As I sit and read that John Williams has been taken ill and will sadly not be conducting the concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London on October 26th. I am sent the digital promo download for the expanded version of the composers score for DRACULA courtesy of Varese Sarabande. The movie itself I have always admired and I think that Frank Langella made a wonderful Count with great support from Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing, this for me was the best non Hammer films version of Bram Stokers dark and virulent tale but saying this the Hammer films have not aged well or stood the test of time and seem rather dated nowadays when watching them, don’t get me wrong they are still as enjoyable but somewhat lame and cliched in places. Whereas director John Badham’s DRACULA is still full of energy and vibrant passion, it has to it a spark a zest and also an alluring appearance. It was photographed beautifully and scored with sensitivity and style by John Williams, the composers somewhat wild sounding strings being well suited to the storyline and the locations in which the movie was shot. Many think of DRACULA as a horror movie or a tale of horrors and the macabre, a story of blood letting and evil, and yes to a degree these are the ingredients that are in the mix. But look closer and you will see a love story a sad and at the same time compelling tale of love lost. A story of a tormented soul who I think longs for peace but needs a companion so he can at last he can reach this. The move which was released in 1979 was met with mixed reactions, but has in recent years become a movie that is admired and applauded. The cast was an impressive one, not only Langella and Olivier produced believable and solid performances, but they were in turn complimented and supported by the likes of Donald Pleasance, Trevor Eve, Kate Nelligan and Jan Francis. The score by John Williams is a work that is sumptuous and lavish and one that is oozing with romantic undertones that accompany and enhance the darker and more dramatic parts of the work. In essence this is a score that deserves the title of Iconic. The composer was at the time of writing the score riding high on the success of the likes of STAR WARS, SUPERMAN, JAWS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. Williams was of course already a regular name on the credits of numerous movies and had scored blockbusters such as EARTHQUAKE and THE TOWERING INFERNO five years previous to working on DRACULA. Within DRACULA we hear the Williams sound or at least what was to become the sound and style that we associate with the composer. In many ways I liken the theme that Williams penned for Dracula to his work on the American TV movie JANE EYRE (1970), with its windswept strings and flyaway untamed sounding woods add to this the power and the lushness of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and the inventive and commanding elements that we heard in STAR WARS and we have DRACULA. The new edition of the score comes in a superb two disc set, the first disc containing the actual film score and comprising of twenty six tracks two of which are alternate takes of the LOVE THEME and MAIN TITLE AND STORM SEQUENCE. This is a grandiose near operatic work that purveys not only atmospheres of romance that are edged and underlined with sinister undercurrents but moods that are compelling and attractive, it has to it an untamed almost frantic appeal and a highly melodious heart.


The soundtrack was originally released in 1979 on MCA records and received a re-issue on LP and CD on the Varese Sarabande label. It has been crying out for an expanded release as it is an important score not only within the canon of Williams but also within the history of cinema and film music. Most DRACULA movies had contained scores that were typical of the majority of horror soundtracks, (dare I say crash bang and thump with the accent of using the repeat indicator on the manuscript) the chance for romance or hints of it being very few and far between. Composer James Bernard who scored the lions share of Hammer films Dracula cycle, only dipped his toe into the romantic side of things a couple of times for a Dracula score most notably in TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA in the composition entitled THE YOUNG LOVERS, which he did only on the instruction of the films producer who asked him to take a softer approach.







The sound and style achieved by John Williams for DRACULA was a combination of the dramatic, the romantic and also the mysterious, there is a rich and dark atmosphere surrounding each and every cue that supports and ingratiates, punctuates and enhances, the music colours and adds texture and depth to every scene that is scored, bringing the already vibrant images to even more intensity. The foreboding and brooding musical persona being present and unrelenting throughout the work. It is I think difficult to review a score that so many are familiar with, we all know its good, so what can I say? Well the sound quality is excellent and the presentation is marvellous. The release has a second disc which is a re-issue of the original LP soundtrack which has been re-mastered. Stand out tracks, are the same as they have always been, but it is unfair to highlight any one or two cues as all are equally outstanding as in NIGHT JOURNEYS, THE LOVE THEME, MAIN TITLE AND STORM SEQUENCE etc. All I can really say is this is an epic work and a score that every self respecting film music fan should have in their



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Can I start by asking what would you say inspired you to become a composer and what are your earliest memories of any kind of music?

Not sure about my earliest memories. But I do remember the first record I really listened too again and again was Prokofiev’s “Peter and the wolf”. Later on at the age of 8 I started playing the recorder in the local music school. We had an ambitious teacher, so soon we formed a quartet playing Bach’s “Die kunst der fugue” (the first 4 fugas). Almost at the same time I started playing Tuba in a local brass band. It was so big I had to be seated on three phone books in order to reach the mouth piece! at the age of 12 I picked up the guitar, and that became my main instrument. It was also about that time I started composing.


