Silent Film Music

Discuss films and filmmakers of the 20th century (and even a little of the 19th century). Threads may contain spoilers.
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martin
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Re: Silent Film Music

#101 Post by martin » Thu Jan 23, 2014 4:37 pm

I recently found a Danish CD with Ole Schmidt's score for Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc at a 2nd hand outlet. For a short moment I thought I would be able to just throw the CD in the CD player and listen to it while watching the BD. But that wasn't really an option. The disc only contains 58 minutes of music so it's quite difficult to synchronize the music and the film. Silly me!

Filmmaker Henning Carlsen actually claims in his liner notes, for some odd reason, that the release of this disc is a great opportunity to watch the film with Ole Schmidts score: "One can [...] run the film on one's video and start one's CD player at the right moment. It will be a beautiful experience."

But it takes more than a little ingenuity to synchronize the music and the video, even if the tracks have recognizable names like "A Letter", "Torture", or "Fever". We can't even be sure that this particular recording has been made in tempis which follows any particular version of the film. There may even have been some alterations in the score so that what we hear here is more like a suite (but I'm not sure about that).

Ole Schmidt actually scored the full film, 82 minutes of music. Too bad we don't have a complete recording. The score was commissioned by Hollywood producer Annett Wolf for a 'Scandinavia Today' event in 1983. The premiere was held on 21st June 1983 at Wadworth Theatre, Los Angeles.

It's a wonderful score though. I really like it. It has a medeival feel to it although it's clearly by a modern classical composer (think 20th century vocal symphonies like No. 14 by Shostakovich). My first thought when listening to this disc was that this music would really suit films like The Seventh Seal or Day of Wrath with its massive hints at Dies Irae. But it also suits Joan very well. And the sound is amazing! A wonderful recording made in 1999.

It's scored for 7 winds, 3 percussions, piano, 17 strings, soprano, and classical guitar. The soprano sings without lyrics (like Nielsen's Symphony No. 2, which Ole Schidt is very familiar with).

The liner notes explains a bit more about some of the earliest music for Joan of Arc. Jonathan Rhodes Lee has provided a more extensive overview of some of the many scores for Joan.

I also recommend reading Thomas Vilhelm's interview with Richard Einhorn (presented in English at the Danish site filmmusic.dk).

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Minkin
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Re: Silent Film Music

#102 Post by Minkin » Thu Apr 09, 2015 8:16 am

Holy shit. I just finished watching the TCM broadcast of The Penalty, and they used the Michael Polher synth score. I now learn that this score is infamous - and has since been replaced on the Kino blu. Without a doubt this is the worst silent film score I've ever had to sit through. The utter lunacy of the track is unfathomable (unless the intent was to make you as insane as Lon Chaney's character). It has about 5 main themes that get endlessly repeated - and they start/stop without any rationale (mid-scene, mid-intertile). There's the desert-sounding theme; the obnoxious violin; the random piano notes; the anvil -metal clanking with female shrieks and moans; and the worst - the saxophone from hell that plays the same 3-second loop of clangs and then four notes repeatedly for like 10 minutes. Its horrible, and I had to hit mute every time the sax theme would play as it was causing everyone pain (we all ended up with headaches, and the fucking thing is still stuck in my head, so I keep reliving the nightmare). BTW they are all done in terrible MIDI. The soundtrack is constantly attempting to outdo / distract you from the movie - and perhaps successfully as I probably would have enjoyed the movie itself without the blaring awfulness. Yes, I should have just muted the damn thing after 10 seconds. I can't imagine anyone (even someone at Kino) having listened to this and thought it would be even an acceptable attempt at a silent film score (although given the Variete and Trip to the Moon scores recently, perhaps whoever approves these just hates silent film).

I have sat through some other terrible silent scores, but nothing has given me quite the headache as The Penalty. Some other choice experiences have been:

-The Headless Horseman (1922) - PD version - score switched between Toccata and Danse Macabre. When one would end, the other would immediately start.
Birth of a Nation - The entire film was scored only by Grieg's Holberg Suite. It wasn't actually too bad, but repetitive for a 3 hour film.
- l'inferno - The damn Tangerine Dream score. I could only get through about five minutes before I decided to give up and wait to find anything better (perhaps this is worse than The Penalty, but I don't feel like giving it another try anytime soon - to see if it improves)

-Nosferatu - all of the Metal scores. Ugh. This seems like it was a fad for every metal band to throw their music onto Nosferatu. They all have the same effect. That said, I really don't care for the "official" score that is on the MoC discs - as it seems to miss all of the cues and never lives up to the frightening imagery (it is supposed to be a "Symphony of Terror" after all- but the score is all too busy with happy birdsongs /tunes while Orlok enters Hutter's room, etc). I own but haven't listened to the BFI disc with the James Bernard score (which I probably should, given that I love his Hammer compositions). Despite attending a live showing of the organ score by Timothy Howard, I think I prefer Image's release with the "bells/knobs" -soundtrack, as it seems to be the only version to be quite appropriate to the onscreen actions throughout.

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Sloper
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Re: Silent Film Music

#103 Post by Sloper » Thu Apr 09, 2015 9:40 am

Minkin wrote:I own but haven't listened to the BFI disc with the James Bernard score (which I probably should, given that I love his Hammer compositions).
You're in for a treat - this is my favourite edition of the film, and for my money Bernard's score is better than Erdmann's.

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colinr0380
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Re: Silent Film Music

#104 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Apr 09, 2015 12:52 pm

It has been a while since I listened to the James Bernard score, but it is very in the vein of Bernard's Hammer compositions. I think he also does the same thing with the music that he did with his celebrated Hammer scores and musically 'sings' the name of the villain! So rather than a grand "Drac-u-la!" you get the more creepily anxious "Nos-fera-tu, Nos-fera-tu, Nos-feratu!"

Jonathan S
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Re: Silent Film Music

#105 Post by Jonathan S » Fri Apr 10, 2015 7:00 am

colinr0380 wrote:It has been a while since I listened to the James Bernard score, but it is very in the vein of Bernard's Hammer compositions. I think he also does the same thing with the music that he did with his celebrated Hammer scores and musically 'sings' the name of the villain! So rather than a grand "Drac-u-la!"...
I've often wondered if Bernard was influenced by the three-note leitmotif from the 1948 "Su-per-man", changing the key and orchestration of course to render it sinister instead of heroic.

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