Film-music critics from 1923 to 1928 in film trade magazine Reichsfilmblatt have been fully inventoried and digitally disclosed. Journalistic sources are available online, in the form of a full-text transcription, in the open-access database FMJ Archive.
Another milestone for the FMJ Project and its remaining research team. Italians say: “Meglio soli che mal’accompagnati!”.
Francesco Finocchiaro and Elisabeth Trautwein-Heymann
Great uncertainty surrounds the status of film music in the silent era. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, the musical accompaniments of film screenings were mainly made in the form of compilation, i.e. collages of pre-existing music, taken freely from the operatic and symphonic repertoire, also from operettas, dance, variety songs, and matched to the story in a crude and rather predictable way.
From the second decade of the twentieth century, the major European and American publishers began to publish and distribute ready-made pieces for music accompaniments. These pieces of music were not specific to a particular film, but were designed to accompany common film situations (e.g. Short Storm, Chase, Night Vision, Dangerous Situation) or to give a scene a generic emotional mood (e.g. Desperation, Mystery, Anguish, Dramatic Climax). Each piece of music was accompanied by a more or less detailed description, referring to the context in which it could be used in the film. Music was used to express the whole spectrum of human feelings, from “amorous passion” to “profound desperation,” from “lyrical expression” to “dramatic conflict”: the musical component was left to portray the inner emotions of that Visible Man – the title of a famous work by Béla Balázs (1924) – conditioned to express himself on-screen only through gestures.
A considerable number of these compilation repertoires was archived in the research project “Film Music as a Problem in German Print Journalism (1907-1930),” carried out at the University of Vienna. The collection comes from a bequest of composer Edgar Haase (1901–1967), a specialist in film music and director of various salon orchestras. The legacy was augmented by donations from heirs and further research in European libraries, including the Musiksammlung of the National Library of Austria and the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin. The archive contains over 500 sets of orchestral parts, from the most important collections of German, English and American mood music (Kinothek, Preis-Kino-Bibliothek, Boheme Kino-Lexikon, Sam Fox Film-Gebrauchs-Musik, Bosworth’s Internationales Kino -Orchester, J.S. Zamecnik’s Photoplay-Edition, Universal-Film-Musik, Robbins Red Seal Concert Series, Filmharmonie). Such a vast compendium provides a reliable historical picture of the daily practice of musical accompaniment in cinemas and stands as an informative document with enormous potential for the reconstruction of the art and aesthetics of film composition in the silent era.
As director of the Viennese research project, Francesco Finocchiaro presented the musical background as part of a conference/concert, with the participation of Julie Brown (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Elisabeth Trautwein-Heymann. The Montfort Quartet, together with some Poliziano instrumentalists, performed a selection of pieces from the mood music collections.
L’ascolto di musiche d’atmosfera per il cinema muto sarà possibile martedì 23 luglio, nella suggestiva cornice del Cortile della Fortezza di Montepulciano, nell’ambito del 44° Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte, in occasione di una conferenza-concerto dal titolo L’UOMO VISIBILE, Musica e passioni nel Cinema muto, a cura di Francesco Finocchiaro, con la partecipazione di Julie Brown (Royal Holloway, University of London) ed Elisabeth Trautwein-Heymann e con la performance del Montfort Quartet.
Elena Minetti, Montepulciano: musica e passioni nel cinema muto, Amadeus Online, July 18, 2019. Read the article here.
Renata Scognamiglio, Festival di Montepulciano – Il 44° Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte, Rai Radio3 “Qui comincia”, July 21, 2019. The podcast is available here:
At the IAML 2019 Conference, Francesco Finocchiaro presented the FMJ Archive. The paper outlined the database’s concept, design, and scope, with a particular focus on research methods, technical concerns, and theoretical issues.
Francesco Finocchiaro, FMJ Archive: a Digital Database for German-Language Film Music Journalism, IAML 2019 Conference, Jagiellonian University Kraków, 14-19 July 2019.
Trauer, Leidenschaft, Verzweiflung: Aufgabe der Kinomusik der Stummfilmära war es, das ganze Spektrum menschlicher Gefühle abzubilden. Am Donnerstag, 13. Juni 2019, präsentiert Francesco Finocchiaro im Rahmen eines Lecture-Recitals den umfangreichen Stummfilm-Musikbestand der FB Musikwissenschaft.
B. Ralser (Interview): Die Stummfilmmusik als Stimme der Gefühle,«Uni-View Magazin», June 6, 2019
What is film music? What should a piece of film music look like formally? Which musical language is better suited to the cinematic one? What dramaturgical problems arise from the use of traditional typologies or pre-existing music pieces?
Francesco Finocchiaro’s lecture at MaMI 2019 (New York University, Steinhardt) looked at this knot of issues in the mirror of German-language film journalism during the silent era.
Francesco Finocchiaro, Film Music as a Problem in the Mirror of Criticism, Music and the Moving Image 2019, New York University, Steinhardt, May 30 – June 2, 2019
Throughout the 1920s, German-language film journalism addressed fundamental questions about the encounter between music and cinema. Prominent composers, musicologists, and film theorists contributed to this broad discussion on the proper role and design of silent film music, encompassing a wide range of arguments and perspectives. To a large extent, this debate took place in cinematic trade journals (such as Der Kinematograph, Film-Kurier, Reichsfilmblatt) as well as musicological journals (e.g. Musikblätter des Anbruch, Melos, Der Auftakt).
The paper outlines the development of the film-music debate on the film journal Reichsfilmblatt from 1924 to 1930, with a particular focus on the dialectical interplay between theoretical-aesthetical concerns and compositional issues.
Starting from the mid-1920s, Reichsfilmblatt encouraged composers and music directors to contribute their opinions concerning the art of film-music composition at large, ranging from compilation guides to accompaniment practices, and from illustrative techniques to dramaturgic strategies. Particular attention to compositional issues is evident from the presence of regular columns by music critics. Film-music theoreticians like Hans Erdmann or Ludwig Brav reached well beyond the horizon of a film-music criticism, even theorizing new compositional approaches to film composition.
Thanks to the contributions of film-music specialists, such as Giuseppe Becce, Paul Dessau, Friedrich Holländer, etc., Reichsfilmblatt also dealt with a large number of questions related to the execution of musical accompaniments. The techniques of conducting film music were outlined; the basic configuration of a salon orchestra and the peculiarities of certain instruments were critically evaluated. The uncertain status of salon-orchestra conductors was debated and compared with the art-music sphere.
From 1927, Reichsfilmblatt finally confronted the question of the mechanization of music performance: a large number of articles discussed the revolution provoked by the discovery of recorded sound on both theoretical and practical levels.
Francesco Finocchiaro, “Im Spiegel der Kritik”: The film-music debate on Reichsfilmblatt from 1924 to 1930, II NEMI Meeting “Periodical press as a source in musicology”, CFSH-NOVA Lisbon, 16–18 May 2019.