Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In Rotation: Dracula

What? Dracula by Philip Glass, performed by Kronos Quartet

Why this? Why today? Check the date.

I realize this is the first TiOM post about classical music, and I also realize that, as a topic, classical – even contemporary classical – might be off-putting for some. Well, fair warning: I’m listening to a lot more of this stuff these days, especially string quartets, so expect more like-themed posts. The good news is that I’m starting with what amounts to pop-classical. It’s a film score written by a popular (if not populist) composer, and performed by the rockstars of the string quartet world.

Philip Glass, frequent film composer and reputed “minimalist,” was approached to provide a new score to a deluxe DVD of the classic Browning-Lugosi Dracula film. He assented, thank goodness, and soon the Kronos Quartet released this stunning music.

With a level of theatricality appropriate to Halloween, Glass gives us high tension strings – bowed, plucked, strummed, pummeled, cajoled. Ranging from just 40 seconds to four-plus minutes, these 26 pieces are perfect in their brevity, Glass’s “repetitive elements” held in check as a result of the length of film scenes. They are snapshots representing a grab-bag of musical possibilities. “Journey to the Inn” is all forward energy, hellhounds on your tail. “Excellent, Mr. Renfield” is rigid restraint, a fright withheld. “Lucy’s Bitten” is suitably erotic.

I don’t have the DVD, and I’ve never seen it. The closest I came was watching F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu on while listening to this on my Sansa, and that was plenty creepy. But the strength of this music is independent of its filmic roots, ranging as it does from Romantic gusto to more characteristically Glassian subtlety; it stands alone. It conjures this season perfectly. You can see the gargoyles grimacing in the coming dusk, feel the cold wind, hear the bare trees knocking together like bones. You can feel the Count’s presence in the hair raised on the back of your neck. But this doesn’t just come out in October – it’s far too beautiful to relegate to seasonal duty.

Do yourself a favour: forgo the drugstore Scary Sound FX CD and locate a copy of this. Don a cape and fangs, turn the stereo up loud, and wait for the doorbell to ring. The kids might not get it, but you’ll have a ball.

Happy Halloween.

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