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Silent movie scores

The music score for a modern film has a huge amount of time, money, thought and effort spent on it. The film and its soundtrack are very carefully synchronized and the studio producing the film never allows it to be shown in public with any other soundtrack.

It was very different in the world of the silent movies back in the 1920s when the musicians at each individual cinema were responsible for assembling their own “soundtrack” for each film which was then played live as the film was shown. This could involve a solo musician (usually a pianist) or a group of players up to 11 in number.

Each musician or musical director was entirely reliant on their own collections of sheet music (and an ability to improvise), and publishers very quickly saw the potential of this new market for music which could be used to amplify the actions, emotions and locations depicted in the films.

Our silent cinema collection comprises 850 sets of this generic music. A few examples of titles are: Smugglers, Help! help!, Tender appeal, The mob, The first kiss, The spectre, Tears, To the rescue! It also includes one piece written unusually for a specific actor: a marche grotesque for Charlie Chaplin composed in 1916 just as he was becoming a worldwide celebrity.

With the establishment of the talkies well underway by the early 1930s these collections of music became largely redundant and were often regarded as so much waste paper. It was this thoughtless destruction which has made these sets of music so elusive nowadays and it helps to explain why the news of our collection was greeted with such a sense of excitement.

Download and play some of our silent movie scores

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