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Pioneers of Movie Music CD

Posted: Mon Dec 15, 2014 10:07 am
by Rodney
Pioneers of Movie Music is a new CD of silent film music out from the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, on the New World Records label. The music apparently comes from the collection of the Capitol Theater in New York, and includes a good cross section of composers and dates, running from 1915 through 1929, by which time the genre was basically dead.

The Paragon is a very tight ensemble, and the samples posted are quite nice. (I would quibble with a few tempo choices, but that's what makes horse races.) The ensemble is usually around 12 pieces, though they may have expanded it for some of these tracks from what I can hear. There's also a 52-page booklet which promises to give biographies of some of these composers, which is a very welcome addition to the research.

There's a press release and audio samples at The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra's site. Also, on the New World Records web site.

The Pioneers of Movie Music CD

Posted: Tue Dec 30, 2014 1:19 pm
by Mike Gebert
Has anyone mentioned this here? A friend just sent it along, here's the page:" target="_blank

and here's the gist of it:

The Pioneers of Movie Music




Re: The Pioneers of Movie Music CD

Posted: Tue Dec 30, 2014 3:15 pm
by Paul Penna
It's wonderful, and the booklet provides a wealth of info.

Re: The Pioneers of Movie Music CD

Posted: Tue Dec 30, 2014 3:58 pm
by CoffeeDan
Yes, Rodney had mentioned it here. Nevertheless, it sounds like a fantastic album.

Re: The Pioneers of Movie Music CD

Posted: Tue Dec 30, 2014 5:37 pm
by Mike Gebert
Ah, thanks. Was plenty busy then and missed it. I'll merge the threads.

Re: Pioneers of Movie Music CD

Posted: Fri Jan 02, 2015 1:30 pm
by Rodney
I've received the Pioneers of Movie Music CD, and it's well worth owning. The recordings are excellent, and played with spirit. It's a good blend of slow and fast pieces from a wide range of dates and composers. All are good selections and representative of the composers' work, though I wish he'd chosen something a little meatier by a couple of the composers. Still, with 33 tracks, it can hardly be claimed that there isn't enough music here!

The album notes are quite extensive, and are an important addition to the very sparse field of biographies of photoplay music composers. I learned lots of additional details about many composers who are pretty obscure. I do wish that references had been included: Rick Benjamin includes a short "selected bibliography," which are all solid books, but no indication of where to verify particular claims made in the biographies.

Film music nerds like me wonder whether Gaston Borch actually studied with Edvard Grieg as one source states (most of the official bios published during his life make no comment on this, which it seems would have been a big deal at a time when American audiences were in awe of the European masters), or whether M.L. Lake really was writing film score music in Havana in 1899 as he claimed in his autobiography (but which I've never seen corroborated in any other study of the history of film music). Rick Benjamin presents these as facts, but without revealing his sources, and I tend to be skeptical of autobiographical claims of "firsts." Still, it hardly makes a difference in the great scheme of things; and research is very difficult in this field, so sometimes we have to take press releases and autobiographies at face value.

The instrumentation is fairly small by the standards of the Zamecnik Wings and the Carl Davis recordings, giving this a chamber orchestra rather than symphonic sound. There are eleven players on most of the cues, with extra parts added for five of the more ambitious works. This corresponds pretty much with the historic arrangements: one player for each published part, except that Paragon uses no piano. Many historic theater orchestras of this size would have had more strings and fewer brass instruments to balance better in the theater space, but whether due to the recording engineer or very sensitive cornet and trombone players, there are few imbalances on the recording. Occasionally the flute dominates the violin more than it would if a whole violin section was playing. The solo violin lines are particularly beautifully played, and in places I wish the cello had cut loose a little more.

I tend to prefer small ensembles for their crisp interpretations, and the individuality that the soloists can bring to their melodic lines. Also, most of these pieces were arranged with small ensembles in mind, so they work well musically with this instrumentation. If you have heard Mont Alto's five-piece ensemble performances of some of these same pieces, you'll particularly notice the addition here of flute and percussion, and the lack of piano.

I have occasional quibbles about the tempos of some of the pieces, which are slow enough to cause an emphasis on individual notes rather than complete phrases: but as with the classical repertoire, the score only gives a rough guideline and the actual speed is left up to the performer. So I can hardly say that the choices are "wrong," just that Mont Alto plays them faster. Of course, this is a minority of the pieces: tracks like Western Allegro, Storm Music, Zip, and Savage Carnival are played at an appropriately sprightly (and occasionally break-neck) tempo.

It's great to see a project of this quality getting a release on a respected label. I hope that this will continue to develop interest in this all-too neglected repertoire, in a format where (unlike video scores) the composers can be given recognition for their work and talent.

Congratulations to Rick Benjamin and the Paragon Orchestra for this beautiful project!