Music During the Era of Silent Films

Today, we are familiar with the soundtrack that accompanies a film.  The music is included with the film and often increases our emotions of suspense, romance, mystery, etc.

But, what about music in the bygone era of silent films? How was music used in films during this time?

Orchestra’s often accompanied a film

Silent in silent film refers to the lack of synchronized sound.

From the beginning silent films were accompanied by live music.  The first projected movie on December 28, 1895 in Paris featured a guitar.

Often, the music was live during this time when a silent film was shown.  A pianists or orchestra was hired to play a score.

In the early days, the accompanists either improvised or used a variety of classical or theatrical repertory of music.

The score varied and some films provided scores of their own.  Then it was at the discretion of the pianists whether he used the provided score or went rogue and chose their own score.

When a live pianists was used, often the movie theatre would use phonograph recordings to accompany these early films.

Musicologists have determined that some original scores date back to as early as the 1890s. As early as 1909, Edison studios circulated cue sheets for their films.

Between 1908-1912, films began to form a more narrative form of storytelling as did the musical accompaniment.

a phonograph was used when a live musician was not available

By the later nineteen teens, piano accompaniment was a growing profession.  In the early 1920s, the theatrical organ began to become popular.

The quality of the musical accompanied varied greatly depending on the talent of the accompanists and pianists.

By the end of the silent movie era in the 1920s, some movies had begun to release their own pre-recorded scores.

Music was not only used to enhance the scene during this time as it is today.  Often, the music was used to drawn out the noise of the projector.  The music also helped to silence talkative audience members.

Eventually, music grew to become an indispensable part of the film going experience.