Was writing film music always a career you wanted to pursue or were you just wanting a career in music and film music became part of this as your career progressed?

As a teenager I began playing guitar in rock and funk bands, and was very focused on becoming a good guitarist, but at the same time I continued to compose music that wasn’t really songs for my bands. I had a guitar teacher, Jacob Groth, who had just begun writing film music, and I think that inspired me as well.
When I was 23 I put down a demo tape with my music and sent it to some students at the National Film School of Denmark. This gave me my first experience of writing to picture, and I immediately fell in love with how music and image can blend together. And very quickly I decided to go that direction. And I haven’t really done anything else in music since then.



What musical education did you have and did you focus upon one area or areas of music whilst training?
I have no formal musical training. It has been learning by doing.


Do you come from a background that was musical. Were any of your family involved in music as a career?

No. My father plays the piano, but never on a professional level.




WILDWITCH is one of your recent assignments, what size orchestra did you utilise for the soundtrack, and how much time were you given to write the score?

I got involved very early in the process, approximately. 2 month before the shooting of the film. When I read the script, I immediately knew that the music should be very organic, free, round, hazy, misty… I didn’t get any melodies in my head, but more soundscapes and instruments scrubbing against each other.  I met with  Kaspar Munk, the director, and Peter Albrechtsen, the sound designer. We have all worked together before, and I told them my ideas and that I could not imagine doing any computer mock-ups. It would be impossible, so I said that I would like to just write on paper and go ahead and record. Since I wanted a very free floating music, it made sense for me to write and record different material with different groups of musicians and then put it together in the computer later.  Luckily we all agreed and I spent first some weeks writing, then I went recording first with a singer, then a duo of Cello and Bass, then a duo of Clarinet and Alto Flute, and finally I recorded a suite with a 30 pieces string orchestra. I also did some percussion at this stage.

Gerda Langkilde Lie Kaas som Clara. Vildheks.

So during the shooting Kaspar Munk, the director, already had a lot of music ready. And most of those first musical themes and harmonic landscapes are used a lot in the final film. I continued to write and record during the editing of the film. All in all, I worked over a period of almost 18 months! That’s my record!!:-)



Would you say that contemporary film music is less melodic or not as theme based as movie scores from other decades by this I mean the main theme as we knew it seems to be a thing of the past, is this a good thing or negative?

I think it is so in general, and I think there are several reasons for this. The sound on film has become so rich and detailed, that there’s no  longer the same need for a very melodic score. But it’s also because the way we make film has evolved, and a very melodic, orchestral score might seem too nostalgic. Personally I always work with melodies – but it’s true that many directors are trying to avoid them. I also think that the way many film composers work today plays a role:  It’s very easy and quick to do orchestrations with samples and create soundscapes and rhythmic loops etc., and this does really not help focusing on melodic material . You can actually score a film ,without having any really strong melodic concept.
Are there any film music composers or musical artists outside of film music that you find particularly interesting and for what reasons?



Oh, there are many! I do love the works of Toru Takemitsu very much. I can listen to his work again and again, and it continues to reveal new depths on each listen. When I’m stressed, I listen to “I Hear Water Dreaming”. It heals me! I also really love the works of Bent Sørensen, who I have been so lucky to have experienced as a coach and teacher on a few seminars. His work is so emotional and it truly moves me.
From the world of film music I especially admire Alberto Iglesias, but i also find great inspiration in the works of more modern composers like Jon Brion or Johann Johannsson. And I cannot answer a question like this without mentioning Björk! Always reinventing herself, always surprises me.  And since I’m a guitarist, I have of course a guitar hero: David Gilmour.



When you begin to work on a movie, what is the first order of practise for you, by this I mean do you like to develop a central theme or do you work on smaller cues before creating the main core theme?

I always work out a central theme first. It can be more or less melodic, but it’s clearly a theme, and the melodic structure comes first. I work on paper and mostly piano. I’m really a bad piano player, and have a hard time playing with two hands at the same time, so I merely use the piano to hear my ideas, and fool around with harmonies and alterations. I would never start composing in front of the film. It’s important to me to dig out the musical core of the film before dealing with specific scenes.



WILDWITCH is I think a special score it has so much melody and also contains a number of solo instruments and vocalists, did the director of the movie have a particular vision or idea about what type of music they thought the movie needed?

When we met after I read the script we were completely in sync about what we thought the film needed. The idea of using voice in the score, was really given to us, since the “Wildwitch” books uses a “Wildsong” in order to make magic. So actually on our first meeting, Katinka Fogh Vindelev, our singer, was there! She was hired very early in the process as a vocal coach for the young actors.  I was originally heading for a less melodic driven score, with the exception of an idea to create a Hymn (Clara’s Hymn) that would evolve alongside the main character.


