Serenading the Undead: So Many Scores
- Count Orlok’s misdeeds have had countless 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 best 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.
- So many scores – but which is best?
- Hans Erdmann 1922 première score
- Peter Schirmann Atlas Film score
- James Bernard Photoplay score
- Best of the rest on DVD
- Non-disc scores
- Related articles
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 Nosferatu only actually entered the public domain worldwide at the end of 2019 – all restorations and their scores are fully copyrighted. But the film has long been treated as if it’s up for grabs anyway, with many routinely taking liberties to interpret its imagery however 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.
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). But Erdmann’s score is unfortunately long since lost and, like the Gottfried Huppertz première score for Metropolis (1927), was probably only performed once. However, in 1926 Erdmann published part of his score as an adapted 40-minute work, the two-part Fantastisch-romantische Suite, each consisting of five short compositions and which does survive.
In order to make it fit the 93-minute film again, the suite has been used as the starting point for two reconstructions. The first was by German composer and musicologist Berndt Heller, who also did the same for the official 2001 restoration of Metropolis with Gottfried Huppertz’s score, Lubitch’s Das Weib des Pharao originally scored by Edward Kuenneke, and others. His initial “reconstructed” Nosferatu score, for salon (small) orchestra, made its début on the 20th February 1984 at the Berlin Film Festival première of its second restoration. Heller continued to work on it and eventually copyrighted his version for full orchestra in 1994. He conducted performances at numerous live screenings over the ensuing decade and led a 2006 recording by the Radio Symphony Orchestra Saarbrücken. In the process of expanding Erdmann’s suite to the length of the film, Heller interpolated the following pieces:
- Der Werwolf – T.R. Leuschner
- De Profundis-Suite – Giuseppe Becce
- Grande Fantasia from Un bello in Maschera – Giuseppe Verdi, transcribed by Émile Tavan
- Misterioso und Überleitung – Berndt Heller © 2004
- Treachery and Vengeance – Percy E. Fletcher
- Misterioso Fantastico – Giuseppe Becce
- Galop (Le Bal) from Petite Suite pour orchestra after Jeu d’enfants – George Bizet, transcribed by Hubert Mouton
- Mefistofele (beginning of Act 3) – Arrigo Boito
- Kinotheken 24, 36 and 51 – Giuseppe Becce
- Sturm – Ernst Wiedermann
It’s apparent that a significant chunk – perhaps more than half – of Heller’s score consists of other works that are mostly contemporary to Erdmann’s experiences. Indeed, Erdmann himself worked closely with Becce, even co-authoring with him and Ludwig Brav the two-volume Allgemeine Handbuch der Filmmusik (General Handbook of Film Music, 1927). This important book was a cornerstone of film scoring practise for many years and was used for guidance in arranging both of Nosferatu’s reconstructions. But there is no evidence whatsoever that Erdmann’s original score consisted of anything other than his own compositions. What we do know is that some passages were intended to be repeated at certain points and that, along with perhaps a few missing snippets of music, is most likely how his score fitted the entire film.
So you see, it’s technically more accurate to describe Heller’s “reconstruction” as a new compilation score, the likes of which were common during the silent period. Nonetheless, this is the only score now sanctioned by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung and has exclusively accompanied their 2006 restoration on all its numerous DVD, BD and streaming releases. Consequently it’s now one of the best known of all, though it’s disingenuous of the FWMS to consistently describe it as “Hans Erdmann’s original score” when it most definitely is not. But that’s marketing hype for you.
The second reconstruction (more here) 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 eschews the interpolation of non-original works by others; instead, according to Anderson:
“In several places Kessler composed new music in the style of Erdmann, for example for the scene where the Count’s coffins are being loaded aboard ship, because certain scenes seemed humorous and there was nothing humorous-sounding in the suites.”
Conducted by Anderson, the finished score accompanied the 1995 restoration’s first screenings at the Cannes, Il Cinema Ritrovato and London film festivals that year. She also led the Brandenburg Philharmonic Orchestra in a fully digital recording for a superb but long-deleted CD – in Dolby Digital Surround, no less. For added completeness, it kicks off with the overture from Heinrich Marschner’s Romantic opera Der Vampyr (1828) which preceded Nosferatu’s original première screening and was adapted by Timothy Brock for his entire score. 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 strongly inclined to agree. Thanks to an enterprising soul, you can judge for yourself:
Both Heller and Anderson had to make educated guesses as as to where Erdmann’s surviving pieces originally fit in the film. But Heller makes some surprising choices, as he sometimes uses passages that are lighter in mood to accompany scenes of sheer terror, effectively destroying their inherent tension. Most frustrating. Anderson makes no such mistakes though: from memory, her version underlines the film’s striking imagery most appropriately throughout its entire running time. 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 modern reconstructions as loose approximations instead. But unless the actual original turns up, they’re both, especially the latter, as close as we’re ever likely to get.
In the same vein (pun intended), personally I’m amazed no one’s ever attempted to adapt iconic American composer Aaron Copland’s Grohg ballet suite for Nosferatu. Initially written during a sojourn in Paris when he was inspired after seeing the film in 1925, he revised it in 1932 but it wasn’t properly staged until 1992, two years after his death. Powerful, dramatic, beautiful and haunting, the six-part work runs for around 30-32 minutes and would provide an excellent basis for a score. Perhaps it could even be interpolated with what remains of Erdmann’s work…
Peter Schirmann Atlas Film score
In 1965, German outfit Atlas Film commissioned prolific film and TV composer Peter Schirmann to score various silent films for TV and cinema distribution. Their version of Nosferatu has been much bootlegged ever since, making Schirmann’s modern, slightly jazzy score easily the most widely known accompaniment to date. I’ve already covered Atlas Film’s version in much more detail here.
