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