Welcome to birmingham.gov.uk

Welcome to birmingham.gov.uk

Musical gems discovered at Birmingham Central Library

Silent movie scores

Musical gems discovered at Birmingham Central Library reveal lost world of silent movies

· Collection sheds new light on how silent music was written and performed

· Unique Charlie Chaplin theme tune discovered

· On 19 July 2011, to mark the launch of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's Film Music Festival, CBSO pianist Ben Dawson performed some of the scores in the Foyer of the Symphony Hall Birmingham.

Silent Movie Animation Results !

The winner of the Silent Movie Animation Challenge is Gareth Hirst, with his animation ‘Street Act’. Find out more about the results of this competition.

Finalists' work will appear on a giant screen at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, accompanied by the CBSO on Friday 20 April 2012 as part of the Friday Night Classics: Classic Chaplin night.

Staff at Birmingham City Council making preparations for their move to the Library of Birmingham building in 2013 have uncovered what could be the UK's largest collection of silent movie scores, including a unique Charlie Chaplin theme tune.

The collection, most of which belonged to movie theatre Musical Directors Louis Benson and HT Saunders, consists of 500 scores and parts for use with silent movies. It is representative of the entire oeuvre of silent movie music between 1915 and 1929, the golden age of the silent movie, and reveals what audiences at the time were listening to.

It includes many complete sets of music scores, containing all the parts for the 7-11 members of the 'salon orchestra' who would have performed the music live in front of a watching audience, revealing that accompaniment was not only from solo pianists, as is traditionally thought, but from bands as well.

The collection also reveals the variety of music available for silent movies. Musical Directors would have had access to a library of short scores associated with specific moods and action, for example, romance and horror, or fire and battle, with titles such as Wild Chase or Supreme Peril. They would match these scores to scenes in films, so that each Musical Director was in effect creating their own individual soundtrack for a film.

The collection includes a unique example of music being composed for the star rather than the action in the film. Marche Grotesque, (see below) a piece dating from 1916, was written to be played when Charlie Chaplin was on screen. At this time a huge number of cinemas would be showing the actor's films and looking for music to accompany this new kind of comedy. The score was composed by an almost-forgotten composer of songs and mood music called Cyril Thorne, whose publisher saw the potential for his composition's use in other movie theatres.

Other unique items in the collection include parts with cues written on them to correspond to particular films, for example referring to caption titles on screen. It is also possible to match one score with a particular film: Richard Howgill's score The Onslaught was published in 1928 and is thought to have been played with the film The Guns of Loos, a huge success in British cinemas that year.

Neil Brand, composer and early film historian, said: "This collection gives us our first proper overview of the music of the silent cinema in the UK from 1914 to the coming of sound.

"Its enormous size not only gives us insights into what the bands sounded like and how they worked with film, it shows us the working methods of the musical directors and, above all, gives the lie to the long-cherished belief that silent films were accompanied on solo piano by little old ladies who only knew one tune. These are full band parts of specially composed mood music of every possible kind from publishers in the UK, France and the US - when they are played we will hear the authentic sound the audiences of the time would have heard.

"This is a hoard of considerable value for future scholars of music and performance technique which will re-assess many forgotten British composers of light classical music and could fundamentally change our view of silent film music for ever."

Mike Whitby, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: "Birmingham Central Library has a vast collection of archives and this is just one of the unique stories that can be discovered amongst the items that we have. This collection of silent movie music is a unique one, and a real gem for silent movie enthusiasts.

"When the new Library of Birmingham opens in 2013 the general public will have much greater access to our collections, so that they can see more items such as these. With new technology people from around the world will be able to access the Library of Birmingham's world-class resources."

The scores have been uncovered by staff at Birmingham Central Library as they are preparing to move the collections from their current home to the new Library of Birmingham building, due to open in 2013. When the new Library opens there will be greater access to the Library's vast collections, both in the Library and online. The Music Collection at Birmingham Central Library currently holds more than 40,000 CDs, DVDs, printed music and books on music, as well as significant archives.


Charlie Chaplin March Grotesque