Philip Glass was commissioned to produce a score for Tod Browning’s version of the Gothic story, Dracula. The classic film starring Bela Lugosi featured no original score but did feature music for the film’s opening (taken from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake) and some diegetic music during a music hall sequence. I had seen the film before I heard this new score from Glass but as I enjoy a lot of his minimalistic music when I heard this score I was particularly drawn to it. And as it is composed for string quartet (played here by the Kronos Quartet) that made it doubly worthwhile.
From the start, “Dracula” sets out Glass’ intentions: vibrant string ostinatos underpinning meandering string accompaniments, concise musical movements playing out over the course of just over an hour. It’s an excellent piece of music from Philip Glass but when I first heard it I had no idea if it made good film music. I have since seen some of the film with the music laid over the visuals, and I have to confess that, for me, it doesn’t really work for me as a piece of film music. At the very least it changes completely the feel of the film.
I have not seen any DVD version with Glass’ music placed in the movie so I do not know if the music is mixed to the original dialogue, etc but what I have seen (some footage of the music being played live to the film and fan-generated videos) didn’t show the music melding very well with the image (pretty necessary for film music!) And I think that the choice of placing a minimalist score up against a Gothic horror from the early 1930s is too stark a pairing. Watching the film with the music attached I find myself wanting to either watch the original film or listening to the music by itself.
But in the end, although I don’t think that the project works very well, Glass’ music is excellent as a stand-alone listen and it is one that I return to frequently. I will return to the film in the future too but I will be sure that it is the original without Glass’ score.
I notice that in 2002 Glass’ label Orange Mountain Music released the score but this time arranged for solo piano (played by long-time associate of Glass, Michael Riesman). Listening to a few clips I felt that Glass’ score shone best for string quartet.