Music and the Silent Film: Contexts and Case Studies, 1895-1924

Music and the Silent Film: Contexts and Case Studies, 1895-1924

Music and the Silent Film: Contexts and Case Studies, 1895-1924

Music and the Silent Film: Contexts and Case Studies, 1895-1924

Synopsis

In this book, a leading authority on film music examines scores of the silent film era. The first of three projected volumes investigating music written for films, this thoughtful and pathbreaking study demonstrates the richness of silent film music as it details the way in which scores were often planned from the start as an integral part of the whole cinematic experience. Following an introductory chapter that outlines several key theoretical questions and surveys eight decades of writing on film music, Martin Miller Marks focuses on those scores created between 1895 and 1924. He begins by considering two early examples, one German (written by persons unknown for Skladanowsky's Bioskop exhibitions in 1895 and 1896) and one French (scored by Camille Saint-Saens for the 1908 film L'Assassinat du Duc de Guise). Subsequent chapters fully discuss Walter Cleveland Simon's music for the American film An Arabian Tragedy (1912) as well as the Joseph Breil accompaniment to D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation (1915). As described in this book, Breil's memorable score--though a compilation derived from many sources--was played by an orchestra as Griffith's sweeping images filled the screen, thus contributing significantly to the great film's success while also achieving remarkable power in its own right. Marks then concludes with a look at Erik Satie's witty and innovative music for the French film Entr'acte (1924), which was the first film score of consequence by an avant-garde composer. Giving unprecedented attention to a vibrant, important, and oft-neglected facet of twentieth-century music, Music and the Silent Film will interest scholars of film theory, film history, modern music, and modern aesthetics.

Excerpt

From the time of the first public demonstration of a Lumière cinématographe, for which a pianist is said to have improvised an accompaniment, until today's widescreen features with their multi-channeled, digitally recorded scores, there has always been music for motion pictures. The pictures have fostered an abundant and rich variety of music-making, which for more than eight decades has affected us in ways both simple and subtle. Yet most of us have a very poor knowledge of what film music is all about. Why should there be this discrepancy? Why are the facts of film music not widely understood? Why should Peter Odegard, in a review of two mid-seventies reference works devoted to music of the twentieth century, have to take both to task for all but ignoring film music, "the most widely dispersed repertoire being performed today, and hence in its peculiar way the most influential"?

The answer, first of all, derives from the nature of the medium. Because film operates (at least potentially) through a conjunction of visual and auditory signals, research into film music requires an understanding of not one but two non-verbal systems of communication, as well as the problematical jargons with which we attempt to describe each of them in speech. In this age of specialized studies, few scholars have been able to master more than half of the subject. Those in film have been preoccupied with the broad essentials of its history and theory, with the result that music has been granted mostly cursory consideration. The subject also stands on the periphery of musicology. That discipline, little older than film itself, has emphasized the historical study of Western fine-art and folk idioms, along with the ethnological study of music in other cultures; relatively little attention has been given to recent music in the professional and popular idioms -- the idioms through which film music usually communicates. Textbooks of music history provide . . .

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