December 1999 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

Philip GLASS Dracula A new score for the 1931 Bela Lugosi classic   Performed by the Kronos Quartet.   NONESUCH 7559 79584 2 [67:04]

Video review below

Save around 22% with

This is a new score for the classic Bela Lugosi Dracula film made by Universal back in 1931. I am reviewing the score on its purely musical terms in this review. A separate review of the video looks at the aptness of Glass's music for the film.

Following on from Herrmann's Psycho score, Glass has chosen to use a monochromatic score utilising just strings, and the close, limited configuration of a quartet for this Gothic black and white film. Glass's minimalistic style is prevalent but he uses multi-part writing, many string playing techniques, considerably varied colours, dynamics and shadings, abrupt gear changes or smoother modulations to sustain the interest. And yet, after about 40 minutes, I have to admit I felt tedium setting in because of the relentless repetiton of like material. This album would have been more effective for some ruthless editing coupled with a judicious choice of material.

The album opens with the main Dracula theme: dark swirling, demented and tormented figures supporting screeching and piercing high-pitched staccato chords. The evocative and atmospheric cues work well: cantering, galloping figures for the 'Journey to the Inn', the swiftly shifting textures suggesting violent gales for 'The Storm' and the swirling dense motifs for 'London Fog' with its hints of hidden menaces. A dark, dank and creaky immensity is suggested by the music for 'The Castle' and the disturbing high-pitched glissandi denote only too well the 'Horrible Tragedy.' I thought the evocation of 'The Three Consorts of Dracula' was rather bland and could have been more alluring after all they are supposed to seduce their male victims but the 'Women in White' suggests some sympathy for these condemned creatures. 'Excellent, Mr Renfield' impressed in as much as it suggested a conversation piece with Renfield prattling on about the legalities of the sale he has come to Dracula's castle to negotiate while Dracula looks on with more bloody thoughts on his mind. 'Lucy's Bitten' brings out the more colourfully melodramatic with Glass pointing up all the fear and anguish and almost panic of the discovery of the affects Dracula's dining session. An interesting experiment.


Ian Lace

The Video

DRACULA the 1931 Universal Film Directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi.  Digitally enhanced and remastered Edition and scored for the first time in 68 years with New Music by Philip Glass and performed by the Kronos Quartet.  UNIVERSAL HOME VIDEO 061 9383 [75 mins]

Save around 22% with

I admit to listening to the CD of Glass's music and writing the review of it before I acquired this video. First, a little about the film. There is no doubt that it belongs to Bela Lugosi - evil elegance personified; and those eyes, full of arrogant malice and so cleverly lit under the inspired direction of Browning - unforgettable. Looking at this film again after all these years, one is struck by the fact that all the blood-letting occurs off-stage its all so heavily suggestive but non the less horrific for that. Yes the acting is hesitant and stilted, and heavily melodramatic but that is its period charm. [I was watching Dracula Dead and Loving It, last week on TV, and I was interested to note how Peter MacNicol (Ally McBeal's 'The Biscuit') so closely emulated the mad insect-eating Renfield as portrayed in in this production - in fact, if anything, the actor in this 1931 film is even more of a caricature!] The art direction apart from some awful cardboard mountains near the beginning is wonderfully atmospheric.

So does the music fit the film? Well yes, on the whole, I think it does. It is well balanced so that it is audible and influences the mood of the scenes but not obtrusive enough to draw attention to itself and often one forgets it is there although its presence clearly heightens the dramatic tension. Whether or not this tension would have been heightened by a more colourfully varied score, employing more orchestral resource, is debatable bearing in mind the film's rather trapped and claustrophobic atmosphere. My review of the CD above gives a reasonable impression of the use of the score, although a misprint on the CD cover has prompted me into a false assumption. 'Women in White' should surely have been 'Woman in White?' For this cue surely is for the scene where the undead Lucy is terrorising the surrounding countryside in her bloodlust and has 'taken' two young children, so my original observation, that the music 'suggests some sympathy for these condemned creatures' must therefore be applied to the children.

An interesting if not completely successful musical experiment for a classic which looks very good in its new refurbishment.

Film -

Music in the context of the film -


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

Reviews from previous months

Reviews carry sales links
but you can also purchase

Return to Index