Nosferatu: History and Home Video Guide, Part 7

Serenading the Undead: So Many Scores

  • Count Orlok’s misdeeds have had countless different live and recorded scores over the years
  • The original 1922 première score no longer survives but there are many brilliant substitutes
  • All those accompanying the various restorations on licensed home video are covered here
  • Some timeless classics on older formats will never be released again – collect them all now
  • Every imaginable type of music has followed the count on his endless nocturnal adventures
  • How to choose from dozens of distinct soundtrack albums and enjoy them alongside the film

This is one of a series of articles covering everything Graf Orlok and designed to be read sequentially. It details 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

Dawn Edition poster by Timothy Pittides, 2015


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 those 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’s exploits. The unrestored version of the film has long been treated as though it’s in the public domain, with many routinely taking liberties to interpret its imagery in any way they please. Well, constant contemporary rescoring can potentially help keep silents alive for new generations to enjoy. But 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 on 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). There is no record of Erdmann’s score accompanying the film more than once and it’s unfortunately long since lost. However, he later published part of it as an adapted 40-minute work, the two-part Fantastisch-romantische Suite (1926), each consisting of five short compositions and which does survive. In order to make it fit the film again the suite has been used as the basis for a reconstruction – 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 exclusively accompanied their 2006 restoration on all its numerous BD, DVD and digital releases. Consequently it’s now probably the best known of all, though it’s disingenuous of the FWMS to constantly describe it as the “original score” when it most definitely is not. But that’s marketing hype for you.

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 almost certainly far 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 ever since, Anderson’s score has sadly never actually been wedded to the film on disc. Most who have heard it 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.

The bottom line is Erdmann’s original score no longer exists and was most likely only played once anyway. It’s perhaps more accurate to refer to both Heller’s and Anderson’s “reconstructions” as approximations. But unless the actual original turns up, they are, especially the latter, as close as we’re ever likely to get.


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

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, in the Classic Monsters sets here). 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 also wrote a touching tribute, continued here. However, the definitive account of Bernard’s life and work is David Huckvale’s James Bernard, Composer to Count Dracula: A Critical Biography (2006, reprinted 2007). Featuring a foreword by reigning Hammer scream queen Ingrid Pitt, it goes into great depth about the genesis and recording of the scores for Nosferatu and Universal Horror.

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.

Collectors take note: in April 2016, three tracks from the score were released on a limited edition silver vinyl 7″ for Record Store Day. The full score accompanies Photoplay’s version on the BFI BD and DVD, and has been released on various audio formats:

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

James Bernard score, Silva Screen red vinyl double LP

Best of the rest on DVD

There are four very good remaining Nosferatu scores accompanying all other restored versions on DVD only. They’re by accomplished musicians who specialise in silent film music and, as of the time of writing, all continue to play for the film regularly at live screenings.

Art Zoyd’s score was toured extensively then recorded in 1989, synchronised to the historically significant but unrestored, sped-up B&W “public domain version”, which the band still accompanies. Just get a load of the description of their live performances in the CD booklet:

“On stage, a tryptich: the film Nosferatu at the centre, flanked on both sides by musicians on several levels. Keeping within the Expressionist idiom, the film is in black and white, the muscians in white and black.”

Hmm… pretentious, non? To say nothing of the fact it doesn’t make sense, though I strongly suspect it’s spoken with tongue firmly in cheek. It reminds me of that old puzzler asking “Are zebras black with white stripes or white with black stripes?” It wouldn’t matter either way, were it not for the fact the film was never intended to be seen in B&W in the first place. Nonetheless, I like Art Zoyd’s score a lot and where it accompanies the slower, properly-tinted restorations on DVD and VHS, it’s been very skillfully edited to fit perfectly.

All of these recorded scores are synchronised to versions of the film that only have standard definition transfers. Said transfers were originally created for 1990s–mid-2000s SD 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 on any other format, ever. But they’re well worth experiencing and each one casts an entirely different pallor on the brooding count’s demonic deeds.

