Nosferatu: History and Home Video Guide, Part 7

Serenading the Undead: So Many Scores

  • Count Orlok’s misdeeds have had countless different live and studio-recorded scores over the years
  • Detailing all those accompanying restorations on Blu-ray and DVD
  • How to choose from dozens of Nosferatu soundtrack albums available and enjoy them alongside the film.
  • Every imaginable type of music has followed the count on his endless nocturnal adventures
  • Some all-time classics are on last-generation formats and will never be reissued again – collect them now

This series of articles covers everything Graf Orlok and is designed to be read sequentially. They detail the film’s history, many different versions and home video releases, and I suggest you start reading from Part 1, unless you want to skip straight to the restored DVD and Blu-ray reviews.

Nosferatu (1922) Dawn Edition poster by Timothy Pittides, 2015

Nosferatu (1922) Dawn Edition poster by Timothy Pittides, 2015


Contents


So many scores – but which is best?

Nosferatu really has seen just about every type of musical accompaniment imaginable; far more than any other silent film. The restored BDs and DVDs alone have six very different scores between them. While researching these articles I came across well over 50 custom recorded scores joined in unholy matrimony to the Count on unrestored or bootleg VHS and DVD; I’m sure they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Bolstering that are the hundred-plus scores on CD and LP, and literally thousands of live-only accompaniments over the years. It’s not just at Halloween either: you know what they say about rats – well you’re also never far from a screening of their master. Fair enough: the film’s in the public domain and people are free to interpret its imagery in any way they please. Furthermore, constant contemporary rescoring can help keep silents alive for new generations to enjoy. Despite all that, most would agree that a classically-based score is pretty much Nosferatu’s de facto option, especially when screening or marketing it for the broadest possible audience.

Nosferatu 4th March, 1922 première souvenir programme by Albin Grau

4th March, 1922 première souvenir programme by Albin Grau


Hans Erdmann 1922 première score

Reportedly more was spent on Nosferatu’s lavish 4th March 1922 première and its marketing than they did making the film itself; another factor driving its makers, Prana, towards bankruptcy. On that august occasion it had a specially commissioned score by Hans Erdmann (1882–1942), who later also scored The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933). Erdmann’s actual première score is long since lost, but he later published part of it as an adapted 40-minute work, Fantastisch-romantische Suite (1926). In order to make it fit the film again the suite’s been reconstructed – twice.

German composer Berndt Heller’s initial reconstructed score, for salon (small) orchestra, made its début on the 20th February 1984, at the Berlin Film Festival première of Nosferatu’s second restoration. Heller continued to work on it and eventually copyrighted his reconstruction for full orchestra in 1994. He led performances of it at numerous live screenings over the following decade and conducted a 2006 recording by the Radio Symphony Orchestra Saarbrücken. This is the only score now sanctioned by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung and has accompanied their 2006 restoration on all its numerous BD, DVD and digital releases. Consequently it’s now probably the best known of all.

The second reconstruction was completed in 1995 by composer/arranger James Kessler and Gillian Anderson, an American composer/conductor of dozens of highly respected silent film scores. This version is likely the more authentic, as unlike Heller they had “access to Erdmann’s full, original orchestrations”, housed at the Library of Congress. It accompanied the 1995 restoration‘s first screenings at the Cannes, Il Cinema Ritrovato and London film festivals that year. Anderson also led the Brandenburg Philharmonic Orchestra in a full recording for a long-deleted CD which, for added completeness, kicks off with the overture from Heinrich Marschner’s Romantic opera Der Vampyr (1828), which preceded Nosferatu’s original première screening. Though played live many times over the ensuing decades, Anderson’s score has sadly never actually been wedded to the film on disc. Many consider it far superior to Heller’s effort and I’m inclined to agree. Thanks to some enterprising souls, you can judge for yourself herehere and here.

 Amazon

Count Orlok conducts? Sumi-e ink painting by David W. Mack, 2016

Count Orlok conducts? Sumi-e ink painting by David W. Mack, 2016


James Bernard Photoplay score

The other most noteworthy classical score actually available on home video is by James Bernard (1925–2001), best remembered for scoring many of Hammer Films’ most famous horrors. These include their 1950s Quatermass trilogy, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958), with the latter being third of the foremost unholy trinity out of around 300 (and counting) onscreen depictions of Stoker’s most inspired creation. Bernard’s own symphony of horror had its première at a screening on the 17th November 1997 at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Nic Raine conducted the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and the same ensemble then made a studio recording. It’s been released on CD, red vinyl double LP and digital, and accompanies Photoplay’s version on the BFI BD and DVD. Collectors take note: in April 2016, three tracks from the score were released on a limited edition silver vinyl 7″ for Record Store Day.

Patrick Stanbury, 26th November 2015:

“The Bernard score had started out as a project for Silva Screen Records, who had successfully recorded a number of James Bernard’s Hammer scores. Nic Raine, who had conducted these, had also worked on a number of our projects, both as arranger for Carl Davis and composer in his own right. Silva Screen had commissioned Bernard to compose a complete score for Nosferatu, then realised they knew little about the actual film side of things and invited us to collaborate. We met with James, and were very impressed with the early drafts of his score. Our enthusiasm was shared by Channel 4, who agreed that Nosferatu would be chosen as that year’s Channel 4 Silent. So the recording was planned from the outset to provide both a complete score for our film release and a CD-length selection for Silva Screen, i.e. the CD uses the same recording.
The final edit of the full length version of the score, in synch with the film, was completed four days before [my friend and colleague] David Gill’s sudden death.
After Universal Horror, James was going to score our next documentary, Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces (2000, available here, here, and here), but had to withdraw when his health started failing. Nic Raine scored it instead.”

