrying the melodic line, it is employed for scenes for the character Nero and in Italy where it provides a gentile, relaxed and romantic ambiance. Lastly, there is the Pastoral Theme, which is adapted from Herrmann’s concert piece “For The Fallen” and whose elegiac ambiance it retains. The melodic line has a pastoral, contemplative sensibility emoted by strings and woodwinds.

The film starts off powerfully with the horrors of war as we see the Nazi’s bombing Yugoslav cities. “Prelude” is an energetic piece that immediately establishes the brutality of war with a fine interplay of two primary themes; the driving and militaristic War Theme countered by the determined and heroic Heroic Theme. This is a fine suite, which concludes with one of Herrmann’s vintage horn flourishes. Bravo! “Nazi Attack” introduces one of the score’s highlights, which can only be describes as a Marcia dell’inferno. Herrmann introduces his horn laden Nazi Attack Theme, which drives forth with the horrific and brutal power of timpani and snare drums. Dark, unrelenting and ferocious, this cue is just outstanding writing! In “Retreat” we open with Herrmann’s trademark repeating tonal heraldic horn statements, which usher in the Heroic Theme, now stripped by battlefield realities of its heroic energy. The melodic line is forlorn and full of despair as our heroes retreat to an uncertain fate with the Nazi’s in pursuit. Herrmann again insightfully captures the sad narrative of these scenes. “The Poem” features the Heroic Theme, now emoted as a Marcia funebre carried by lamentoso strings and distant, muted trumpet fare.

The following three cues all feature the elegiac Pastoral Theme, which draw inspiration from his concert work “For The Fallen”. “Dawn” is a contemplative cue where we hear a plaintive solo oboe, supported by textural violins and kindred woodwinds as the partisans wake to a new day. In “Pastorale” it is carried with greater lyricism by violins. While in the textural “Waiting”, an opening statement by horns heroica dissipates into dissonance, which ushers in mysterioso strings replete with a series of antiphonal chords from trumpets and trombones

The following six cues all feature Riva’s Theme, which draw inspiration from the main theme his concert work “Souvenirs de Voyage” with the clarinet quintet melodic line now fully orchestrated. In “From Italy” we hear a violin carried melody that is accompanied by woodwinds, which serve to create a gentile and relaxed ambiance. This cue is really a nice listen and respite from an otherwise brutal score. Reprises of Riva’s Theme are heard in the cues “Italian”, “Riva’s Death”, “Grief”, where we are treated to interplay with a very emotional rendering of the Heroic Theme, “Danica’s Death” where it is emoted by accordion and strings as a lamentation for the death of our heroine, and lastly in the very moving “Separation” where the melodic line is embellished with evocative solos by oboe, flute, clarinet and English horn. What a beautiful cue.

We see the partisans in full retreat in “Rout”, which explodes as a marcia feroce driven by militaristic snare drums, kindred timpani and trumpet fare. The cue ends darkly with a triad of dire chords. “Tanks” features a powerful extended statement of the Nazi Attack Theme. Herrmann adds a repeating contrapuntal horn line that provides complexity to the march, which serves to amplify its dark and brutal power. Nicely done! “The Road” is simply an outstanding cue and a score highlight. It renders the Heroic Theme as a lamentation; a sad marcia funebre emoted by forlorn horns and paced by grim timpani. There is a number of Herrmann’s signature fortissimo horn statements that serve to make this 5-minute cue one of the score’s most powerful and dramatic cues.

“Partisan March” is a marcia bellicoso that supports the partisans. We open dramatically with a repeating four-note line carried by very low register woodwinds and militaristic snare drums, which usher in a resolute and aggressive horn line. The cue drives forth fiercely and culminates with a trio of three note horn blasts with pounding timpani. Shattering timpani with snare drum counters are soon joined by blaring horns, which carry the cue to a concluding horn blast and terminal drum roll. Wow, this dramatic cue really showcases the renowned Herrmannesque power! This dark march is reprised in “The Front” but emoted with greater intensity and potency. “The Trestle” is a textural drum lover’s dream as it features a dark march propelled by timpani, snare drums, tenor drums and a bass drum that support eerie tremolo strings and dark low register woodwinds emoting a foreboding War Theme. In “Suspense” the music is truly haunting and features a repeating string line countered by woodwinds replete with tremolo strings and muted horns. Mid cue the horns come to the forefront replacing the strings but retaining the woodwind counters now augmented with timpani rolls. This is just superb writing.

