Scoring Ramona

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Rodney

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Scoring Ramona

PostTue Jan 21, 2014 12:58 pm

This thread will be a journal of creating a new score for Ramona (1928) for a "premiere" of the new print from Library of Congress at UCLA on March 29, 2014. This score may also be used at other venues as we find them, and possibly be recorded for a home video release. I'm still waiting for a "final" version of the film to work to, but here is some of the background material that Hugh Neeley and I have uncovered so far.

Ramona is probably best known for the romantic waltz-song, also called Ramona, by Mabel Wayne, that was published in conjunction with the film (and used in a remake in 1936); and indeed that is one reason I have been interested in the project. I have acquired several versions of the "Ramona" music, including a sort of fantasia version by Ferdie Grofe (the composer of the still-sometimes-performed Grand Canyon Suite), and a big band dance arrangement. It was a very popular song.

The Library of Congress has some original music from Ramona, attributed to Hugo Riesenfeld. Though he usually lived in New York, Riesenfeld was brought to L.A. to create a score for Ramona and conduct it. According to Hugh Neeley's research:

The film was premiered at the United Artists Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Its LA premiere took place on March 28. The LA Times advertisement for that day (and for later days) mentions that music at the United Artists Theatre is under "Personal Direction - Hugo Riesenfeld," and promises "Superb Symphonic Accompaniment."

The March 30 LA Times review does not comment on music except to mention "A short prologue of musical numbers and of the Indians' dance." Interestingly, the New York premiere did not happen until some almost seven weeks later, on May 14.


My daughter Molly, who happens to be in Boston, was able to get a copy of the LoC material for me (direct from microfilm to PDF) from the Harvard Music Library. The material available is quite fragmentary -- it's 32 pages of music, mostly a hand-written score reduction for piano and/or conducting.

The first 15 pages of the score are for the "prologue" mentioned above. After 6 pages of orchestral overture, there's a cue to "press button: curtain." Then there's music for the live dancing. Some of the music is indicated to be for "stage quartet," presumably musicians on the stage. In keeping with the "mission" era theme of the film, there are lots of chimes.

Then there's a cue "press button for screen," a fanfare in the brass, and the film starts. For the first time the music isn't handwritten: three pages of a piece called "Poesia Pastorale" by C.G. Rossi is inserted, a note says it should be played "Through titles." Then we get an original composition for the opening scene, which is labeled "Cue 15." The remainder of the score is mostly missing: there are pages for cues 15-17, 22-25, 42-46. It ends at a cue "She hits Ramona," which is not quite half way through the film. Several of the cues in the music are for scenes that do not survive in the print (Alessandro building a bed, Alessandro playing violin) and slashes drawn through them on the manuscript indicate that these scenes may have been cut early in the run, maybe even before the premiere.

What is particularly interesting to me is that the Mabel Wayne "Ramona" song shows up nowhere. Riesenfeld has obviously composed a different waltz theme for the film, and that shows up frequently. This raises the issue -- should I use Wayne's song at all? In my opinion, the Riesenfeld waltz theme is not particularly inspiring, but I'll try both out and see how they work.

The opening of Ramona at the Tivoli in New York, starting May 14, was reviewed in Variety (Thanks again to Hugh Neeley):

Importance of the song in helping the picture is pronounced. It is scored almost entirely by this melody. At the Rivoli a phonograph device broadcasts the tune to passersby. It is the first case of a picture having a song of familiar title break in advance.
The song is just getting into its full stride as the film goes after its quota. That's not an accidental break, but a smart showmanly stunt worked out by Inspiration.
Ramona will make money.

It looks to me as though this is a completely different score from the Riesenfeld L.A. score, consisting "almost entirely" of the Ramona waltz song. And I'm not wild about scoring an entire film with one song; the danger (as with Seventh Heaven) is that by the end audiences will be pleading for mercy.

I have re-transcribed three of the themes from the prologue that look as though they'll be useful in the overall score. Based on the presence of his "Ramona" theme in the prologue and in the surviving fragments of the score, it's a reasonable guess that the other material in the prologue may have been adapted from the missing parts of the score.

That's enough of a post for today! More later as I make progress.
Rodney Sauer
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Donald Binks

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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostWed Jan 22, 2014 2:55 am

That's very interesting. Thank you for posting it.

I have always been interested to learn what was actually played to silent pictures - thinking of course that they knew what they were doing back then (in the bigger houses) - but, I have been disappointed at some of the scores that have been put together by even the luminaries. Of course taste plays a large part in liking or disliking - but I would tend to agree with you - along with everyone else who has seen "Seventh Heaven" with the orchestral soundtrack giving us "Dianne" on every second bar.

