Don’t even think about challenging Philip Glass to a Dracula trivia contest. He has seen the 1931 horror classic more than 100 times, and he will add one more showing to the list in Bass Hall on Tuesday night.
Joined by his Philip Glass Ensemble, he will play one of his arrangements of his film score for the movie while the film is shown onscreen to the audience.
Glass doesn’t remember when he first saw Dracula. It must have been when he was an adolescent.
“Bela Lugosi became Dracula to all of us,” Glass says of the lead character and his fans. So he had an idea of what he was getting into when he agreed to do a film score.
Glass is so familiar with the movie that during performances, he finds himself anticipating what he calls “delicious scenes.” For instance, Dracula’s first entrance, which Glass finds “so sinister you can’t help but laugh.”
Glass’ direct involvement with the film began in 1998, when Universal Pictures asked him to do a film score. Universal planned to release three horror classics on video: Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. These were early talkies done without filmscores.
Universal wanted Glass to do one score, but he liked the idea so much he wanted to do all three. He was already thinking about using a chorus and organ for Frankenstein.
Although the producer liked the idea, the studio nixed it and limited Glass to one film, but it did allow him to choose which one. He picked Dracula.
He hasn’t completely given up hope that Universal might reconsider. “I would do it in a second. A trilogy would be fabulous.”
Glass says that when writing the music for Dracula, he had a few problems to solve. For instance, he says the movie is basically “a filmed play,” with “very awkward transitions.” To smooth the transitions, he began using themes associated with a character to anticipate the character’s arrival. “You hear the characters before you see them.”
This being a very early talkie, there is sparing use of dialogue, one thing he found to be helpful.
“There are a lot of spaces you can fill in [with music]. It’s an ideal film for experimenting with,” he said.
Glass’ first score — the one recorded on the Dracula video — was for the Kronos Quartet, who play stringed instruments. The sound to be heard in Bass Hall will be different. The Philip Glass Ensemble’s amplified woodwinds, keyboard synthesizers and percussion considerably expand the tonal palette.
Dracula is by no means Glass’ only work for Hollywood; he has a long list of film and television credits. Although he says he wouldn’t live there (“I’ve stayed safely away from that world”), he has great respect for the professionalism of those who work there.
“Hollywood may not be [producing] high art, but there is a lot of talent there — talent geared toward commercial work. But that’s not a sin; that’s what we do in America. There is real quality there, and I have learned to respect it,” Glass says.
Asked to name some film composers he admires, he mentions Henry Mancini and Elmer Bernstein (“ The Man With the Golden Arm is a fabulous score”).
Glass doesn’t like having the word “minimalism” applied to his music.
“For the early pieces, it’s fair enough,” he says. But his music has evolved, and “if you say [minimalism] people will be expecting something they’re not going to hear.”
He cites Dracula and Einstein on the Beach, his first opera, as two examples of contrasts in his work. “Listening to those two pieces back to back, you’d think two different people wrote them,” he says.
When asked what he’s working on, Glass says he is finishing a group of songs for African singer Angelique Kidjo, is starting an opera based on Kafka’s The Trial for a Welsh company, is planning to write a two-piano concerto for the Labeque sisters and “by fall should be working on another dance piece.”
How does he work it all in?
“I sleep less,” he says.