Book: The Music of the Silent Films

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Rodney

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Book: The Music of the Silent Films

PostMon Oct 26, 2015 11:02 am

Probably the biggest challenge for musicians interested in playing historic music for silent films is finding music. It all went out of print in about 1928, and many of the collections were discarded when theaters converted to sound. There are now catalogs of archival collections online, but it can be hard to request pieces by title, not knowing whether the pieces are useful. I was very fortunate early in my career to have easy access to an archive at the University of Colorado that encouraged me to look through and copy pieces, but such places are few.

Erno Rapee's Motion Picture Moods, originally published in 1924 and reprinted in 1974 by Arno Press, is perhaps the most useful compilation that's somewhat readily available. But it has a frustrating focus on classical composers like Chopin and Grieg, whose music is still easily available; and a low percentage of genuine "photoplay music" of the kind most useful for silent film score compiling.

Into this void comes a new book: The Music of the Silent Films, from Wise Publications, (c) 2015.

The book opens with an illustrated introduction to the history and practice of silent film music, written by Graham Vickers, and then has piano music for 50 photoplay music cues by various composers, selected by our own Ben Model. The book ends with short but useful biographies of the composers included in the book.

The introduction is 18 pages of (to my eye) quite accurate information about the development of silent film music over the course of cinema's transition from novelty attraction to grand theatrical art. If anyone wants a shorter synopsis of the field than Rick Altman's impressive and comprehensive Silent Film Sound, this introduction is an excellent overview.

The fifty musical cues are well chosen, and representative of the range of photoplay music from about 1915 through 1927. As Erno Rapee did in his book, Ben Model has organized them into thematic groupings such as "Quick and Light," "Moderato Minor," and "Fight/Excitement/Storm" so that you can identify the pieces you need quickly.

The pieces are often "piano-conductor" reductions, taken from the small orchestra arrangements that were originally published, and take some practice to read. Often you'll have both hands playing accompaniment while the melody is written as a line of "cue notes," in which case it is not possible to play all of the notes indicated on piano -- so you need to be creative and selective. But nothing here is unplayable by a pianist of moderate skill.

I have been working with a number of photoplay music collections for over twenty years, and I am always surprised that when I come across a new collection it always has a sizable percentage of pieces I've never seen before. This is because the silent film repertoire was astoundingly vast. In this book, of the 50 pieces, 23 were new to me.

The music has been reset in a modern music typesetting program, which has its good and bad points:

The Good:

Everything is easy to read. When I work from original material, I come across tears, missing pages, pencil markings, and schmutzes; and some of the earlier works were transcribed in a remarkably sloppy hand. The music in this book is all crisp and clear.

You won't get the gratuitous typos that are scattered through the originals.

You can read the notes in dim light: some of the original publishers crammed an awful lot of notes on the page by printing small, making measures very dense, and using shortcuts like omitting key signatures and putting in tiny measure repeats that can be difficult to read while half-watching the film.

The Bad:

The spacing of the new transcriptions is quite wide, so less music fits on a page. A piece that may have taken three pages in the original edition now takes four or five pages, and page turns are the bane of a film accompanist's existence.

And there's something charming and comforting about the vintage appearance of those early transcriptions.

Anyway! If you are a working or aspiring photoplay musician looking for repertoire, I recommend picking up a copy of this book. Full disclosure: Ben consulted with me (and several other silent film musicians) when choosing the list of pieces that were included, though I made none of the final choices and didn't contribute to the book in any other way.
Rodney Sauer
The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
www.mont-alto.com
"Let the Music do the Talking!"
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gentlemanfarmer

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Re: Book: The Music of the Silent Films

PostMon Oct 26, 2015 8:04 pm

Thanks for reviewing this title Rodney, just what I wanted to know when I saw it on Amazon a week ago! More great work by Ben Model.
Eric W. Cook
Director, Ivy Leaf Orchestra
Silent Film, Salon and Ragtime Orchestra
Please visit us at ivyleaforchestra.com
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BenModel

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Re: Book: The Music of the Silent Films

PostMon Oct 26, 2015 10:17 pm

Thanks so much.

Bob Wise chatted me up at a show I did in the summer of 2008, and he was asking me about the survival of original music from silents during a break, and said he worked with G. Schirmers and always had the idea to do a sheet music book of the stuff. I asked him what he did at G. Schirmers and he said, "I own it."