On sheet music for the waltz "Ramona", I have seen it accredited as "the theme used for the picture " (1928) - so at least in some houses it was used in the score somewhere. Perhaps Hugo Riesenfeld wanted to make up his own music rather than just compile a score utilising it?
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostThu Feb 20, 2014 3:59 pm

Fascinating post Rodney. I'm not that fond of the Ramona waltz itself, although it will be interesting to see/hear what you come up with - and it's very nice to see the composition process come together and be discussed.
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostFri Feb 21, 2014 6:42 pm

Rodney,

:? What! Omit RAMONA, from RAMONA? I was fearful this might happen. No, no, no, please don't do that! I love the song to death. There are so many different versions of it. Dozens on Youtube. It would be unthinkable and bitterly disappointing not to include the melody at times in the scoring. No singing of course.The tune has always been my major reason for so much interest in this movie. It is the same with many, many people who had long counted the picture as lost.

They were so enchanted with it because of the Mabel Wayne song. Keeping that melody is a must. Especially if your score is going to be included on a DVD or Blu-ray release. That melody will sell plenty of copies on it's own. Please don't discard it, you will break allot of hearts, and it would be an abomination! :cry: Can't imagine anyone not caring for the tune, he must have heard a sub-par version. That's the only plausible explanation. One of the most hauntingly beautiful compositions of the late 20's. I hope I'm not to late. I see this was posted a month ago. You surely didn't get rid of the piece based on the few comments here? People will expect to hear it.

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"I Need You, My Own!"

Here are just a few of the videos on Youtube, there are many, many others.










Dolores own recording.

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Rodney

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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostSat Feb 22, 2014 10:54 am

Well, there are a lot of concerns that go into putting the Ramona song into the score, and I've been stewing about it for a while. The historic evidence is that the song was not used in Hugo Riesenfeld's premiere score in L.A. It was used (and apparently over-used) in a score presented in New York several months later, and I'm sure in many other screenings that have gone undocumented. It was also surely not used in many other screenings, depending on the tastes and libraries of the various musicians.

There's also a practical consideration, in that the "sync rights" to license a copyrighted song for a film score are so steep that if I use Ramona, the score could never be released on DVD in the current environment. Live performance is a different thing (don't blame me, it's a weird law), so there's the possibility of creating two separate scores, one for live shows, one for recording. For Seventh Heaven I didn't mind using Diane judiciously, because it's not anything we're ever likely to record anyway, it having a perfectly serviceable recorded score already. And frankly, Diane fits its picture better than Ramona seems to fit Ramona, in my opinion.

Another more artistic consideration is the distraction that the tune can cause to viewers -- in my view, a silent film score is to intensify the effect and emotion of the film, and if the viewer starts thinking of music not in the context of the current viewing experience, that's a fail. For instance, hearing music from Vertigo in The Artist. There's no ethical objection to using Ramona in Ramona, but I still find that familiar tunes usually distract from the experience of watching the film. This is my gripe with several early Vitaphone and Movietone scores from the silent era: when now-familiar strains enter, my attention goes to "oh, there's the Funeral March of the Marionette! Alfred Hitchcock!"

We also didn't use the song Chicago for Chicago (even though the cue sheet indicates it should be played over the opening credits), partly because I didn't want that particular ear-worm going through people's minds in the considerably more peaceful opening scenes. We know that the famous tango Jalousie was written for Don Q, Son of Zorro; but I think it would be musical malpractice to quote it throughout the score these days, because it has become almost a parody of tango music, and would diminish the experience of watching a great film.

One idea I held briefly was to substitute a piece I have by J.S. Zamecnik called Adieu. Being from 1921 there's no copyright issue. It's in 3/4 time, and starts with the same notes -- a pickup on the 5 and then up a sixth on the downbeat -- and thus has a bit of the feel of Ramona. But as I thought about it, I realized that actually doubles the problem. First, the musically-informed viewer thinks "Ah! This is Ramona!" Then the viewer thinks "Wait a minute, it's not Ramona! I wonder what that's all about!" Double fail. If I stick with pieces few have ever heard, the problem is avoided entirely, and I get to play some music (of which I've got quite a bit) that has never been recorded, never made familiar to the movie-going public.

For me, a lot of the problems are solved by not using Ramona in the score, but using it as an "overture" for the live program. Or, maybe using it as the title music for our live shows, but not building it into the score throughout so that little damage is done to the score when excising and replacing it for recording.

