Principal Conductor Peter Stafford Wilson on the music of Dracula

Oct 9, 2012 in Blog Posts

Principal Conductor Peter Stafford Wilson shares some insight into the dramatic and chilling music of Ben Stevenson’s Dracula! For tickets call (918) 749 - 6030!

What musical era did Franz Liszt composed during and what contributions he made to that era?

Franz Liszt was the quintessential composer of the Romantic era in music. He was the most renowned pianist of his time, attaining the status of a rock star in today’s culture. His music evokes deep psychological as well as emotional response, perhaps far more than any composer before him. At the time his music bewildered audiences but ignited their imaginations as well, and it served to inspire the late romantic composers and even the atonal generation of the twentieth century. His music is more about human existence, human passion and emotion than simply serving common practice and a metronome.

How was the music chosen and arranged for Ben Stevenson's Dracula?

Australian conductor John Lanchbery created the score to Dracula for Ben Stevenson. Evidently his methods and reasoning with this score, and all the ballets he created, are a well-guarded secret. I spoke with his librarian and even she was unable to speculate on his thought process, sharing that he kept all such information quite to himself. My own analysis includes over 25 different pieces of music that went to form the score. These include some of his lesser-known tone poems such as Tasso, Prometheus, What is Heard on the Mountain, etc. Also present are Lanchbery’s orchestrations of several piano pieces such as La Lugubre Gondola, Sposalizo (which forms the music for the exquisite pas de deux in Act II), and the well-known Totentanz for piano and orchestra.

Dracula is a dramatically different story from the typical ballets like Swan Lake or The Nutcracker. How does the music for Dracula compare to Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev?

Franz Liszt had no idea that his music, in this particular form, would support at story ballet. But I think he would have enjoyed the notion. Pieces such as Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, all were conceived as ballets before a single note had been written. Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and any number of other composers were given specific direction from the choreographer/designers as to what the musical needs would be. In this case, the story was developed and then Mr. Lanchbery searched for the music that would best portray the action and emotion being played out on stage. I think he did an extraordinary job!

What instrumentation or musical themes the audience can link up with certain characters or the plot?

The most notable signature tune is the main theme from Totentanz for piano and orchestra. This music is heard when Dracula is at his most evil and most powerful.

Which parts do you think are most haunting in the score?

Dracula consorts with two of his brides in a pas de tois in the first act, set to La Lugubre Gondola which for me is incredibly surreal. The most beautiful moment for me is the Act II pas de deux, set to the orchestrated piano piece Sposalizo in which music and Stevenson’s stunning choreography of a young couple expressing their devotion for each other make for a gorgeous experience. The most terrifying for me is the finale to Act II. We are lulled into a carefree, festive time by simple village folk until Flora, now the personification of evil, returns from Dracula’s lair. The joyful occasion is violently disrupted by the dark one’s appearance and his diligence, piloted by his minion Renfield, wisks the innocent Svetlana away. Set to the tone poem Prometheus, this, for me is the most disturbing scene of the entire ballet.

How will you manage the timing of his conducting with the special effects?

Never underestimate the power of Dracula’s spell.