James Bernard Photoplay score
The other most noteworthy classical score actually available on home video is by James Bernard (1925–2001), best remembered for providing richly atmospheric accompaniments for 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). 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 latter-day 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), another silent warhorse with dozens of different versions and scores, Photoplay’s 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 lost count of the number of Nosferatu scores I’ve heard 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, 2.0 stereo score accompanies Photoplay’s version on the BFI BD (also newly remixed in 5.1 surround from the original multi-track masters) and DVD, and has been released on various audio formats:
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.
- Timothy Howard: organ – 1991 and 2000 Shepard versions
- Silent Orchestra: classical/synth – 2000 Shepard version; also on CD and MP3
- Donald Sosin/Joanna Seaton: classical/vocal – 1995 restoration; live DS score
- Art Zoyd (Gérard Hourbette/Thierry Zaboitzeff): classical/synth – 1987 and 1995 restorations; also on CD (1989, remastered 2002) and MP3
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 triptych: 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 musicians 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 skilfully edited to fit perfectly.
All of these recorded scores are synchronised to versions of the film that only have standard definition transfers originally created for 1990s–mid-2000s SD TV broadcast and 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 officially re-released on any other format, ever. Nonetheless, they’re well worth experiencing and each casts an entirely different pallor on the brooding count’s demonic deeds.
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 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-minute, fully restored film. This is especially so in the case of single CDs with their maximum 80-minute 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-minute album-only scores.
The only practical way to listen to an 80-minute-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.
Lastly, I’ve listed some of the most common and still-loved scores from the VHS days of yore; after Schirmann’s, these are the oldest in circulation. If you know of any more or have had success syncing an alternative score from any source, leave a comment and I’ll add it here.
Synced to public domain version releases
63 minutes (24fps)
- Thunderbird Films (1974, see comments) YouTube | resynced clip
- Art Zoyd (1989)
- Killing Process (1999) CD and MP3 | Spotify
- Jill Tracy (2002) CD and MP3
- Mathias Rehfeldt (2010 and 2017) organ improvisations
84 minutes (18fps)
- David Ichikawa: Hollywood Home Theatre VHS (1980) – YouTube/B&W
- Unknown: Aikman Archive VHS/UK (1992) Azn – YouTube
- Josh Vinci (2009) BandCamp | YouTube
- The Inframen (2011) BandCamp | YouTube
- Dmitry Efimov aka Efimus (2014) YouTube
- Robert Steadman (2016) BandCamp | YouTube
- Ghost Stories (2018) YouTube
- Hugh Doolan (2019) MP3, BandCamp, Spotify | film: BayView, Vimeo | trailer | clip | interview
Synced to 1987 restoration releases
Perhaps the most notable streaming-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
The brilliant Hands of Ruin aka Colin Z. Robertson (check out his other stuff!) has, with respect to the 1995 restoration’s current copyright, uploaded a rough edit of his score set to the 84-minute PD version:
Synced to 2006 restoration releases
- Andrew Alden Ensemble (2013) MP3 | BandCamp | Spotify
- a.P.A.t.T. (2011) BandCamp
- Gabriela Montero (2014) YouTube
- Mathias Rehfeldt (2013) YouTube
- Reece Goodall (2017) MP3 | BandCamp | Spotify
- Richard Feren (2015) MP3 | Spotify | YouTube
- Shooting Guns (2016) BandCamp | Spotify
- Dmytro Morykit (2019) MP3 | Spotify – new, full length re-recording of previous 52-minute piano score. This much-toured-live version is actually my second favourite after Bernard’s!
What I’m about to say may seem like heresy to some, but bear with me. In film restoration, the aim is to recreate the original version as closely as possible; in the case of silents that naturally often includes the score too. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to experience Nosferatu exactly as presented at its prestigious première? But consider this: despite the FWMS attempting to spin it otherwise, Erdmann’s original score does not exist – at least not in anything like its complete and unadulterated form. Secondly, what if Erdmann’s score was simply not the ne plus ultra anyway? After all, he had never scored a film before, let alone a horror, nor did he ever revisit the genre, though he did go on to score the multiple-language version classic, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933). Bernard, conversely, composed for dozens of horrors – and critically acclaimed, commercially successful ones at that. So who would you trust the most? Of course, the various other musicians listed above have also scored countless other silents between them, making their contributions equally as valid. Perhaps the best of both worlds is Erdmann’s score as reconstructed by Gillian Anderson, but we’re unlikely to ever see that on disc unless the FWMS have the sense to enlist her for an almost inevitable future restoration. Here’s hoping…
If you like this, you’ll love:
- Nosferatu: History and Home Video Guide: Genesis of a Vampire
- Part 2: 1920s Screenings
- Part 3: Surviving Prints and “Public Domain Version”
- Part 4: 1981–1987 Restorations
- Part 5: David Shepard and Eureka Versions
- Part 6: 1995 and 2006 Restorations
- Part 7: Serenading the Undead: So Many Scores
- Part 8: The Many Faces of Orlok: Restored Versions on Blu-ray and DVD
- Nosferatu Unleashed in HD: Every Blu-ray Reviewed
- Nosferatu History and Home Video Guide: Die zwölfte Stunde (1930)
- Nosferatu: Chronicles from the Vaults – reprints of rare articles
- Nosferatu Rises: Reincarnated in Sound