That said, I made some progress on other parts of the score yesterday, and I'll post some thoughts on that separately.
Rodney Sauer
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostSat Feb 22, 2014 11:00 am

Oh, and you missed the peppy Bix Beiderbeck / Paul Whiteman version. This is based on an arrangement by Ferdie Grofé that I've got a copy of.
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostSat Feb 22, 2014 1:44 pm

Rodney, I agree that the song is overly familiar at this point and if copyright is a stumbling block to a DVD release then we can do w/o it. But as far as performing the song in conjunction with the film or at least with its promotion, here are glass song slides showing that the film was paired to the song:

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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostSat Feb 22, 2014 2:42 pm

Well, there are a lot of concerns that go into putting the Ramona song into the score, and I've been stewing about it


Whilst bunging "Ramona" in would not have an effect, one would think, on younger audiences who would not have heard anything from 1928 - it does jar people like myself who's whole vocabulary of musical taste stems from this period. I know that whenever I hear a familiar tune in any picture, my mind wanders off.

I also find it particularly annoying in some movietoned soundtracks - or later re-releases, that a person starts singing along with the music. That really throws me orf when I am watching a silent picture. (My tastes of course).

Now if I can be as bold as brass here and make a suggestion? - and I will use technical terms - there appear to plenty of those South American things that are sort of waltzy-tangoish numbers that have castanets in them. I am sure that in amongst many of these you will find something suitable. :)

Utilising "Ramona" in the overture or in a brief format in the title sequence is a good idea too. That way you get it over and done with before it interferes with the picture proper. I don't know about American copyright and rights issues - but here you can get away with a few bars of something before it counts as "full use" and subsequent payment. If that is the case in America you could perhaps utilise just a few bars in the title sequence and thus not have any problems with the recording?

Just a few thoughts.
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostSat Feb 22, 2014 7:31 pm

Interestingly, a survey of the Australian release of Ramona suggests that it was common to feature the song in stage prologues, but not necessarily during the film itself. It seems to me that these theme songs were considered a promotional tool first and an accompaniment second. The sheet music was certainly heavily advertised, and you can bet it was on sale wherever Ramona was shown.

This West Australian newspaper article from 1929 may be of interest:

'Ramona,' it appears, is 'really the progenitor of the modem theme song, although theme songs were composed and circulated vigorously as far back as 'Mickey' and 'Bluebird, Bring Back My Happiness' — the latter written about the film version' of M. Maurice Materlinck's 'The Bluebird.' Prior to the completion of the film 'Ramona,' in which Dolores del Rio appeared, an astute sales manager, named Emil Jensen, summoned to his office in New York representatives of a music publishing house. He told them that he was anxious to exploit the new Del Rio film in two ways: a Ramona rose, an artificial flower, would be manufacutred and sold to film fans; and he wished a song composed, entitled 'Ramona,' and dedicated to the star. Thus it started. Now, says my American oracle, even the radio clients have been stung by the virus, and there are theme songs about two-pants suits, sixteen dollar dresses, tooth pastes, vacuum clean ers, chocolate candy and ginger ale. The films, relatively, have been conservative. They have been content to advertise only the names of their products:' 'Woman Disputed, I Love You,' 'Redskin,' 'Boy of My Dreams,' etc.' What a Paradise for the really gifted poet and composer America must be just now!
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostSat Feb 22, 2014 11:52 pm

:? Well, maybe we could at least still hear a few Bars then? I sure hope so? It's a shame that they wouldn't allow such a signature piece with the film it was written for? It's interesting that off those videos I posted at least a couple of them don't appear to have any material that relates to RAMONA. They are stills from other Dolores Del Rio Silents. From RESURRECTION, WHAT PRICE GLORY?, LOVES OF CARMEN, THE RED DANCE, THE TRAIL OF '98, and REVENGE. I'm about as curious about REVENGE as I am RAMONA after discovering not only isn't lost, but still exists in it's entirety! Why is this film so obscure?

Image

Dolores with Leroy Mason - "Dip With Love In Your Arms" - From REVENGE (1928)


Image

"Beware, The Bear Tamer's Daughter!" - From REVENGE (1928). Directed by Edwin Carewe


By the way, this is probably my favorite version of RAMONA Along with the Whispering Jack Smith one. Although it only has the chorus lyrically. Great instrumental though. It's Ben Selvin Orchestra with James Melton on vocal. Doesn't look like there is a video of this recording with a Slide-show on Youtube? At least I couldn't seem to find one. The first version I ever heard many years ago, and still one of the best in my opinion. Take a listen.



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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostMon Mar 10, 2014 12:44 pm

Well, I had this idea of blogging as I went along, but life intervened, and I ended up needing to cram in the time where I could, and didn't stop to annotate much. Anyway, here's an update from the almost-completed score. I'll do posts on different source music rather than try to make this chronological.

