Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
Composed by: James Bernard
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
In 1995, British film composer James Bernard was commissioned by silent film historian Kevin Brownlow to create a musical score for a movie made before Bernard was even born. Created in 1922 by F.W. Murnau, the silent horror film, Nosferatu, is widely known as the first movie adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula. The soundtrack Bernard created was released by Silva Screen Records in 1995. Now, for the first time, Silva Screen Records is offering its loyal fans Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror in digital format.
Creating musical score for a horror film is a difficult task. The musical score for a film of this genre requires that the music not overpower the film, but enhance the script and visuals of the film. However, creating a musical score for a silent film is an even more daunting task. The music must convey emotions that we can not ordinarily glean from watching a scene. One can’t hear the tremor in the voice of a horrified silent film character. They can’t hear the loathing of characters as they battle evil demons. And so, the music must express this emotion in addition to enhancing what is already visually horrific.
James Bernard was more than up for the task. He is best known for the musical compositions he created for Hammer Film Productions, a production company best known for its horror films. Bernard created film scores for such horror classics as Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Kiss of the Vampire, The Plague of Zombies, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, The Devil Rides Out, Scars of Dracula and more. As one can see from Bernard’s résumé, creating musical score for the most famous vampire in the world was something he knew quite a bit about.
James Bernard sets the tone for this film right away as witnessed in the overture, Omens of Nosferatu. Beginning with horns played at a low registry, Bernard creates an ominous sound that serves as the theme for the evil blood craving murderer of the film. Quite a different theme is created for the victims/heroes of the film, Hutter and Ellen. Theirs is a buoyantly optimistic and light-hearted theme featuring chirping flutes and gallant strings. Scary sequences in the film are characterized by violins played at a furious pace in varying registries, giving the listener an impression of fluttering, stuttering flight (very much like the flight of a distressed bat).
As a film score, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror is not as scary as it is beautifully dark. There is an ominous quality about the music which should enhance the visuals of the film. However, having never seen the movie, I couldn’t honestly say that this creation was perfectly suited to the film. I can say that this soundtrack is perfect for all those that can appreciate a beautifully created musical score, however dark the music may be. In Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, we have a musical score that is perfect as a stand alone album and that says a lot as many horror film scores fall short in that category. James Bernard was an extremely talented composer and Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror is a gift of musical perfection for an enthusiast like myself. This is a classic musical score that is not to be missed.