Un-Silent) Film: Nosferatu & A Symphony of Horror

Louisville Orchestra
Teddy Abrams, conductor

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

It can not be stated enough how incredibly lucky we, as an audience and community, are to have a gifted and forward-thinking orchestra and its creatives who continue to create and share new and exciting music for us.

Saturday’s Classics performance was no exception and it was close to perfection.

Teddy Abrams shared that he is not really into holidays, but wanted to give us the kind of music that we would expect this time of year.

The evening began with Béla Bartók’s Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin, Op. 19. If you are not familiar with this work, seek it out as soon as you are able. 

Based on an early 20th-century story by Melchior Lengyel, The Miraculous Mandarin is about a group of men who use a woman to entice passersby into their “lair” only to rob them, until the Mandarin arrives and disrupts their usual ways because of his seemingly supernatural method of survival. Bartók was taken by the story and composed Mandarin as a one-act pantomime ballet which premiered in 1926.

Frenetic and almost breathtaking in its delivery, the music of the Mandarin characterizes the story that is being told. Everyone involved has a theme: the thieves, the bait (woman), and, of course, the Mandarin. Such a great piece to bring into the spooky fold.

In the bajillion scary/horror movies that have been filmed since the invention of celluloid, few have risen to the height of iconic like Nosferatu. The 1922 silent film was directed by F. W. Murnau and starred Max Shreck as the titular character, Nosferatu. Based on Bram Stoker’s memorable story “Dracula,” the film Nosferatu is a German retelling of the blood-curdling story.

As was the common thing to do before the “talkies” were introduced, a piano and/or organ accompaniment would be added to a silent film to help further entertain the moviegoer and give a musical background to the scenes. I have had experience with presentations of this movie with an organ soundtrack and yes, it does have great suspense and helps to move the story along, but if memory serves me, I do not believe there is a consistent composition for Nosferatu…. until now.

As mentioned before, we have some creative members in our Orchestra, and among them is Sebastian Chang. Sebastian is not only a fantastic keyboardist; he is also an excellent composer. We have been graced with some of his works in the past and he is a rising star in the Classical music world and perhaps in other genres as well. 

Not many people take on the task of scoring for a film, but Sebastian seemed to be up for the task and knocked it out of the park, with a few pop fouls along the way.

As this was a World Premiere, the only reference that I have is from the piano/organ soundtracks that I have heard, and any “borrowing from these scores felt more homage than copying. It truly felt like a whole new composition.

By and large, the music matched the mood of the scene on the screen, also Chang did a fantastic job with the suspense music that is common to play before such a scene is shown (and Nosferatu has many). However, there were some cases where the music seemed a little too happy for the imagery portrayed in the film. As we know, synching is not always going to be perfect, but it was pretty darn close. 

I can honestly say that it would not surprise me if this piece does not become a part of licensed Nosferatu prints going forward and added to orchestral spooky programs in coming years by other organizations.

Thanks again to our Orchestra for a truly hauntingly fun and exciting evening of music.

Bravi Tutti!!!

Un-Silent) Film: Nosferatu & A Symphony of Horror

October 28, 2023

Louisville Orchestra
Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over 25+ years of experience in the classical arts.