RIESENFELD'S THEMES

The 32 pages of material from Hugo Riesenfeld contained a number of themes, as mentioned above. Several of them were fairly simple Spanish-style waltzes (one of which I'm certain I've heard before, and therefore probably isn't original). I decided that they did not add enough to the score to be worth orchestrating, since I have a very large number of excellent (and, frankly, more interesting) Spanish waltz material.

One of these waltz themes was clearly to be Ramona's main theme. it appears in 3/4 time in the prologue, also towards the beginning of the film: at cue 22 (no screen cue given), and cue 24 (Title: "Dreaming.") It also is re-arranged into 4/4 time at a later point (Cue 45, "From a seed of love...") Nevertheless, I decided to use different music with more emotional heft.

I did transcribe Riesenfeld's opening fanfare (about 24 bars from the first two pages) for the opening title music. It is quite rugged and attention-getting, with a Spanish flair. It also apparently has a number of typos, since the accidentals, if played where indicated, would clash horribly. I did my best to sort out what I thought Hugo meant. After 25 bars, the fanfare segues to a long, spacious flute solo, which was part of the prologue, probably intended to evoke Native American instruments. The surviving fanfare does not cover the entire opening titles, so I'll segue to a major theme I use later in the picture (Gaston Borch's "Apparitions"), to give some contrast to the title underscore. Apparitions is a solo melody line with almost no harmony or embellishment. For the opening title, I re-scored it for trumpet, since later in the score it is played by violin or cello.

I found one other place for the same fanfare in the film: there's a huge mood change at the introduction of the "marauders" who raid the Indian Village, so we'll play the fanfare again there. That time instead of going into Apparitions, it will segue into two agitatos that Hugo Riesenfeld wrote in 1918 and which fit the raid sequence. The timing works out nicely so that as their horses start moving, we get into the faster music.

Also, Riesenfeld has included in the prologue a theme that evokes mission bells. This theme is particularly interesting, because it uses very "thick" harmonies with lots of sixths and ninths, and also has eighth note arpeggios in the accompaniment seemingly at random, making it sound a little like "ringing the changes" on church bells. My new orchestration gives the piano most of these bell-like notes, while the other instruments enter one at a time on the melody, playing mostly simple quarter notes.

Mission bells show up prominently twice in the film. One is the first image after the opening titles, so we use the theme there; and the other is a short segment called "The morning hymn," where we see all of the inhabitants of the hacienda singing together. Later mission scenes call for more somber music.

More later...
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostSun Mar 23, 2014 10:52 pm

OTHER THEMES...

It was the ending of the film (no spoilers here) that really made me reject the Mabel Wayne "Ramona" waltz as a major theme for this film score. If you're going to introduce a piece as a love theme, there's no avoiding it at the end of the picture. And that scene is where I most thought that Wayne's waltz did not fit the film -- in a sense, trivializing a scene that is written in a way that could easily come across as overly melodramatic. The actors do remarkably well with some perhaps over-melodramatic plot material, so I didn't want to undermine their work with a love theme that did not seem as sincere as was required.

The scene is very wistful, yet optimistic. I wanted something with a fair amount of yearning, with a nice romantic build. After trying four or five pieces, I settled on a composition by Gaston Borch, "Serenade Romantique." We had used the piece previously, as a romantic scene setter in the early sequences of The Italian. It has an off-beat accompaniment without downbeats, and a tasteful theme introduced by the cello. The theme undergoes considerable development, then builds to a big romantic climax. The one risk is that the main theme is repeated a number of times within the piece, so I didn't want to overuse the piece in the film and wear out its welcome. I put it at just two key scenes earlier, and looked for more "serenades" for the other romantic sequences.

A lighter, less consequential scene was easily scored with Cecile Cheminade's "Serenade," and more desperate moments with a "Serenata" by the enigmatic composer and concert violinist Valentina Crespi. The latter piece was odd in that all of the "guitar" riffs were scored for clarinet, which I found distracting on our first read-through, as the strummed arpeggios easily became more prominent than the melody. So I re-orchestrated the piece, giving the guitar-like arpeggios to piano, where they can be subdued a little more.

An early sequence where Felipe plays for Ramona to dance was also problematic. I have a zillion spanish waltzes, but my wife Nancy (who is more of a dancer than I am) was pretty sure that she was dancing in "2," not "3." I had just come across an orchestration of the Capriccio Espagnole by Rimsky-Korsakoff, and the opening movement fits the sequence with no cuts. However, I faced a rebellion from the other musicians, who have played the piece many times with symphony orchestras and felt that its familiarity would be a distraction. I instead fell back to a strange Henry Hadley composition called "In Old Granada," which is a fast Spanish waltz (the feels almost more in 2 than 3) that careens through unexpected key changes. One advantage is that there's a very weird development section, and I was able to use this in the next sequence. Marda, the older Indian servant, is taken by Ramona's dancing, and she encourages her to dance. Marda's dance is somewhat awkward, and interrupted by the arrival of the strict Senora Morena, and this odd development section worked well for that sequence.