Later in the process, during editing, the need for more melodies were clear, and I wrote a more emotional theme, mainly for bells and piano.  It was also during the editing I developed the more rhythmic parts of the score using lot’s off different kinds of bells. An idea that came from Peter Albrechtsen, our sound designer.
I think your first scoring assignment was in 1998 which was for a documentary, how did you become involved on the project?

Besides all my projects at the National Film School, I do not recall which professional assignment was my first. But it’s clear that almost all my projects in the beginning, was coming my way, because of my strong network at the school.



You have worked on shorts, TV series and movies as well as documentaries, are there a great many differences between scoring a short and writing for feature film?

I don’t think that it’s very different. My approach remains the same: I still have to figure out a main theme first. But of course you have to make sure that your ground material can cover 8 hours of character development, when your working on TV-series!



When working on a TV series which is spread over a number of episodes, do you ever re-use cues from episodes in other parts of the series?

Yes, we do re-use a lot of cues. Actually when working on a series, I always work out different themes and textures before the editing starts, so the editor from day one can use the original music. Then during the editing of the first episodes, I write more, always in close collaboration with the editor, and quickly we have large library of music.
On the later episodes some music from the library will be used as it is, some will need some re-writing – and of course there will also be needed some new music.


What would you say was the purpose of music in film?

Music is emotion. And it can really help bringing out feelings from the film. While the narrative of a film often is very based on words and by that has a very concrete narrative, the music stays abstract, and can tell you things on an emotional plan, that might be difficult, or even impossible, to bring out without the music.



Were any of your films tracked with a temp music track, if so do you think that this is helpful to the composer or do you think it is distracting?

Like everyone else in the game of scoring for picture, I have been sent films with temp tracks. As I prefer to begin writing very early in the process, it’s rare that the editors have to use temp tracks.  When accepting a film where the editing has been done with a temp track, I do find it difficult to just “forget” about it. Often because the director is getting attached to the temp.  On the other hand, once I have figured out my musical base, it does not bother me that an editor uses a temp track on a scene, in order to “push” me some where else. Then it can be inspiring, and I do not have to “copy” the temp, but simply rework my material in that direction.

Returning to WILDWITCH, did you work with the record label to select what cues would make it onto the CD release?

I sent all my cues to the label, and they proposed me the edits and the selection. I think they did a great job, and we only made few changes before the release.
What is your principal instrument for working out your musical ideas?

Paper and pen. And piano. Or guitar…



Do you orchestrate all of the music that you write, or are there times when you may use an orchestrator?

For me, orchestration is integrated in the way i compose. I rarely think about harmonies as a vertical thing, but writes everything as lines. Horizontally.
Sometimes, when I do not have enough time to write the scores and parts myself, I work with an orchestrator, who will also do some last polishing and suggestions on the orchestration.

Have you a proffered studio where you record your music?
No…not at all.


Do you conduct at all, or do you find it better to supervise during a recording and have a conductor?
I do not conduct. I think it’s best – as a general rule – that I listen to the produced sound while recording. Sometimes when working with soloists or smaller groups, I stay in the recording stage with them, to have an immediate and more intimate work flow.

There has been a lot of discussion amongst collectors about the use of the DRONE sound in film scores recently, is it music or is it sound design, and is it just a trend do you think?

Drones has been used in music before harmonies were invented!  a lot of good film music is actually modal, so I don’t think it’s just a trend. Personally I think a good drone should have a lot of life in it, like instruments coming and going, small macro rhythms or micro-tonality. Of course there’s an open border between sound design and music. Personally I would not call a steady drone with no movements or musical elements coming out of it for music.

How much of an impact on the score does the budget have?

Low budget – less musicians! But sometimes you then have to be creative and find a way to express what ever is needed, with just a few instruments.
At what stage of the production do you like to become involved, does it help to have a script or is it better to become involved at the rough cut stage and how many times do you go over a movie before you begin to decide where music would be best placed?

As I already mentioned, I much prefer to start writing very early, often before the shooting or at least begin at the same time as the editor.
Sometimes I will do a lecture of the script together with the director to try to imagine what music can do and where. This also helps the director making decisions about tempo and feelings while shooting.
It also means that when we have a locked picture, a lot of the music will be placed where it should. I would the go over the film with the director and often the sound designer, to discuss where we are missing music, what should be changed, are there places where we should avoid music etc.


Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m working on a Brazilian feature film called “Shine your Eyes”, a really interesting art house movie. I’m writing music somewhere in between moody guitar, jazzy saxophones and very contemporary “classical” chamber music. I really love that in film music: Everything is possible!

I have also started writing for two French TV-series and I still have some episodes left on a Danish TV-series I have been working on for about a year.
All projects are quite different from each other, and so is the music.