November 1, 2012

Audio clip of the overture 01 – Overture-Omens of Nosferatu  Audio clip of the 02 – Hutter and Ellen James Bernard (1925-2001), composer of the famous Dracula motif for Hammer films, was commissioned by silent film historian Kevin Brownlow in 1995 to write a score for the F.W. Murnau’s silent classic Nosferatu (1922), the first film version of Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula (1897). There was no approval from the Stoker estate for this project and as a result names had to be changed such as Orlok for Dracula and the title of the film to Nosferatu. Little did we know how many versions there would be from the Irish author Bram Stoker (1847-1912). There have been other scores written for the film by composers including the original from Popol Vuh, Sosin, Hourbette and Zaboitzeff, and Williams. I’ve included a link to give you an idea of the variations available for purchase. Bernard approached this project as if he were composing a symphonic tone poem, combining the themes of Orlok, Ellen, Hutter, and Knock into the 14 track 63 minute work. Bernard’s first and only attempt at composing for a silent film proved to be quite a challenge for someone who was a veteran of 38 movies, mostly Hammer productions. Many times he had to contend with sound effects from the film. While he still had to write for the visual part of the film he had more flexibility and critically listening to it gives one a feeling of hearing it in a concert hall. “Overture-Omens of Nosferatu” introduces the Orlok theme, from the lower register of the orchestra such as the contrabassoon which is sure to challenge your woofers a bit. This theme simply oozes evil and terror and as you listen you just know something terrible is going to happen. While the orchestration and motif have some similarity to his “Horror of Dracula” theme, it is still quite unique. I certainly like the dark harmony he uses to make this track one to be played  on Halloween. Without pause the music shifts 180 degrees to “Hutter and Ellen” introduces first the Hutter theme a happy carefree period piece melody played by flutes with pizzicato from the strings. Ellen’s theme is one of yearning as the orchestra switches to strings only with the violins playing the melody and the harmony coming from the cellos and violas.  “Ellen’s Disquiet” offers both the Hutter and Ellen theme plus the danger chords of vampire music lurking about at the end of the cue. “Loading the Coffins” introduces the distorted dissonant theme of Knock (Renfield in Dracula), a servant of Orlock. “The Pursuit of Knock” shows why Bernard is at the top of the list when it comes to writing chase music. The strings and percussion just build and build going faster and faster to a climax. I truly enjoy listening to a writer who uses the leitmotif composing style and will change the tempo and the style of the themes depending on the situation in the picture. This score is a good example of what to do to achieve maximum effect with the themes you’ve created. Listening to “Orlok’s Lair” with the switching between themes is a good example of how effective the leitmotif writing can be as it tells the story between good and evil. Nosferatu is just one of a continuing effort (I previously reviewed The Fugitive) by Silva to make available their older releases in a digital format, many CD’s only available at a premium price on the second hand market. Nosferatu is a good example of how to write gothic material. This is one of my top 100 scores of all time and one that I revisit on a regular basis. Highly recommended. Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Conducted by Nic Raine. Originally Released on Silva CD SSD 1084 Track listing: 1. Overture – Omens of Nosferatu (03:03) 2. Hutter and Ellen (02:11) 3. Ellen’s Disquiet (05:12) 4. Journey to Orlok’s Castle (06:04) 5. In the Castle (05:21) 6. Ellen Sleep-walks (06:10) 7. Hutter’s Discovery (03:24) 8. Loading the Coffins (03:58) 9. Ellen by the Seashore (03:23) 10. The Ship of Doom (05:19) 11. Orlok’s Lair (02:43) 12. The Plague (05:55) 13. The Pursuit of Knock (02:47) 14. The Power of Orlok/The Death of Ellen (07:34) Total Duration: 01:03:04


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