The disadvantage is that it will be a bear to play, and only occurs once; so some extra practice will be needed on the musicians' part before each show.

Felipe's guitar being brandished often in the film, I rounded out the lighter music with other Serenades and Canzonettas that have a guitar-ish feel. This gives the score a fairly light and strummy feel in the first half.

The serious scene with the illness of Ramona's child was another tough one. I have lots of excellent music for this kind of scene, but felt I had perhaps overused some of them in recent film scores. Quite a few of the compositions also build up to a huge climax, which was not wanted for this particular scene. After experimenting with four different pieces, I decided on a slow, meditative Elegie by Henry Hadley, scored just for piano and cello. Although I often leave space in a "live" score for improvised piano material in order to allow us to get back in sync with the film, I rarely put in composed pieces that really feature piano as a solo instrument, so it was also a little present to myself as a pianist. The piece is somewhat religious in feel, which underscores some of the imaginative and effective imagery used in this sequence.

All told, Mont Alto's score for Ramona consists of 36 musical cues, which is lower than usual for one of our feature films. First, it's not a hugely long film at 80 minutes, and also it has long scenes with consistent moods, so we can play the same piece for four or five minutes; whereas in a choppier picture I need to change pieces more often. Only two of the pieces (each used twice) come from Riesenfeld's premiere score, but that's likely because most of that score does not survive and much of the remaining material is from the stage prologue and I couldn't find a home for it in the film. There's one piece -- a Serenade by Rubinstein -- that may be familiar to fans of early 20th century concert music, but I believe it has fallen out of favor with modern orchestras and may be fresh to a lot of our audience.
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostMon Mar 24, 2014 12:43 am

Rodney,

Thanks much for the in-depth update. I have met a few people on Facebook that will be at this event. And Jeff Codori will also be there! So we hope to get reports from all these folks. Hope the screening is tremendous success! I only wish this could have debuted at the TCM Classic Film Festival. So far TCM hasn't provided any mention of the RAMONA premiere on it's webpage as far as I can tell. You would think that might do so with this film not being seen anywhere publicly since I would suspect probably 1931 at the end of it's international distributing run?
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostFri Apr 11, 2014 10:17 pm

Ramona is a sound film and is important as the first United Artist picture to be released with a soundtrack.
Does the surviving print have the original Synchronized Score? If not, does a copy survive on Vitaphone disks?

I for one has zero interest in hearing an anachronistic score when one already exists. When will the people who
make these modern scores realize that the dominant instruments used in scoring silent films (besides organs and pianos)
were STRING INSTRUMENTS. Listen to surviving Vitaphone scores for Synchronized and Part-Talkie films and you will notice
that the sound is very heavy on the strings. On modern scores, however, the string instruments are muffled and play a minor role as if they were they simply for background and decoration. That completely ruins the sound. I am wondering if the people who play these "modern scores" really have zero interest in reconstructing the sound of the 1920's. This film will never be restored until its original recorded Movietone soundtrack is restored.

And if the Movietone score no longer exists:
To the people who are making the new score: Add 20 violins, 10 cellos, 5 bass violins , violas, harps and a piano and throw all other instruments into the background and use them solely to support the strings. Furthermore, use the actual written score if you are really trying to "restore" this film and not create something new.
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostFri Apr 11, 2014 11:51 pm

There is nothing "anachronistic" about the Mont Alto Orchestra score. The Movietone score -- if it survives -- is only one of many scores used during its first run, and to dismiss all other possible scores is not particularly informed.
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostSat Apr 12, 2014 12:57 am

What is an authentic score for a silent? Is it something composed for full orchestra that perhaps audiences at 10 theatres in the whole country heard, or something small chamber groups or orchestras such as Mont Alto put together at medium size theatres, or something that someone played on wurlitzer, piano, or organ at the vast majority of theatres in the country? Since most was pulled together from library music, which is how Mont Alto puts together a score, than they are just about as authentic as one can get, since the vast majority of musicians at the time threw something together or adlibbed.
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostSat Apr 12, 2014 1:00 am

Not all orchestras were traditionally string heavy, some were more jazz heavy. If so, that would be a woodwind score, not strings. What about those that featured strong percussionists? Or even guitar players? Some, like in certain places in Europe, sang to accompany films.
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostSat Apr 12, 2014 1:41 am

I for one has zero interest in hearing an anachronistic score when one already exists. When will the people who
make these modern scores realize that the dominant instruments used in scoring silent films (besides organs and pianos)
were STRING INSTRUMENTS. Listen to surviving Vitaphone scores for Synchronized and Part-Talkie films and you will notice


"Great Scott!" he exclaimed!

