Carl Theodor Dreyer Vampyr (1932) + Live Score

On Thursday 20th February 2014, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr Der Traum des Allan Gray (1932) will be screened at Watershed, Bristol with a brand new score by Paul Robinson, performed live on stage by contemporary music ensemble HarmonieBand.

After the release of La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc in 1927, Dryer turned his intentions to what would become his first foray into sound, he would end up making one of cinema’s great nightmares.

Adapted from Gothic stories by Sheridan Le Fanu; Vampyr is a disturbing narrative of vampirism, obsession and possession of the soul. The story follows Allan Gray (Nicolas de Gunzburg) a young man who arrives in a remote village ruled by the undead. Profoundly unsettling and surreal, full of rolling fogs and mist, scythes and creepy echoes, Dreyer immerses you in a world of shadowy beings and deathly visions that exist somewhere between dreams and reality.

Deemed by Alfred Hitchcock ‘the only film worth watching… twice’, Vampyr’s influence has become, by now, incalculable.

The comoposer for this new score, Paul Robinson has also allowed us to share his thought on scoring for Dreyer’s masterpiece.

Scoring ‘Vampyr’ by Paul Robinson

The freedom that scoring any silent film affords a composer is to be able to occupy the entire soundtrack uninterrupted by dialogue, other soundtrack elements, or suggestions from the Director. In this sense the approach can be operatic – associating themes or ‘tones of voice’ with characters or psychological states- and using the memory of these elements to bind the narrative into a subliminal entity.

The main psychological states in Dreyer’s ‘Vampyr’ appear to be a kind of delirium, sometimes benign to the point of simple mindedness, at others ill at ease or even traumatic.

For the benign version I found a kind of soft ‘tolling’ sound on the piano with notes doubled and pulled out of the chords like melted cheese. This is heard at the very opening of my score and at various points in the film where text is being read to remind the characters of times past.

The more traumatic passages in the film employ the darker registers of the viola and bass clarinet with rhythmically unsettled melodic lines over ‘revelatory’ harmony (the kind found in Stravinsky’s early Ballet scores and Messiaen’s music of the 30’s and 40’s)

Since the soundtrack is sequenced, I took the opportunity to use some sound effects lifted from the sound version Dreyer made of this film: crows crowing, baby gurgles and the ratchet of the flour mill at the climax of the film.
© Paul Robinson 2014


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