Worth noting are that two other late life commissions for Bernard were the documentaries Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror (1994) and Photoplay’s Universal Horror (1998, available in this set). Both are feature-length surveys of the output for which the studios are best known. Universal Horror makes Bernard the only person, other than Stoker himself, to have a direct creative tie to all three of the screen’s best known Draculas. He was all set to capitalise on his latterday career renaissance via further collaborations with Photoplay, among others, but failing health sadly precluded any more major projects coming to fruition. He talks in detail about the creation of Nosferatu’s score in this 1996 interview, while there’s a three-part career-spanning 1996 interview here, here and here. His friend Steve Vertlieb wrote a touching tribute here, continuing here.

Make no mistake: as with their superlative effort for The Birth of a Nation (1915), Photoplay’s score is by far the best one accompanying Nosferatu on disc. In fact you’d be hard pushed to find better accompaniment for it anywhere. I’ve heard more of them than most and believe the only real debate is about which comes second.

Nosferatu (1922) James Bernard score, Silva Screen red vinyl double LP

Nosferatu (1922) James Bernard score, Silva Screen red vinyl double LP


Best of the rest on DVD

The remaining four Nosferatu scores accompanying all other restored versions on DVD only, are:

All four are very good and by accomplished musicians who specialise in silent film music. As of the time of writing they all continue to play for Nosferatu regularly at live screenings. The studio recordings of their scores were synchronised to versions of the film with standard definition transfers. These were specifically intended for TV broadcast, in addition to VHS, LaserDisc and DVD release. The world has since gone HD and Nosferatu itself has had a further, fully digital restoration. Therefore, these versions are extremely unlikely to be released in any other format, ever. But they’re well worth experiencing and each one casts an entirely different mood on the brooding count’s demonic deeds.


Digital scores

There are dozens – maybe hundreds – of other Nosferatu scores on LP, cassette and CD, and if you’re curious here’s a good place to start looking. But they’re usually incomplete, especially in the case of single CDs, wth their maximum 80min playing time, coming up short against the 90-odd min film. Even when they are complete, as in the case of double albums, playing them alongside the actual film is impractical, let alone near impossible. As well as having to stop and change sides over, they’ll more than likely to be synchronised to a different version of the film – with differing edits, intertitle placements and speed – to the one in hand. Then there are the many discrepancies in the playing speed of your equipment, which will almost invariably cause the audio to drift anyway. This is amply demonstrated by the YouTube samples at the end of the première score section above. Elsewhere the uploaders describe how their valiant efforts to get the alternative soundtrack to fit just a short excerpt of the film took dozens of hours and sophisticated editing software. Naturally they were completely thwarted in scoring its entire length. In short, the majority of those soundtrack albums are best listened to separately, and exist more as distinct works or at best, as mementos of particular musicians’ live-only, non-home video scores.

Nosferatu (1922) modern Spanish-language poster, artist unknown

Modern Spanish-language poster, artist unknown

The only practical way to listen to an 80-plus min silent with an alternative score is via a full length MP3 file, with its almost unlimited playing time. For instance, you can watch the film on a muted TV while listening to an online audio file with a set of headphones. Or vice versa: watch on a monitor while listening to your A/V system’s external speakers. You’re welcome.

If you want to try this with Nosferatu, once you’ve got a full length audio file you’re interested in, find out which restoration (1987, 1995 or 2006) and if possible, which particular release it’s synced to. Then make sure it’s compatible with your chosen video source. If you’ve had success with any particular score, let me know and I’ll add it here. Amazingly, given the sheer number of superb non-home video scores, I can only find two that are full length. This one is synced to the 2006 restoration:

By far the easiest way to sample alternative Nosferatu scores is via the dozens of lesser known musicians’ own uploads swimming around on YouTube. The majority of them are recorded live, some at public screenings and later added to a DVD rip for uploading. While some aquit themselves quite well, I haven’t as yet found any attaining greatness but stand to be corrected


Hans Posegga 1987 restoration score

The last word goes to perhaps the most significant digital-only score: that of renowned German composer Hans Posegga (1917–2002). It accompanied the first television broadcast of the 1987 restoration on ZDF, 29 December 1988. Very highly regarded though little known outside of Germany, its 38 cues have a combined runtime of 93 minutes. Unissued in any form on physical media, for a time it was available via various online sources, like Spotify and YouTube. However, distributors Hi-Hat Records were forced to pull it when their license with Posegga’s widow, who owns the rights, expired in 2017. Hopefully another label will re-release it soon.

Nosferatu (1922) poster by David O'Daniel aka Alien Corset, 2012

Poster by David O’Daniel aka Alien Corset, 2012

Grateful thanks to Aitam Bar-SagiDavid ShepardLokke Heiss, Martin H. Larsen, and Patrick Stanbury for help with this series of articles.

See DVDCompare for more in-depth details of any discs mentioned. Any questions or suggestions? Post in the comments.


If you like this, you’ll love:

I started Brenton Film because I love film – quelle surprise! The silent era, 1930s and 1940s especially get my literary juices flowing though. So you’ll see a lot about those. For more, see this site’s About page.

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