Where on earth did you come up with these notions? Yes, at the big city cinemas you would have got a full orchestra of from 25 to 25 musicians (sometimes even larger) - but most times the accompaniment to pictures was provided by a very small ensemble such as Ethel Mavebag on the piano, Bert Whostle on the saxophone and Hector Dingleboss on the drums. Other places had a cinema organ, some just a pianist - there were Heinz 57 varieties of combinations.

Scores were written for some pictures, but in most cases it was left to the cinema's musical director to compile a score. Failing that. a lot of musicians would make it up as they went along, relying on a good musical memory.

Accompaniments ran the gamut from utterly atrocious to superb.

Ensembles such as the Mont Alto Orchestra would present to you the closest to what you would hear as the accompaniment at a good cinema back in the days of the silents. We should count ourselves lucky to hear their accompaniments!
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostSat Apr 12, 2014 2:27 am

:? Well, Jorge can come up with a dozen articles to prove that Tango Orchestra's of 6 to 9 members became very popular for scoring Silent films. Not just in Argentina and Spain, but in the United States as well. Alas, these Movie Tango orchestra's some of which achieved significant fame have been completely forgotten. In some of the big Movie palaces they had Symphony Orchestra's of 75 to 100 players. But they didn't play for every movie, or all the time. Some places the orchestra alternated screenings with the Theater Organist, or both even played at the same time.

Besides the Tango orchestra's and small house bands which were very common, no one ever seems to mention THE AMERICAN PHOTO-PLAYER. An amazing instrument specifically designed for accompanying Silent Films. It was a piano, Organ, flute, several other instruments, and sound effects machine all rolled into one.

Donald Binks,

Did you mean 25 to 75 players? You said 25 to 25? As I said some Theater palaces had as much as a 100 piece Symphony. But I doubt that they played at every screening.
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostSat Apr 12, 2014 3:13 am

Donald Binks,

Did you mean 25 to 75 players? You said 25 to 25? As I said some Theater palaces had as much as a 100 piece Symphony. But I doubt that they played at every screening.
[/quote]


Sorry, my podgy fingers were mumbling. The average size of the orchestras was 25-35 - granted, there were houses with larger orchestras - such as the Roxy in New York which had 110 pieces plus a three man organ - but they were the exception rather than the rule.
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostSat Apr 12, 2014 7:24 am

Here are some photos of Hamilton Webber and the State Theatre orchestra (with Mannie Aarons at the Wurlitzer organ), Sydney (OZ) as photographed by motion picture film in 1934 - these are frame stills. It will give you some idea of what a typical big cinema orchestra was like back in the silent days. (In OZ the orchestras were a feature at city cinemas long after silents had finished)
Image
Image
Image
Image
Image
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Image
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostSat Apr 12, 2014 7:43 am

Seeing as I have found photos of cinema orchestras, I might as well throw in one of Will Cade conducting the Regent, Melbourne (OZ) orchestra circa 1929.
Image
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostSat Apr 12, 2014 8:41 am

Nice pictures! That last one obviously has some kind of stage show going on. As was present at the premiere of Ramona in Los Angeles.

Of course, for examples of the smaller theater "orchestras," there's a typical piano-violin-drum trio in the pit in Sherlock Jr. in the sequence where Buster enters the film, and a larger group shows up in the episode of Les Vampires where our heroes go to the cinema, and we get close-up details of a "jazz oriented" orchestra in A Cottage on Dartmoor.
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostMon Apr 14, 2014 12:09 am

I'll reinforce what others have noted. Really big cities had a few theatres with decent-sized orchestras to accompany the films. They might play "original" scores composed and/or compiled by the studios or they might play scores compiled by the theatre's music director, possibly (or not) guided by the official cue sheets prepared for the films. The same cities as well as smaller towns had smaller theatres with small orchestras of three to ten musicians or a pipe organ or a piano (often all three, depending on the particular performance or day of the week).

Even in a town like Grand Forks, North Dakota, the major theatre had its own five-piece orchestra for evenings and a pipe organ for matinees, and other theatres had a two or three-piece orchestra or simply a piano. For special touring road-shows (e.g., THE BIRTH OF A NATION) an orchestra of about 20 or so came along with the film, but that was rare.

