Transformation of "The Psycho Theme" in Bernard Herrmann's Music for Psycho

Stephen Husarik
Originally published in Interdisciplinary Humanities, "Music in Context", 2009. Published here October 2010.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho has become one of the most celebrated American films in its genre and Bernard Herrmann’s music for the film contains an equally celebrated musical icon—the slasher music—that has become a universal motif for all slasher films. The roots of this slasher music are found in a tune called “The Psycho Theme” (a label given to it in the cue sheets) that has been largely ignored over the years. This paper illustrates how the “The Psycho Theme” is transformed throughout Psycho and how it degenerates into the most famous icon in the history of film music. In addition, a rationale is offered to explain the shift from tonal to atonal music over the course of this film.

This paper was originally read at the NAHE Association meeting, San Francisco, March 2, 2007 and at the Mid-South American Musicological Society-Music Theory Society Mega-Conference at the University of Georgia (Athens), March 16, 2007. The reprint below comes from of an article published in a special issue of Interdisciplinary Humanities entitled “Music in Context,” Fall, 2009.

Stephen Husarik is a Professor in Humanities and Music at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith.

Transformation of “The Psycho Theme” – in Bernard Herrmann’s Music for Psycho
Stephen Husarik • 2009
Music: Psycho