Movies need music, they’ve been the “Opera” of the common citizen for nearly a century. Even non-music-fans might sorely miss the music in their favorite films. But in the early film era, that meant a pianist or organist or often a full orchestra was employed by the venue to provide this important ingredient.
In the initial days of “Talkies”, a full musical soundtrack (a dedicated part of the celluloid film) was just not feasible, even though there was a primitive “audio track” for dialog and such.
So, the original 1931 Universal Pictures Dracula with Bela Lugosi, the one that’s burned into Western cultural memory and beyond, never had a proper “music score”. For the little music present in the film, they used snippets of Tchaikovsky, Schubert, and Wagner (much the same as the next Universal horror film “The Mummy”).
For modern audiences, this either lends a pleasing starkness when watching the original film, or a jarring emptiness. Remember- this film was based much more on the (also Lugosi-starring) stage play than on the book*, and you can bet that the stage play had a full orchestra whenever possible. Same goes for the movie. It just never got recorded, let alone composed.
Enter Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet. In 1998, Universal commissioned Glass to write a complete score for Dracula, and he recorded it with Michael Reisman and Kronos. They then embarked on a brief concert tour where the score was performed live while the movie was projected (helping to pave the way for similar “multi-media” presentations and tours, like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and this year’s Star Trek).
A commemorative VHS was released in 1999, and today, many home video versions of Dracula are available with the score as a menu-selected option. If you’ve never owned a copy of the film, this is the version to seek out. Not only for the with/without experience, but also just for the incredibly well-conceived music on its own.
The music is also available as a compact disc or download, and makes for a fantastic “October soundtrack”. Just leave it on repeat and watch
the eldritch horrors rise from the cursed earth the leaves fall gently to the ground.
(Full Album right here)
*Notable: The 1931 Dracula was based on a popular Broadway play starring Bela Lugosi. The odd thing is, despite rave reviews all across the country, Universal didn’t want Lugosi for the part. He had to lobby hard for it. Another odd thing? The original Dracula movie, German 1922 film Nosferatu, was sued so damn hard by the Bram Stoker estate that all copies were ordered destroyed. Universal paid big money to Mrs. Stoker for the official film rights to the (already incredibly popular) novel. Funny thing is, not only did the film have more in common with the stage play than the book; several signature scenes from Nosferatu that aren’t even in the book showed up in Universal’s movie. Kooky!
So, are there more cool Dracula audio experiences? Glad you asked! Here’s some
wholesome magical diabolical neat stuff:
A wonderful award-winning, unabridged, and“dramatized” audio book is available, featuring Tim Curry, Alan Cumming, Katherine Kellgren, Susan Duerden, and the incomparable Simon Vance (a super-duper-neato-guy), and it’s definitely worth owning a physical copy. I listened to a bit of it last night (along with the Glass/Kronos music), and it’s actually part of why I started writing this post.
For the purist who just wants the book in it’s quintessential form and is too damn tired from doing crunches and squats and organic farming and volunteer fire-fighting and nerf-herding and wage-earning to actually read it (or, like me, is blind as a bat and has an old copy)... wait for it... wait for it...
You can actually own an unabridged copy of the original Bram Stoker novel read by the late, great CHRISTOPHER LEE!!!!
Yep. It’s true: “Dracula, read aloud, in its entirety, by Christopher Lee”.
Of course, since he was awesome since forever, there are lots and lots of Halloween and Dracula sonic adventures available with Sir Christopher...
(On this classic LP, Bill Mitchell starts us off, and Sir Christopher steps in around 6:20)
And since we’re talking about audio experiences, here are some wonderful October soundscapes that you may have overlooked or forgotten about:
1) Not everybody digs Frank Langella’s charismatic, low-key portrayal of “Dracula” from the 1979 movie (also based on a play). It’s a certain kind of take on the character, and perhaps a product of its time. But it’s also a John Williams vampire score, and that’s a very narrow category indeed...
(Complete original LP release, right here!)
2) A lot of folks seek out Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein come October. This year, with the passing of Gene Wilder, perhaps even more folks will be enjoying this treasure of a movie. But part of the genius of that film’s comedy is how much of it was played totally straight. The mildly farcical (but still beautifully chilling) orchestral score is a great example of this.
(Hard to find for less than a couple hundred bucks, here it is for your listening pleasure.)
3) In keeping with the “October Violins and Cellos” theme, Danny Elfman’s 2010 score to “The Wolfman” certainly isn’t his first foray into these tonalities and moods; he’s made a whole incredible career of it! But, since the film was largely ignored, this may be a score you haven’t heard. And it’s a perfect October soundtrack... especially if you’re out on the moors...
(Full Album Playlist)
I’m an Autumn/October/Halloween aficionado, and in this first episode of “Hidden Sonic Gems For Your Festivities”, I truly hope I found some uncommon things that will enrich your “harvest time”, “Samhain”, and “All Hallows Eve”.
This article was originally inspired by these super-cool articles:
And here’s a little something that will make an “October Person” smile: