Wednesday 8 June 2016

Silent film music

In the time before sound, cinema orchestras - or their modest flea-pit equivalents - often relied upon Giuseppe Becce's Allgemeines Handbuch der Filmmusik, or its many equivalents. The Italian-born Becce (1877-1973) worked in Germany for most of his career, producing scores for eminent directors such as Lang, Murnau, Pabst, Lubitsch and Berthold Viertel. He based this handbook on an earlier collection of his pieces published between 1919 and 1933 by the Verlag Schlesinger'sche Buchhandlung in Berlin, known as Kinothek. This book of scores supplied a silent movie pianist with a numbered range of appropriate motifs adapted from famous composers and suitable for accompanying the action portrayed on the flickering screen. The titles are wonderfully evocative. Here is a selection:

Kinothek 11 - Situazione Pericolosa (Agitato)
Kinothek 15 - Agony of the Soul (Tragedia dell'Anima)
Kinothek 20 - Patience Under Pain (Resignation)
Kinothek 21 - In a Critical Situation (Allegro Agitato)
Kinothek 27 - Fanatic Dervish Dance
Kinothek 28 - Lynch-Law (Agitato)
Kinothek 33 - Facing Death (Andante, Largo)
Kinothek 46 - Infatuation (Andante Largo)
Kinothek 49 - Emotional Climax
Kinothek 50 - Chariot Race

Silent cinema was, of course, very noisy.Not only musical accompaniment but sound effects (thunderclaps, gunfire) and in some cinemas actors would read the inter titles aloud for the benefit of audiences unable to do so.

Silent films are seldom screened these days (Londoners may recall the Thames Silents , which were rather grand affairs with an orchestra led by Carl Davies) so it's good to ono the annual Pordenone Festival still caters for the faithful. It runs this year between 1st and 8th October. Look it up.

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