Niche it!
BobbyGs Info

Barnes & Noble

Photoplay music

Music Sound

Photoplay music

Home | Up


Photoplay music is the term given to music written specifically for the accompaniment of silent films.

Early years

Early films (c. 1890-1910) merely relied on classical and popular repetory, mixed usually with improvisation by whatever accompanist was playing (usually a pianist.

Around 1910, folios of Photoplay Music began being published by companies such as Sam Fox Music and Academic Music. These small bits of music were only a minute or so long and usually couldn't sustain an entire feature, but were enough to fill in scenes in which music wasn't popularly written (such as "misteriosos" for scenes of mystery, lurking, creeping, etc.)

Types of Scores

When it comes to producing a score for a silent film, there were three types: improvised, compiled, and original.

Improvisational Scores

Improvised scores were generally scores that were solely played out on organ or piano. The musical conductor found it fit to just play whatever he felt necessary to set the mood for the scene.

Compiled Scores/Cue Sheets

According to Richard Koszarski's book "An Evening's Entertainment", a survey was sent out in the mid-1920s to 10,000 out of about 15,000 in America, but it is not known how many responded. Of those that did, approximately 50% used theater organs, 25% used piano only, and 25% used orchestras (2 or more players).

For that 25%, an improvisation would prove quite difficult. The usual process for such a compiled score would be for the studio to hire a company to produce a cue sheet; generally 3 to 4 pages of listings of Photoplay Music, classical or popular standards from their library. This concept of a "compilation score" was invented around 1910. The Edison Film Company was among the first to use this method of scoring film.

The Cue Sheet would list the Title and Author of a song, when to play it, roughly how long to play it for, and the publisher of the piece. Quite often, further notes were given of sound effects, tempo, etc so that every important factor could be supervised. The musical director of a theater would go through the theater's music collection (generally listed by tempo) and pick out the appropriate cue. If he did not have that particular cue, he could replace it with another suitable piece, or order it through the company that created the cue sheet.

A typical cue sheet. This example is Ernst Luz's compilation for LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927), as published by Cameo Thematic Music, Inc. A typical cue sheet. This example is Ernst Luz's compilation for LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927), as published by Cameo Thematic Music, Inc.

Around 1923, the Cameo Thematic Music Co. was responsible for about 90% of Cue Sheets being written. Ernst Luz and James C. Bradford were the major compilers for Cameo. Belwin Inc. also printed cue sheets, generally compiled by Max Winkler.

Some conductors threw cue sheets out all together, and compiled their own scores; some followed the cue sheet, but used their own choices of music; many followed the cue sheet with what little time they had to produce an opera's worth of music. Much of the time, musicians came in and sight-read their parts, with little to no time to rehearse or look over the score beforehand.

Original Scores

Original scores were the minority. Scores published were generally the premiere score that was played in the New York theaters. These were often compiled scores with some original material, such as Joseph Carl Breil's score for The Birth of a Nation, the William Axt/David Mendoza scores for the 1925 film Ben Hur or the 1926 film The Big Parade. Even fewer were all-original scores, the most notable being those scores for Fritz Lang's Nibelungen films, composer Mortimer Wilson's for Douglas Fairbank's The Thief of Baghdad and German-born composer Gottfried Huppertz's for Metropolis.

Later years

The last days of Photoplay music were of the era of 1927-1930, when sound films became popular. Films that were already shot silent generally were released with orchestral soundtracks that were compiled of Photoplay music with sound effects added. Some Photoplay music was used as incidental music in early sound films as well. Most theaters, however, thew out entire libraries of music. Publishers junked overstock or used it as scrap paper.

In recent years, Photoplay music has had a revitalization through home videos and live performances of silent films. Many videos of silent films have premiere or cue sheet scores recorded for posterity.


Home | Up

Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.


TigerDirect