I'd love to hear the Vitaphone/Movietone score for RAMONA if it survives, but I expect I would prefer a modern hi-fi (or should that be "hi-def" these days) stereo recording of period-authentic recreation by an orchestra like Mont Alto that would approximate what I probably would have heard if I'd seen it in a local theater when first released. And I really hope the Blu-ray edition will come out soon! (Not sure whether I'd bother buying a DVD copy, though I might borrow one from the library if it had one.)
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostWed Apr 23, 2014 7:55 pm

There is no place for a trumpet or clarinet in a small orchestra (3 to 10 musicians) that is attempting to play music for
a 1920's film. Orchestras of this size should be composed of violins, viola, cello, bass-violin, piano, pipe organ, harp.
The so called Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra is anything but period authentic. It is more like what someone in the corny 1950's would imagine what 1920's music sounded like.


Christopher Jacobs wrote:I'll reinforce what others have noted. Really big cities had a few theatres with decent-sized orchestras to accompany the films. They might play "original" scores composed and/or compiled by the studios or they might play scores compiled by the theatre's music director, possibly (or not) guided by the official cue sheets prepared for the films. The same cities as well as smaller towns had smaller theatres with small orchestras of three to ten musicians or a pipe organ or a piano (often all three, depending on the particular performance or day of the week).

Even in a town like Grand Forks, North Dakota, the major theatre had its own five-piece orchestra for evenings and a pipe organ for matinees, and other theatres had a two or three-piece orchestra or simply a piano. For special touring road-shows (e.g., THE BIRTH OF A NATION) an orchestra of about 20 or so came along with the film, but that was rare.

I'd love to hear the Vitaphone/Movietone score for RAMONA if it survives, but I expect I would prefer a modern hi-fi (or should that be "hi-def" these days) stereo recording of period-authentic recreation by an orchestra like Mont Alto that would approximate what I probably would have heard if I'd seen it in a local theater when first released. And I really hope the Blu-ray edition will come out soon! (Not sure whether I'd bother buying a DVD copy, though I might borrow one from the library if it had one.)
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostWed Apr 23, 2014 8:17 pm

No offense, but this is rude, and really has no basis in historical fact. Please note the polite and accurate info. given by other posters.

I happen to own the entire music collection (what survives) of the Strand Theater of Altoona, PA. The orchestra consisted of nine players. During the later half of the silent era from circa 1922 to 1929 when they converted to recorded sound their players are easy to identify from the parts. The orchestra parts that were actually used indicate an ensemble of the following composition: piano, violin, cello, bass, flute, clarinet, trombone, trumpet and percussion. I have the scores they played from, the parts marked up by the musicians, cues from silent films written in, themes noted, cuts made, etc.

The Roxy Theater of Ford City, PA from which I have a copy of the personal scrap book of their accompanist consisted of piano and violin, with the occasional additional CLARINET and/or TRUMPET.

I have the collection of at least four other partial individual silent film orchestras in our orchestra's library, and they all included woodwinds and brass. I've worked very closely with the Mirskey collection at the University of Pittsburgh, again, woodwind and brass parts with plenty of signs of use accompanying silent films from 1915 - 1927.

I have only one collection that was strings and piano, a small theatrical orchestra from California of unknown location.

Pickup Rick Altman's book on silent film sound, the examples and evidence are there if you don't believe us.

So your argument is just based solely on the sound, as you interpret it, from early recorded films and your own taste.

Mont Alto does wonderful work, has a nice period sound, and is rooted in real practice. One might quibble with the style and tradition they draw from (the hotel palm court tradition), but it is a valid, accurate, and in my opinion a delightful way to accompany silent film. It is also historically authentic.

Blessings be upon them.

If you want to continue this discussion please include some actual historical evidence.

EDIT: I left the flute part out of the orchestra disposition.

johnboles wrote:There is no place for a trumpet or clarinet in a small orchestra (3 to 10 musicians) that is attempting to play music for
a 1920's film. Orchestras of this size should be composed of violins, viola, cello, bass-violin, piano, pipe organ, harp.
The so called Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra is anything but period authentic. It is more like what someone in the corny 1950's would imagine what 1920's music sounded like.
Last edited by gentlemanfarmer on Thu Apr 24, 2014 4:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostWed Apr 23, 2014 8:35 pm

There is no place for a trumpet or clarinet in a small orchestra (3 to 10 musicians) that is attempting to play music for
a 1920's film. Orchestras of this size should be composed of violins, viola, cello, bass-violin, piano, pipe organ, harp.
The so called Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra is anything but period authentic. It is more like what someone in the corny 1950's would imagine what 1920's music sounded like.


Have a look at the orchestra in the pit of the Regent Theatre, Melbourne (Oz) above. Now, go over to the left a bit. I may be mistaken but it looks as though a musician is playing a clarinet. He obviously hasn't heard that he has no place being there.

