Hanns Eisler, in his comprehensive book Composing for the Films (1947), even suggested that silent films needed music because their ghostly quality strongly resembled that of a shadow play: "The magic function of music...consisted in appeasing the evil spirits unconsciously dreaded. Music was introduced as a kind of antidote against the picture. The need was felt to spare the spectator the unpleasantness involved in seeing effigies of living, acting and even speaking persons, who were at the time silent." This appeasement took the form of a piano player in a pit situated below the screen. He might play Beethoven's Minuet No. 2 for the opening credits. Then he'd accompany a chase with a scherzo, or provide an andante for the customary love scene. Sometimes Bach chorales could be heard accompanying scenes of profound sadness, while hacked fragments of Tchaikovsky's symphonies would turn up as sinister mysterioso music to highlight intense moments. Wedding marches by Wagner and Mendelssohn would underscore not only scenes of marriage, but marital discord and divorce, too. The sheet music business flourished in the silent era only to become obsolete when sound arrived.
|Erich Wolfgang Korngold|
|Olivia de Havilland & Errol Flynn in Robin Hood|
While the consideration of movies being a disreputable art form has now been largely dispelled, the aesthetic considerations of movie music are still rarely debated (even among critics). That's too bad. The core of that debate could well be this old Hollywood story about movie music that has been repeated so often it's almost an urban myth. In 1944, while Alfred Hitchcock was making Lifeboat for 20th Century Fox, he made the decision to jettison the score. After being informed of the bad news, composer David Raksin asked how this rather unusual decision was reached. "Well, Hitchcock feels that since the entire action in the film takes place in a lifeboat on the open ocean, where would the music come from?" a studio bureaucrat replied. Raksin paused for a moment before making a logical retort of his own: "Ask Mr. Hitchcock to explain where the cameras come from, and I'll tell him where the music comes from."
Dangerous Kitchen: The Subversive World of Zappa). His forthcoming book is Reflections in the Hall of Mirrors: American Movies and the Politics of Idealism. With John Corcelli, Courrier is currently working on another radio documentary for CBC Radio's Inside the Music called The Other Me: The Avant-Garde Music of Paul McCartney.