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Silent Era Music Question


RubyOhRuby
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Is there a good book just about the music for silent films? I was wondering:

 

When did orchestras come into the scene? How many pieces were they typically? What percentage of theaters featured orchestras as opposed to a lone piano or organ? Were they restricted to the high end theaters only? Could a low-income family afford to see films with multi-piece music accompaniment?

 

Thank you in advance, my expert friends!

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Ruby,

 

A full symphony orchestra playing for a film was introduced in 1914 by D. W. Griffith for the premiere and subsequent Road Show screenings of THE KLANSMAN. Later Re-titled THE BIRTH OF A NATION for it's general release in 1915. Even before that though, it was not uncommon for a Theater to have both a Piano, player and a Violinist, even a flute player, and sound effects man. Griffith charged top prices for Road show screenings and had his Orchestra's played the various venus traveling with the films such as HEARTS OF THE WORLD (1918), and BROKEN BLOSSOMS (1919). Preforming scores compiled and composed specifically for these films.

 

Smaller Tango Orchestra's of 6 to 9 players or House bands of 6 players were very common by the late Teen's. By the early 20's, there were Jazz Sextet's as well. Theater Organ's like Wurlitzer or a Kimball introduced by 1920, were not all that common as we have been led to believe. Installing a great big organ with all those pipes was not a very economical option. Some larger movie palaces had optional screenings where the organ would play a shift, and an orchestra would play the next one, and vice versa. There were also screenings where the organist and the orchestra played together at the same time.

 

 

In some of the great movie palaces there were symphony's as much as a 100 players. A good size Orchestra would be anywhere between 19 to 45 members. House Bands and Tango Orchestra's were cheaper and very popular. In the early 20's Tango Orchestra's became all the rage. Some of the great Silent film music composers included J. S. Zamecnik, Maurice Barron, Erno Rapee', Lew Pollack, Aurthur Kay, Hans Erdmann, Francisco Canaro, William Axt, and David Mendoza, just to name a few.

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THANK YOU for that!

 

When you said small groups were common by the late teens, was that in the MAJORITY of theaters? Did the lone piano ever become obsolete?

 

I understand that cue sheets were given to the musicians featuring various pieces of established classical music as accompaniment & that the big films, like those by DW, had their own original score. Was that the norm throughout the subsequent era?

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Lone Piano was sort of phased out with the passing of the Nickelodeon. Even in the smallest rural Theaters you generally had a Piano player with a Violinist. Maybe a bells, cymbal guy or chime player.

 

There were also special Photo-player machines that replicated the sound of several small instruments in edition to it's base Ragtime or **** Tonk piano sound. Can't think of exactly what these were called at the moment?

 

 

The Phono-fiddle was a fiddle-horn combination instrument that they don't make anymore. Very common in a good House band. A strong Accordion player or two, was a vital part of any Tango-Movie Orchestra. The sole Piano player is sort of a stereotypical myth of the period that has endured.

 

 

The cue-sheets contained an assortment of Movie Mood music themes. There was classical music selections yes, but it was more diverse than that. Many Popular standards were introduced through Silent film scores, well before the dawn of Vita-phone, or Movie-tone recorded tracks. Hit tunes of the day were also regularly incorporated into live scoring performances as well.

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  • 1 month later...

I would recommend Rick Altman's book "Silent Film Sound" for a thorough study of the history of film accompaniment. I would also suggest you check out this YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/FilmMusicHistory/videos for an ongoing web series of videos about the history of film music. I was interviewed for the 1st two episodes. They're on episode 4 and still aren't done with the silent era yet!

 

I was hired by Schirmers/MusicSales to put together a sheet music book of vintage mood music cues from the silent era. Unfortunately they have been stalling and dragging their heels about finishing the project for four years and the book may never see the light of day.

 

Ben

http://www.silentfilmmusic.com

 

Edited by: silentfilmmusic on Nov 27, 2012 2:51 PM

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  • 2 weeks later...
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