Composers Datebook®

Tchaikovsky and Glass at the movies

Composer's Datebook - September 4, 2023


For ballet lovers, the opening of Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake conjures up tutus, but for old-time movie buffs, this same music triggers memories of many black-and-white films of the 1930s. Back then, the eerie opening measures of Swan Lake served as the “main title” music for dozens of old Universal Studios thrillers, including the famous 1931 film of Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi.

“Ah, the children of the night—what music THEY make…”

But on today’s date in 1999 at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, Tchaikovsky got some competition from Philip Glass. For a special showing of the Bela Lugosi Dracula, Glass wrote a brand-new score. Now, beyond the opening Tchaikovsky, the original 1931 soundtrack had included very little music, and, despite the creepy charisma of Bela Lugosi, the film moved at a ponderous pace. The new Philip Glass score, performed live by the Kronos Quartet, added fresh atmosphere to the familiar old film. In fact, it proved so effective that Glass and the Kronos Quartet took it on a tour, accompanying live showings of the old film in Europe and the U.S.

Music Played in Today's Program

Peter Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893) Swan Lake Ballet Montréal Symphony; Charles Dutoit, cond. London 436 212

Philip Glass (b. 1937) Dracula filmscore excerpt Kronos Quartet Nonesuch 79542

On This Day


  • 1824 - Austrian organist and composer Anton Bruckner, in Ansfelden;

  • 1892 - French composer and conductor Darius Milhaud, in Aix-en-Provence;


  • 1907 - Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, age 64, in Bergen;


  • 1996 - Steven Mackey: "Lost and Found" for orchestra, by the San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas conducting;

  • 1999 - Philip Glass: new filmscore to accompany the classic 1931 Tod Browning horror film "Dracula" (starring Bela Lugosi), by the Kronos Quartet at Telluride, Colorado;


  • 1965 - Organist, Bach authority, medical doctor and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer dies, age 90, at his African mission hospital in Lambaréné, Gabon.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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