Nosferatu A Symphony of Horrors (1922)

James Bernard

" A fine example of a gothic symphony! "

Written by Thomas Kiefner - Review of the regular release

James Bernard (1925-2001), composer of the famous Dracula motif for Hammer films, was commissioned by silent film historian Kevin Brownlow in 1995 to write a score for the F.W. Murnau's silent classic Nosferatu (1922), the first film version of Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula (1897).

Bernard approached this project as if he were composing a symphonic tone poem, combining the themes of Orlok, Ellen, Hutter, and Knock into the 14 track 63 minute work. Bernard's first and only attempt at composing for a silent film proved to be quite a challenge for someone who was a veteran of 38 movies, mostly Hammer productions having to incorporate sound effects and dialogue around his soundtracks.

"Overture-Omens of Nosferatu" introduces the Orlok theme, from the trombones, tuba, trumpets, percussion and lower register woodwinds and strings. This theme simply oozes evil and terror and as you listen you just know something terrible is going to happen. While the orchestration and motif have some similarity to his "Horror of Dracula" theme, it is still quite unique. I certainly like the dark harmony he uses to make this track one to be played for trick or treaters on Halloween. "Hutter and Ellen" introduces first the Hutter theme a happy carefree melody played by flutes with pizzicato from the strings. "Ellen's Disquiet" offers both the Hutter and Ellen theme plus the danger chords of vampire music lurking about at the end of the cue.

"Loading the Coffins" introduces the distorted dissonant theme of Knock, a servant of Orlock. "The Pursuit of Knock" shows why Bernard is at the top of the list when it comes to writing chase music. The strings and percussion just build and build going faster and faster to a climax. I truly enjoy listening to a writer who uses the leitmotif composing style and will change the tempo and the style of the themes depending on the situation in the picture. This score is a good example of what to do to achieve maximum effect with the themes you've created. Listening to "Orlok's Lair" with the switching between themes is a good example of how effective the leitmotif writing can be as it tells the story between good and evil.

Nosferatu is just one of a continuing effort (I previously reviewed The Fugitive) by Silva to make available their older releases in a digital format, many only available at a premium price on the second hand market. Nosferatu is a good example of how to write gothic material. Recommended.


1. Overture - Omens of Nosferatu (3.03)
2. Hutter and Ellen (2.11)
3. Ellen's Disquiet (5.12)
4. Journey to Orlok's Castle (6.04)
5. In the Castle (5.21)
6. Ellen Sleep-walks (6.10)
7. Hutter's Discovery (3.24)
8. Loading the Coffins (3.58)
9. Ellen by the Seashore (3.23)
10. The Ship of Doom (5.19)
11. Orlok's Lair (2.43)
12. The Plague (5.55)
13. The Pursuit of Knock (2.47)
14. The Power of Orlok / The Death of Ellen (7.34)

Total Length: 63.04
(click to rate this score)  
(total of 40 votes - average 4.33/5)

Released by

Silva Screen SSD 1084 (regular release 2010)

Conducted by

Nic Raine

Performed by

The City of Prague Philharmonic