The Adaptation of Heinrich Marschner’s Der Vampyr for Nosferatu

At the premiere screening of NOSFERATU, in Berlin on March 4th, 1922, it has been well documented that the orchestra who accompanied the film performed as pre-curtain stage-setter, the operatic overture to DER VAMPYR (1826) by German opera-composer Heinrich Marschner.


Alas, like many original orchestral scores from this period of cinematic history, the original score to NOSFERATU, by Hans Erdmann, had been lost. What does survive, ironically, is music that is nearly 100 years older, and was hand-picked by F.W. Murnau himself as suitable prelude for his SYMPHONY OF HORRORS.


The great loss of not having the original 1922 Erdmann score gave me the idea to adapt the entire Marschner opera score as an accompanying dramatic narrative, liberally transforming selected scenes and passages (admittedly without regard to the DER VAMPYR libretto, as the opera’s scenario is quite unrelated to that of NOSFERATU or Bram Stoker’s DRACULA) to serve the film as a thoroughly synchronised piece of silent film accompaniment, but without voices. Hoping to achieve a convincing period atmosphere, I set about freely adapting the Marschner opera to the entire film.


Mind you, the listener will obviously not hear his music as Marschner intended it. I did, however, endeavor to make the same dark and sinister impact that he was hoping to achieve, inspired by his own Vampire fascination (Even Richard Wagner wrote, after the Leipzig premiere in 1828 that he considered the Marschner work one of the great “Demonic” operas of all-time).


Casting the libretto aside, I began transcribing the entire opera as raw symphonic material, selecting adaptable scenes and passages, incorporating the vocal lines, and starting anew as a film score. Freeing this music from the confines of its original stage setting, I detailed and developed those passages and made liberal use of the material which I believed made DER VAMPYR uniquely beautiful. I found helpful the model used by Schönberg when he adapted the Handel op. 6, or the harpsichord concerto of Matthias Monn, both of which inspired him to create completely new works while striving to maintain the sound and feel of the original source.


I have kept nearly the exact original orchestration, with the addition of an organ and a bass-clarinet part. The instrumentation is 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion, organ and strings.


Timothy Brock


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