A John Williams Score for Every Year of my Life 10: 1979 – Dracula

Dracula, scored in 1979, is perhaps one of john Williams’ lesser known works. It is however a mighty work, built mainly around the lush and dangerous theme Williams provided for the central character. This theme features firstly in the Main Title and Storm Sequence :

John Williams has said that he tries not to know too much about the books on which the films are often based. In the case of Dracula, he came to the film, if you like, a further step removed – he’d never even seen a Dracula film! Not one. So he had no preconceptions about what a Dracula theme should do. And so what we get in the main theme is a heady mixture of sensuality and threat. It is a sinuous melody. Some of its intervals, and especially the fall at the end of the first two phrases of the melody, play a similar trick to the theme from Superman, in that one can almost hear the word “Dracula” being sung in the orchestra.

There are indeed other links to the Superman score from the previous year. At 1:14 we hear the low strings intoning a ponderous ostinato with trills. Williams used the same trick in Superman, here at 5:30:

There are other themes which wind their way in and out of the score, such as the jaunty brass motif heard at 2:20:

Or the rather threatening brass and piano combination here at 6:38

There is also a lovely little travelling piece which sounds for all the world like a hunt. This may be because of the instrumentation at the beginning – a horn plays a questing little up-down melody before the piece begins in earnest, full of racing strings and woodwind. There is a marvellous melody on the horns, which shows Williams’ mastery of the French horn’s capabilities.

There is one standout variation of the main theme in the score, where john Williams takes it to it’s rapturous extreme, in “The Love Scene”. After a wonderful intro on the horns, the strings come to the fore. They seem to swell like the waves of the ocean, coming to a climax at 1:10. And it really does feel like a climax – its surely the musical version of an orgasm. The piece becomes tender as it draws to a close, but there is always an underlying sense of menace, which pervades the entire score.

There is not much beauty in this score. That’s not to say that the main theme is not majestic, and marvellous. But it’s not a beautiful piece of music. It’s far too dangerous for that.

There are moments of lightness, such as the lovely little motif played on the woodwind in “Give Me Your Loyalty”, at 0:42.

But these moments are rare in a score which is overshadowed by the menace and allure of Dracula himself. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. John Williams is a genius. He creates themes which seem inevitable, fitting perfectly to the characters and images portrayed on the silver screen. This version of Dracula portrays the vampire as a seductive handsome stranger who exerts a supernatural power over the women he pursues. The theme he furnishes Dracula with is likewise intoxicating, seductive, sensual, but at the same time, always with a sense of danger, of menace lurking just below the surface.

If you’ve never heard the score, try and get a copy, or find it on youtube – it’s well worth the listening to.

What’s in a lyric?

The cover for my musical based on Dracula

Well if you want to live, hear the warning I give,
And don’t you go to Castle Dracula
Young man, lend me an ear, don’t go anywhere near
And please don’t go, sir please don’t go

I write musicals. Musicals for performance by Primary aged children. But I happen to think that even if the music and lyrics are only going to be used in primary schools, the quality of writing in the lyrics (and the music, but that’s another topic) needs to be top quality. The rhyme scheme needs to be consistent, as does the metre. And the lyrics must make sense within the context of the action of the musical.

You’ll see in the excerpt, from my child-friendly version of Dracula above, that there are rhymes within each line – live and give, and ear and near. Quite apart from the fact that this appeals to my sense of form and shape, it also makes the lyrics a darn sight easier for kids to learn!

Dracula! Why does he terrify?
It’s just not fair if I
Can’t sleep when he is near
Dracula! I’m shaking like a leaf
Just thinking of his teeth
He fills me with such fear

In the above example, you’ll see how lyricists often create rhymes by placing short words together to rhyme with a longer word – hence “terrify” and “fair if I”. Stephen Schwartz is perhaps the master of this – countless examples in Wicked show this clever turn of phrase.

We’re off to find the beast
We’re searching everywhere
The undeceased we’ll make deceased
We’re off to find his lair
We’re searching for his nest,
We look for You Know Who
And we won’t rest until our quest
Is absolutely through

Above is another example of rhymes within lines, and also where lines 2 and 4 are rhyming couplets, as are 6 and 8.

In the following example, the rhyming couplets are as follows – A B C B A D C D. In other words, lines 2 and 4 rhyme, lines 6 and 8 rhyme, but in addition, lines 3 and 7 rhyme. These things are planned – they are suggested often by the shape and rhythm of the melody. For example, if lines 3 and 7 have the same rhythm or indeed melody, it feels right to find a rhyme to bring them together.

Fangs aren’t what they used to be
Fangs are just not what they was
It’s hard to find my joie-de-vivre
My bark’s worse than my bite because
Fangs aren’t what they used to be
Oh, Fangs have changed and that’s the truth
It’s hard when folks just don’t believe
In monsters who are long in the tooth.

Click here to listen to excerpts from this musical

Enough of the technique. What about the content? Well, when I’m writing a show, I ask myself at every turn, “Does this scene need a song? Could this narrative or dialogue be done more effectively through song?” And I’m always on the look out for some comedy – a chance to turn things slightly on their heads. So in my musical about Snow White, in which she meets a seven a side football team made up of very small people (Little Man United), I thought – what would people say if a baby was named Snow White today?

The front cover for my musical about Snow White

What a silly thing to go and call the girl Snow White
Like calling her red cherry, or green cheese,
To saddle her with such a silly name, it’s just not right
So spare a little thought for this poor baby please

Oh what silly things these rich celebrities do do
They give their little cherubs silly names
Like Lunar Landing Module Craft or Fifi Trixi Woo
When what they need is normal names like Sue or James.

Click here to listen to excerpts from this musical

So what’s in a lyric? Quite a lot of work! It takes thought, and lots of editing. I will often spend hours crafting the lyrics for just one song. Because it’s important. I believe that children deserve the same quality and craftsmanship as work that we would produce for adults.

Visit my schools music website to listen to excerpts from my growing catalogue of musicals