“Death Hunt” is an astounding tour de force and a score highlight. Although Herrmann transplants this cue from his “On Dangerous Ground” score, he perfects it and by doing so gains immortality. Written now for full orchestra Herrmann strengthened his brass by providing eight French horns, six trumpets, six trombones and two tubas. The music is brazen, powerful and imbued with a potent ferocity, indeed this driving and unrelenting cue features wondrous antiphonal writing and is one hell of a ride! “The Bridge” reveals the partisans destroying the bridge and we are again treated to classic unbridled Herrmannesque power. We open with three massive chords rendered by timpani, tuba and horns. Trumpet and trombones counter as the chords continue to sound and build tension. Woodwinds join the fray with the chords now answering their statements. We conclude with and astounding fortissimo climax of two thundering chords with horn flourishes, the first in E-flat minor and the second in B minor, which fade to nothingness on a snare drum roll. Wow!

In “The Message” we again bear witness to antiphonal writing with the Heroic Theme sounding as fanfare by two muted trumpets that are countered by two bass clarinets. Nicely done. “Hunt Scherzo” is derived from the scherzo movement of Herrmann’s 1941 Symphony. For this score he fortified it with additional woodwinds and percussion, which serve to amplify its dramatic statement. This cue lacks a clear and flowing melodic line and instead abounds with fine dissonant writing, ornate orchestrations and a complex modernist tone. The blizzard of notes and interplay of countering sections of the orchestra present a challenge to the listener and I believe several listens are needed to really appreciate the genius of Herrmann’s writing.

Well, hold on to your seats for “Battle and Fanfares”, which is truly a score highlight. Herrmann provides us truly sterling contrapuntal writing with a fine interplay of the Heroic Theme, Nazi Attack Theme, War Theme and the fanfares first emoted in the cue “Tanks”. We bear witness to battle scenes where his muscular music transcends the film’s imagery. Thundering timpani and militaristic snare drums pound with unrelenting fury as we see the competing horn laden themes wage battle with dramatic power and ferocity. The cue’s concludes in classic Herrmannesque style with two resounding horn flourishes. I thank God for men who can write music such as this! “Slow March” reprises the “Prelude” with the Heroic Theme now funereal and emoted as a marcia solenne. The cue’s concluding two dramatic horn flourishes are breath taking.

“Finale” opens with Herrmann’s classic repeating tonal heraldic horn statements, which usher in a solemn rendering of the Heroic Theme. After a string bridge the theme is rearticulated with much greater potency, which gradually subsides and concludes as a diminuendo. There is no heroism to be found here; rather the narrative speaks to the terrible suffering and grim devastation of war. We conclude with classic Herrmannesque style with “End Title” where we are treated to a rousing restatement of the “Partisan March” carried by a full horns and percussion. While not celebratory, the march reveals both defiance and optimism for the future. What a satisfying conclusion!


The Naked and the Dead was based on wartime author Norman Mailer’s famous novel. Warner Brothers bought the rights and hired Raoul Walsh to direct. The WWII film concerns a mission where a squad of men is sent covertly to a mountaintop behind enemy lines to report on the Japanese troop movements. The squad includes Sam Croft (Aldo Ray) a tough, cynical and uncompromising Sergeant who takes no prisoners and the more ethical Lieutenant Robert Hearn (Cliff Robertson) who commands the mission. This sets up a conflict since Croft wants to complete the mission as ordered, and will do everything he can to ensure that it is successful. The narrative speaks to men who want earnestly to make a difference but never the less fail despite their best efforts because modern war has grown beyond the means of any individual to control.

Walter Schumann was producer Paul Gregory’s first choice for composer, but Bernard Herrmann was coming off his triumph with “Vertigo” and so secured the assignment. Herrmann resolved very early to depart from his normal style of scoring and the traditional methods of supporting war films, instead choosing to embrace more abstract and non-melodic modernist methods. Herrmann eschewed the traditional orchestra to instead work with a massive assembly of horns and percussion reinforced by three clarinets, three bass clarinets, two bassoons, two contrabassoons and two harps. The resultant product is Herrmann’s most modernist score.

“Prelude” immediately establishes the modernist tone of the score as we open with percussive ostinato carried by pounding bass drums and timpani, which usher in a powerful heraldic and militaristic horn line that dissipates in a diminuendo. “The Jungle” is a wonderful textural cue where Herrmann uses harp and low register woodwinds to impart the squad’s anxiety and unease with the unfamiliar jungle terrain. “The Snake” is a masterful cue where Herrmann uses his instruments to simulate the slithering serpentine motion of a snake. Saw-like scrapes and pedal glissandi from the harps create anxiety as they usher in an ascending and intensifying line of low woodwinds with counters from muted trumpets to support the snake’s movement. The motif’s line flips and changes cadence as the trumpets now lead and the woodwinds counter. Rolling timpani and harp join to add to the disquiet. This is really some amazing and creative writing! “The Buzzards” is another non-thematic textural cue that evokes unease and disquiet. We hear a descending line carried by bass clarinets, bassoons and contrabassoon that are joined by tubas, antiphonal trombones and tam-tam to create an almost alien soundscape. In “The Pass” the ambiance continues with muted trumpets playing atop an ominous timpani cadence as a descending line of woodwinds are echoed with antiphonal trombones.