Wise Publications is part of MusicSales (which is based in the UK), and "Music Sales" originally, decades ago, was a sheet music store in NYC that Wise's grandfather owned.

Ben
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Donald Binks

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Re: Book: The Music of the Silent Films

PostTue Oct 27, 2015 2:52 am

All very interesting and thank you all for posting. I only hope that some of the more modern compilers/composers of scores may seek out a copy and read it - in particular those who put together the cacophony that went out with the latest restoration of "Variete"!

There are some collections in Oz that have ended up in libraries coming from former cinema orchestra conductors. I have been meaning to research what's there and may get off my bundoon one day soon to do so. :D
Regards from
Donald Binks

"I was in love with a beautiful blonde one time. She led me to drink. It's the only thing I'm thankful to her for."
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JFK

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Ernö Rapée a.k.a. Erno Rapee

PostTue Oct 27, 2015 10:20 am

Last edited by JFK on Tue Oct 27, 2015 8:48 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Rodney

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Re: Book: The Music of the Silent Films

PostTue Oct 27, 2015 1:47 pm

Well, that's unfortunate.

I was reading through the Appassionato #1 by Rapee and Axt, since it's a piece I don't have. And at the top of the second page something weird happened: the piece, in mid-phrase, changed keys with no warning and started a new section. It looks like there's a page of music missing.

The page numbers are all still good, so this must have been a layout error, or a mistake by the transcriber. They should have given the galleys to a pianist to proof-read one last time before going to press.

Anyway, let's hope that the rest of the music is intact!
Rodney Sauer
The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
www.mont-alto.com
"Let the Music do the Talking!"
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BenModel

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Re: Book: The Music of the Silent Films

PostTue Oct 27, 2015 8:24 pm

Rodney, I can send you the original scan of the piece as it's from my collection. Don't get me started on how this thing was handled…

Ben
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Undercrank Productions - rare silents on DVD/Blu available on Amazon
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Silent Film Music Podcast available on Apple Podcasts and on Stitcher.
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Rodney

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Re: Book: The Music of the Silent Films

PostTue Oct 27, 2015 10:03 pm

That would be lovely, though it's more for my curiosity than anything. I suppose it would be noble to post the page here for anyone else who might be looking for it. Of course, The page breaks are different in the book. What is missing is whatever leads up to the repeated B section.
Rodney Sauer
The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
www.mont-alto.com
"Let the Music do the Talking!"
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bobfells

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Re: Book: The Music of the Silent Films

PostWed Oct 28, 2015 8:09 am

The Rapee book is available in a pdf format. I bought the 1974 reissue back in the day and it continues to hold an honored place in library.

http://www.sfsma.org/wp-content/uploads ... peeMPM.pdf
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BenModel

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Re: Book: The Music of the Silent Films

PostSun Nov 01, 2015 12:22 pm

Rodney wrote:That would be lovely, though it's more for my curiosity than anything. I suppose it would be noble to post the page here for anyone else who might be looking for it. Of course, The page breaks are different in the book. What is missing is whatever leads up to the repeated B section.


Here's a PDF of the piece.

Ben
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Undercrank Productions - rare silents on DVD/Blu available on Amazon
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Silent Film Music Podcast available on Apple Podcasts and on Stitcher.
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Jack Theakston

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Re: Book: The Music of the Silent Films

PostTue Nov 03, 2015 10:28 pm

Appassionato #1 saw a lot of service in early M&E tracks, probably most famously in SUNRISE after George O'Brien tries to kill his wife, Janet Gaynor.

I recently got my copy of this book and have been very impressed with it thus far. Definitely something those who collect this music or aspiring accompanists should look to purchasing, with a good range of moods and authors.
J. Theakston
"You get more out of life when you go out to a movie!"
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BenModel

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Re: Book: The Music of the Silent Films

PostWed Nov 04, 2015 11:05 am

Thanks for the kind words about the book, Jack. This piece was something that both you and Philip Carli recommended to me.

Ben
Sign up for my emails at silentfilmmusic.com
Undercrank Productions - rare silents on DVD/Blu available on Amazon
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Silent Film Music Podcast available on Apple Podcasts and on Stitcher.

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