Hundreds of scores used to provide the soundtrack to silent films have been unearthed at a library in Birmingham.
One of the scores belongs to an early Charlie Chaplin film, while others are believed to have been reused for a number of movies.
The collection of around 500 scores in total was discovered in the basement of Birmingham city council’s music library and would have been played more than 80 years ago.
Ali Joyce, the head of the music library, told the Guardian that the music could have been in the basement for as long as 30 or 40 years.
“We don’t actually know where they came from as they were in separate collections,” she explained.
While some of the music is just for piano, the instrument often used to accompany a silent film, some are for small orchestras of between seven and 11 players.
Music directors would have had some choice when setting the score for a film, as many of the pieces are fragmentary and are associated with moods and actions, as revealed by the titles of the scores. Examples include Wild Chase or Supreme Peril.
However, one of the finds is a piece made specifically for a Charlie Chaplin tramp scene dating back to 1916. Named Marche Grotesque, it was composed by Cyril Thorne.
“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,” noted composer and early film historian Neil Brand.
“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.”
The Guardian reported that some of the scores will be played during the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s film music festival today (July 19th).
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