The Film Score

1 The Beginnings of the Film Score in Silent Film

Even the first silent films—short documentations (L’arrivée d’un train, FR) and antics (L’arroseur arrosé, FR) which the brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière presented at the Grand Café in Paris—were accompanied by music. As a rule, there was a piano in the entertainment establishments and vaudeville theaters in which films were initially shown.

At first, the purpose of such musical accompaniment was to drown out the noises being made by the audience and the projectors, and not maximum musical performance, as demonstrated in a report on the presentation of Lumière films in London in 1896 during which a harmonium was allegedly used that was missing three notes. However, because the Lumière devices ran so quietly that an acoustic cover-up would not have been necessary, other reasons may have played a role for the use of music. In his essay Theorie des Films, Siegfried Kracauer points out that the ears always participate in the act of seeing; otherwise a haunting realm of shadows would be produced.[1] Whether the music is not heard, which he furthermore believes, is another question. After all, past efforts to produce music suited to images, such as the piano player improvising along to silent films, might have actually clouded enjoyment of the images.