Nosferatu (1922) US 2002 Kino DVD, with Donald Sosin and Art Zoyd scores

US 2002 Kino DVD, with Donald Sosin and Art Zoyd scores

Audio-only scores

There are dozens – possibly even hundreds – of other Nosferatu scores on LP, cassette and CD; if you’re curious here’s a good place to start looking. But amazingly, given the sheer number of superb non-home video scores, ones that are full length are relatively scarce. They’re often incomplete, condensed suites, coming up short against the 90-odd-min fully restored film. This is especially so in the case of single CDs with their maximum 80min playing time. 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 over sides, they’ll more than likely be synchronised to a different version altogether than the one in hand – with differing edits, intertitle placements and transfer speed. 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 have described how their valiant efforts to get the alternative soundtrack to fit even those short excerpts 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 Nosferatu 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. The bottom line is that unless you have a full length, uninterrupted score, synced to a particular version of the film which you also have, don’t bother.

It’s not a complete dead loss though: as discussed above, Art Zoyd’s score was originally synced to the “public domain” version, and I suppose the same applies to many of those 60-something-min album-only scores.

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

Modern Spanish-language poster, artist unknown

The only practical way to listen to an 80min-plus 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. Tips all day, folks.

If you want to try this with Nosferatu, once you’ve got a score you’re interested in, find out which version of the film and if possible, which particular release it’s synced to. Then make sure it’s compatible with your chosen video source. By far the easiest way to sample alternative Nosferatu scores is via the dozens of uploads swimming around on YouTube. The majority of them are recorded live, mostly at public screenings, and some acquit themselves quite well.

If you’ve had success syncing an alternative score from any source, let me know and I’ll add it here.

Synced to “public domain” version releases

Synced to 1987 restoration releases

Perhaps the most notable digital-only score is that of renowned German composer Hans Posegga (1917–2002). It accompanied the first TV 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 on any form of physical media, for a time it was available via various online sources such as 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, but in the meantime you can sample it here.

Synced to 1991 and 2000 David Shepard versions

Synced to 1995 restoration Photoplay version

Synced to 2006 restoration releases

Nosferatu (1922) poster by David O'Daniel aka Alien Corset, 2010

Poster by David O’Daniel aka Alien Corset, 2010. Club Foot Orchestra performed musical duties on this occasion.

Nosferatu: History and Home Video Guide, Part 8

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

If you like this, you’ll love:

Facebook: The Nosferatu Society | in-depth BD/DVD details: DVDCompare


  1. Frederik Olsen
    November 06, 08:25 Reply
    Something that deserves to be mentioned about the Art Zoyd score is that it was not written for either restoration it has been paired with on home video. It was written for the Public Domain version, and performed live to projections of that. The running time of the CD release is telling in itself, but the photos in the cover also appear to be from the PD version. The same goes for the excerpts used in the music video the band produced to promote the album: Finally, the booklet also refers to "Nina" and reproduces the "diary of Johann Cavallius"-intertitles in French and in English ( I've seen many a comment elsewhere calling the AZ score "obnoxious," "irritating," "grating" and whatnot. But while it's clearly intended to cause some level of discomfort in the intense scenes, it's clearly not the fault of the band that the version of their work that most people are familiar with has been edited to make it half an hour longer.
    • Brent Reid
      November 14, 23:03 Reply
      As per your comments elsewhere, this is another very astute observation, Frederik – keep 'em coming! When compiling my initial, single Nosferatu article a few years ago, I noticed AZ's playing to the unrestored B&W version, along with the fairly pretentious wording in the booklet you linked to. However, at that point the article was growing too big so I restricted it to all but the most salient info. Since then, I've given into its ever-expanding nature and split it up into these many chapters. To whit, I've now amended the article to reflect the score's true origins. I actually like AZ's score, so thank you for the prompt!
  2. Reece Goodall
    April 16, 21:54 Reply
    Hi there, Thanks for sharing a link to my score - if any of you listen to it, I hope that you enjoy it, and that it does the film justice. Nosferatu was the first silent film I ever watched, and it really stayed with me - having the chance to score it, and introduce many more people to it with a number of live performances, has been an amazing experience. I've read through all of your history pieces, and it's incredibly interesting - I've learned an awful lot. Thank you for putting the time and the detail into it!
    • Brent Reid
      April 18, 07:52 Reply
      You're welcome, Reece. I've enjoyed your Nosferatu and Keaton scores, and look forward to hearing many more!

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