Nosferatu in the dream | The Music Journal

After the film turned 100 years old Nosferatu. A symphony of horror by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, a masterpiece of expressionist cinema and progenitor of vampire films. For enthusiasts, an interesting exhibition “Phantome der Nacht. 100 Jahre Nosferatu” (Ghosts of the night. 100 years of Nosferatu) which reconstructs the centennial history of that film. That story also tells that Nosferatu it was the first in a long series of films inspired by Bram Stoker’s novel, which caused many problems for the producer Prana Film GmbH, which went bankrupt due to the huge production investment (especially for advertising) without the expected response from the public . It was of little use to replace the name Dracula with the more obscure Nosferatu to hide the source. Well-intentioned to defend her prerogatives, Florence Stoker, widow of the writer who died in 1912, took the producers to court for copyright infringement and, unable to obtain any pecuniary compensation, in 1925 obtained at least from the Berlin judges the order to destroy the negative and all existing copies of the film.

Fortunately some copies of the film survived mostly outside Germany. This was not the case for the score composed for the first screening, much appreciated by the critics, composed for orchestra by Hans Erdmann, also author of numerous other film scores. It is known that, as an overture, Erdmann borrowed the one composed by Heinrich Marschner for his opera Der Vampyr of 1828. The remainder has been reliably reconstructed from the patient and painstaking work of James Kessler and Gillian B. Anderson, using large excerpts from the Fantastic romantic suite by Erdmann himself and recomposing the no longer recoverable parts in his late romantic style. The result can be heard in the restored version of the film edited by the Friedrich W. Murnau Foundation, also available on DVD.

From completely different non-philological premises, over time some operations were born to give a sound to Murnau’s film. Among these, a 1998 Arrow Videos promo on a shorter version of the film and with an introduction by David Carradine, assembling pieces from the early albums of the gothic metal band Type O Negative. The composer’s idea dates back to 2015 Philip Perocco to create an “authorial” score for Murnau’s film in its most complete and by now consolidated version. This version with live ensemble accompaniment The arsenal directed by Perocco himself, it was presented at the Ca’ Foscari Theater in Venice at the end of the Asteroide Amor cycle organized by the Venetian University in collaboration with the Veneto’s Teatro Stabile. The Venetian appointment came after a long journey that began at the Teatro Comunale in Treviso with important stops such as Montreal and, last May, at the Maifestspiele in Wiesbaden, the German city that hosts the headquarters of the Murnau Foundation.

Nosferatu - L'Arsenale ensemble - Ca' Foscari Theater in Venice
Nosferatu – L’Arsenale ensemble – Ca’ Foscari Theater in Venice

The music composed by Filippo Perocco is not meant to be a comment on the images or perhaps their emotional amplifier. Instead, it wants to feed on the dreams that live in the characters, in perfect harmony with the visionary nature of Murnau’s film (contemporary horror films are quite another matter). The spectral sounds produced by the timbral mixture of an unusual instrument – ​​accordion (Igor Zobin), electric guitar (Charles Siega), sax (Ilario Morciano), piano and synths (Robert During) – take the viewer through the first sequences of the film, those in the imaginary town of Wisborg, which the young real estate agent Hutter leaves to go to Count Orlok’s Transylvania and conclude a deal with him. The suspended atmospheres of the instrumental ensemble are occasionally enriched by vocal interventions by the soprano Livia Rado when not by the instrumentalists themselves, for example in the pieces taken from Stoker which describe the vampire reduced to sound syntagms whose meaning is barely perceptible. To give colour, Perocco uses songs and poems syncretically linked by a thread that has the color of the night: the menacing exoticism of the images of Transylvania is expressed in the Balkan song of a mother to her child, the “Cântecul de leagăn”. Above all, Hutter’s arrival at the castle of Orlok, in which the fatal encounter of the vampire with the image of Ellen, Hutter’s wife, towards whom a fatal attraction springs, marks a turning point in the step of the film story, which veers decisively on dreamlike coordinates. “La peste est ici”, “The plague is here”, “Die Pest ist hier” announce the voices of the ensemble: the plague arrives in Wiborg from Orlok’s sailing ship with its coffins full of desecrated earth and infected rats, but the images have their own poetic immateriality, anything but crude or melodramatic. For that page, Perocco chooses the icy sonorities of Otto Erich Hartleben’s “Der kranke Mond”, a song to the deathly sick nocturnal moon already set to music by Schönberg in Pierrot Lunaire, and the lyric “Sonno” by Luigi Pianca from Treviso to accompany the gloomy funeral procession of the victims of the epidemic. There can only be an epilogue to put an end to the collective tragedy and who will have to sacrifice is Ellen, the woman linked by a dark bond with Nosferatu, the undead. It is she who holds him until the rays of the morning sun destroy him. She too dies or perhaps is absorbed in the dream, as the other lullaby, “Doină de leagăn versuri”, chosen by Perocco to conclude his personal account of a dream, seems to suggest.

Nosferatu like a long dreamlike journey, describes Perocco, who conducts his harmony with measure and in a low voice in his score made up of small gestures and delicate reflections. A small and precious classic.

Nosferatu in the dream | The Music Journal