“Wilson’s Death” is a dichotomous cue that opens somberly with tonal woodwinds lamentoso. At 0:37 the musical line mutates atop squawking muted trumpets, which seem to mock and create a travesty of Wilson’s death. “The Mountain Ledge” is an amazing cue where Herrmann employs a wondrous array of textural writing. We open with tonal horn calls that usher in ethereal harps, which play atop tonal woodwinds. Next arise deep bass chords from contrabassoons that are countered by squawking woodwinds and timpani, which serve to create a stark soundscape. At 0:49 the musical flow shifts to a repeating descending three note motif by bass clarinets and bassoons countered by stopped horns and muted trombones. Wow! Next comes “The Fall”, a remarkable cue, which opens with brazen flutter-tongue horns in a repeating descending line replete with harp glissandi – a most amazing effect! Timpani halt the sequence and usher in a new line where tonal clarinet statements are echoed by bass clarinets until both dissipate in a diminuendo. “The Fog” is purely a tonal cue. It opens with a pulsatile tritone motif born by bass clarinet, trombone and timpani from which arise a mysterioso descending line of bassoons and clarinets.

“Croft’s Death” is a powerful cue and a score highlight. Deep resonating woodwinds and horns duel as Herrmann uses a classic accelerando to amplify the tension as we are propelled towards crescendo. At 0:34 trademark Herrmannesque tonal horns sound with woodwind counters as Croft meets his death. At 0:54 the squawking muted trumpets first heard in “Wilson’s Death” reprise to similarly mock Croft’s well-deserved death. In “Prayer and Rescue” we open with a solo French horn line that plays atop tonal woodwinds, which speaks to the men’s hope for rescue. Woodwinds take up the line and are joined by muted trombones, which impart a religioso ambiance. The cue ends with a stirring interplay in the form of a repeating four note motif born by French horns countered by muted trumpets and trombones. We conclude our journey with “Finale”, which reprises the opening “Prelude”, now augmented by organ pedals and ending with a horn flourish!

I must thank Anna Bonn, John Morgan, William Stromberg and the Tribute Film Classics team for another stunning reconstruction and rerecording. The 96kHz/24 bit quality is flawless and testimony to their commitment to excellence. “Battle of Neretva” features classic Herrmannesque power with wondrous horn and percussion writing. The score is complex, laden with several marches and multi-thematic. It offers enduring affirmation of Herrmann’s skill as a composer. I highly recommend it as part of your collection. “The Naked and the Dead” is a most welcome addition in that it showcases a side of Herrmann not often seen or appreciated. This modernist, tonal, non-thematic score constitutes an amazing departure from his usual scoring sensibilities. The music is innovative, creative and imbued with abstract tonal constructs, which are just first rate. I really appreciate this score and recommend it. For those of you that require a melodic line to connect to a score, this score will prove challenging. But I highly encourage the exploration!

Buy the Battle of Neretva/The Naked and the Dead soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prelude (2:26)
  • Nazi Attack (2:47)
  • Retreat (3:23)
  • Dawn (1:39)
  • The Poem (0:51)
  • Rout (1:05)
  • From Italy (2:46)
  • The Flag (0:58)
  • Tanks (1:38)
  • The Road (5:12)
  • Pastorale (1:57)
  • March (1:51)
  • Grief (1:15)
  • The Trestle (0:50)
  • Suspense (1:19)
  • The Lookout (1:40)
  • Death Hunt (2:12)
  • The Bridge (1:30)
  • The Message (0:57)
  • Waiting (1:08)
  • Hunt Scherzo (1:48)
  • Danica’s Death (1:41)
  • The Front (2:19)
  • Battle and Fanfares (4:59)
  • Separation (3:36)
  • Italian (0:58)
  • Slow March (2:09)
  • Riva’s Death (1:17)
  • Finale (2:45)
  • End Title (1:39)
  • Prelude (1:57)
  • The Jungle (0:56)
  • The Snake (1:53)
  • The Buzzards (1:41)
  • The Grenades (0:24)
  • the Pass (1:51)
  • Wilson’s Death (0:58)
  • The Mountain Ledge (1:33)
  • The Fall (0:48)
  • The Fog (0:40)
  • Croft’s Death (1:26)
  • Prayer and Rescue (1:38)
  • Finale (1:14)

Running Time: 77 minutes 16 seconds

Tribute Film Classics TFC-1007 (1969/1958/2011)

Music composed by Bernard Herrmann. Conducted by William Stromberg. Performed by The Moscow Symphony Orchestra.Recorded and mixed by Alexander Volkov. Album produced by Anna Bonn, John Morgan and William Stromberg.

  1. October 25, 2014 at 7:34 am

    Thanks for the indication, Craig! This score is really great, every Herrmann fan should own this.

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