Jane Eyre

CD Review: Jane Eyre

Nobody conjures up unrequited love like those wacky Brontë sisters. And with all the doom and gloom of its Gothic trappings, there’s a reason why JANE EYRE has remained a classic for 165 years—Jane is one strong-willed lady. If the 1943 film version only gives you the bare essentials of Charlotte Brontë’s story and Joan Fontaine’s performance is a bit milquetoast for such pre-feminist leanings, George Barnes’ evocative cinematography peeks into the shadows and corners of Thornfield Hall with pure Gothic atmosphere. Arguably the most successful element in the film is Bernard Herrmann‘s passionate, heaving score, which was recently reissued on Naxos from a superb 1994 rerecording.

On his fourth score, Herrmann began his lengthy tenure at 20th Century Fox. And as a self-professed Anglophile, Herrmann’s love for the works of the Brontë sisters shows in his lush, passionate music. The score is full of his signature minor-key harmonic structure and dark orchestrations, especially in the bass clarinets, contrabassoons and muted low brass.

The “Prelude” begins with the yearning love theme, a conflicted melody that twists and turns upon itself, with surprising harmonic choices. The oboe at the end of the track gives plaintive voice to Jane’s simple wishes and innocent inner passions.

Jane Eyre film score
“Rochester’s Past / The Fire”

Using the first four notes of the love theme, Rochester’s (Orson Welles) theme is every bit as dark and mysterious as the character. The theme announces itself in rousing fashion as Rochester appears on horseback, while the theme catches up with the character’s past as a mysterious presence sets fire to his room.

But not everything in the score is doom and gloom. Tracks like “Jane’s Departure” from her indenture at the home of her aunt, and “Dreaming” and “Springtime” sparkle with bustling energy and major-key happiness. But moments like these are quick little flickers of candlelight in the dark, illuminating Jane’s basic, unwavering faith in herself.

Herrmann was the perfect choice to score the film. His dark sonorities capture the shadows lurking in Thornfield Hall and swirling in the mist of the moors. Fans of Herrmann’s opera of Wuthering Heights will recognize Jane’s love theme as the foundation for Cathy’s Act III aria, “Oh, I am burning.”

I never heard the original release on the Marco Polo label, so I can’t address the disparaging comments I’ve read about its sound quality. If there were issues, they have been rectified on the Naxos reissue. The sound is full-bodied and lush, as befitting the music. Adriano’s conducting of the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra brings the score to vibrant life. He captures Herrmann’s intentions without remaining a slave to the tempi and dynamics of the original soundtrack.

If you want Herrmann’s own interpretation, you’ll need Varese Sarabande’s out-of-print Bernard Herrmann at 20th Century Fox box. For those who didn’t purchase that set, and even for those who did, the Naxos reissue makes a worthy, enjoyable alternative. JANE EYRE represents the romantic side of Herrmann—haunted, conflicted, and thoroughly mesmerizing.

  1. A Literary classic with a classic by one of the greats. The Naxos re-issue is from the Marco Polo label, which was/is the full-price label of Naxos’ parent company.

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