The Murder  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"The Murder" is a cinematic score written and composed by Bernard Herrmann for the horror-thriller film Psycho (1960) directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The score, its second movement in particular, is well recognized as arguably one of the most famous scores in movie history. It scored for an original orchestra's string section.

Shower scene

The score was composed for the famous "shower scene", the murder of Janet Leigh's character. Hitchcock originally wanted the sequence (and all motel scenes) to play without music, but Herrmann insisted he try it with the cue he had composed. Afterward, Hitchcock agreed that it vastly intensified the scene, and he nearly doubled Herrmann's salary.


The score is divided into three main movements:

1st Movement

The first movement of the score is made up of multiple runs, trills, and short, staccato stabs played agitato. While there is no direct melody, the fast-pacseded runs constantly switch around between the keys of F, F#, C#, and D, with a few sections played in G. A notable feature that Herrmann implemented is the use of alternating eighth-note semitones to create a sense of approaching and imminent danger. John Williams made this technique famous 15 years later in his score for Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975). The movement ends with a high Dbmaj7/Bb chord that crescendoes to an abrupt fermata cutoff.

2nd Movement

The second movement is the most recognizable piece of the score: directly after the first movement's fermata, a lone first violin launches directly into a series of discordant, screechy glissandos before being joined by the rest of the string section. This pattern is repeated twice, albeit the second set of glissandos is notated somewhat differently. The movements ends with another fermata.

3rd Movement

The cello and contrabass start the third movement with long, low, drawn out dotted half-notes that are answered with minute, staccato stabs from the rest of the string section. The half-notes alternate between E and F 3 three times before going down to C.

Outside Psycho

  • In the "Itchy & Scratchy & Marge" episode of The Simpsons, "The Murder" plays when Maggie finds a hammer and hits Homer on the head, which causes him to tear out a curtain and spill red paint, which then flows into a drain.
  • In the episode "The Springfield Files" of The Simpsons, the second movement of "The Murder" begins playing while Homer Simpson is nearly run over by a bus on his way home. However, the bus pulls up in front of him, and is revealed to be the bus for the Springfield Philharmonic Orchestra, who are practicing Herrmann's composition. A female violinist then exits, still playing the haunting final fermata of the second movement as she walks away.
  • "The Murder" is played in the 2003 Disney and Pixar movie, Finding Nemo. In this movie, the music plays when Darla, the dentist's niece with braces who is feared by the captive fishes for shaking one to death in a bag, walks in to the office and also when she looks directly at them.
  • It plays in another 2003 film, Looney Tunes: Back in Action when Bugs Bunny screams and pretends to be dead. The scene also substitutes chocolate powder flowing down a drain as blood does in Psycho.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Murder" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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