Philip Glass – Soundtrack to Dracula – Kronos Quartet – NONESUCH
Composed for the Film Dracula
Review by S. James Wegg
There was a colourization craze a few years back when early classics were stripped of their black and white image and tarted up with the full rainbow. (Does anyone remember James Cagney with a pink head in the improved Yankee Doodle Dandy, or looking like hed had a bad Max Factor day – a mauve-faced Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon?) But like the end of vinyl due to the emergence of forever-lasting digital recordings (they will never skip, wink, wink; nudge, nudge), the modern improvement lacks the mood and special feel of the original. What fun, then, that, recently, several films use bits of B&W (e.g. Nolans Memento) as a special effect.
In 1999 Philip Glass composed a new score for the 1931 classic Dracula. The evidence of his considerable genius being the decisions to (a) use only a string quartet (b) engage the services of Kronos Quartet to bring the music to life even as so many lose (not all permanently, however) theirs. The result brings a whole new meaning to Death and the Maiden and provides considerable pleasure to movie lover and concertgoer alike.
Glass opts for colours rather than themes in this post-modern melodramatic rendering, chock-a-block full of Alberti basses. Arpeggios signal the entry of the living dead; the horse drawn carriage gallops across the screen with an undercurrent of syncopation that harkens back to Mozarts first G Minor Symphony (No. 25, K. 183); the sinister viola helps the weary traveler, Renfield (played with a very fine madness by Dwight Frye), up the Transylvanian steps even as his host declaims The children of the night [wolves howling], what music they make! All of which contributes to director Ted Brownings marvellous tone of restrained horror and stylish after life.
The passage to England, with its charming toy-ship-in-the-barrel storm effect, features dissonance in the hatches and the constant glow of Draculas penetrating glance. Not surprisingly, the Count fits in easily at the London Symphony concert (Bela Lugosis white tie and cape rings true with any musician that has come under the tyranny of a relentless Master). The orchestra plugs its way through Wagners Overture to Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg (nice touch) as Dracula tricks Dr. Seward (Herbert Bunston) into leaving his box, the first step towards a drink at his daughter, Minas neck (Helen Chandler, swooning with conviction).
The ensuing sanitarium follies, where the aforementioned Doctor is teamed up with Prof. Abraham Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan, who revels in the misfortune of others and drives the stake home with zeal), is effectively enhanced by pizzicati and repetitive scales underscoring the telling line When was the last time you saw Lucy after she died? The music never intrudes on the story, but adds considerable depth to its spellbinding thrust parry and flow.
For its part, Kronos delivers the eerie soundscape with conviction and pizzazz, with only an occasional excursion to the dark side of intonation to quibble about. In some films that are dialogue challenged or musically troubled, the result can be greatly improved if the sound is switched off. With Dracula, the opposite is true thank goodness the Glass score is available on Nonesuch (79542). Be sure to place one in your crypt today and save it for the next dark and stormy night.