The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra IS authentic and plays delightful and well researched accompaniments. If you feel so strongly about a full string orchestra of 30 players, I would welcome seeing shows put on that are funded by you.
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostWed Apr 23, 2014 8:42 pm

Have a look at the orchestra in the pit of the Regent Theatre, Melbourne (Oz) above. Now, go over to the left a bit. I may be mistaken but it looks as though a musician is playing a clarinet. He obviously hasn't heard that he has no place being there.

GASP! There are at least two trombones and a tuba as well - the nerve!

The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra IS authentic and plays delightful and well researched accompaniments. If you feel so strongly about a full string orchestra of 30 players,

Here, here!

I would welcome seeing shows put on that are funded by you.[/quote]

We are always looking for sponsors, and we can do an all string program if you like!
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostThu Apr 24, 2014 7:48 am

johnboles wrote:There is no place for a trumpet or clarinet in a small orchestra (3 to 10 musicians) that is attempting to play music for a 1920's film.


As noted by others already, this is total hogwash, misinformation made worse by an offensive and insulting tone.

In Erno Rapée's Encyclopedia of Music for Pictures (1925), the director of orchestras at the Capitol and Rivoli theaters in New York gives advice for what instruments to choose for orchestras ranging from 3 to 72 musicians. Trumpet (or cornet) is the 6th instrument he adds (after violin, cello, piano, a second 1st violin, and flute), clarinet is the 9th (after trombone and percussion). So, in contrast to the cocky assertion quoted above, trumpet and clarinet were explicitly recommended for a small orchestra of less than 10 musicians by one of the most highly respected movie theater orchestra conductors in the world.

As Rick Altman has documented, theaters that were originally vaudeville halls before being converted to movies tended to have orchestras that were heavy on brass, woodwinds, and percussion, and played a lot of popular tunes. Theaters that were originally "legit" theaters usually had orchestras that were heavy on strings (though almost never exclusively strings) and played a lot of the classical repertoire. Theaters that were purpose-built for movies had orchestras that reflected the taste of their musical director, and no doubt the availabilty of local talent.

I have collections of photoplay music from four different movie theater orchestras, and it's obvious that the clarinet and trumpet parts were heavily used and marked. The second violin and viola parts are almost never marked; in fact, one director actually cut the titles of the pieces from the viola part to paste on the outside of his folders, so convinced was he that those parts were never going to be useful to him. Full strings? Not needed, the piano covers that.

One curious thing about Cavallo's Orchestra from the Princess Theater in Denver (in the photo below), is that it has trombone, percussion, trumpet, clarinet, oboe, flute, harp, and bassoon, but only ONE violin, cello, and bass. (There are two men without instruments, the one with the baton is no doubt the conductor, the other might be a pianist or organist.) Not the orchestra I would have put together -- like David, with this many players I would have gone a bit heavier on strings -- but I can't argue with Cavallo about his "authenticity." Although cornet was common in early theater orchestras, trumpet was also used, as shown in the photo. When Louis Armstrong started playing for movies at the Vendome Theater it was the director of that orchestra who insisted that he change from cornet to trumpet; by 1926 the cornet was considered out of date.

I'm not sure why the whole picture isn't displaying, it's cropped on the right:

Image

The full photo can be found at the Denver Public Library's site. And a copy can also be found in Rick Altman's excellent book, Silent Film Sound.
Last edited by silentfilm on Thu Apr 24, 2014 11:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Fixed the width of the photo.
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Re: Scoring Ramona

PostThu Apr 24, 2014 4:37 pm

Not to inflame matters further, but it's worth repeating what I already said in another Ramona thread (http://www.nitrateville.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=17296&p=129626&hilit=ramona+movietone#p129626):

If Ramona ever had a Movietone accompaniment, it was certainly not during its initial release. By late 1928, many trade magazines had begun specifying which current or upcoming releases had synchronised scores and/or sound effects; Ramona figures nowhere in these lists, or in Movietone's advertisements for films using their technology.

The whole concept of 'United Artists' first talkie' is itself a slightly strange one, because UA was not a studio in the traditional sense but essentially a releasing organisation. It would not have been UA signing a deal with Movietone, it would have been the individual producers whose product UA distributed.

For what it's worth, the original sources I've consulted confirm that John Barrymore's Tempest (August 1928) was the earliest sound film UA distributed, and Goldwyn's The Awakening (November 1928) the first part-talkie. Both were also released as silents.

The only scenario I can think of to explain the claim is that somebody might have added a score to Ramona later in the film's run and used this to retrospectively describe it as UA's first talkie, but I don't know why they would have bothered. The silent version had already come and gone in major auxilliary markets such as Australia by early 1929.


All of which makes discussion of the 'restoration of the Movietone soundtrack' somewhat moot.

In any case, I'm looking forward to Mont Alto's accompaniment at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival this year.
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