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The Sounds of the Silents in Britain$
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Julie Brown and Annette Davison

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199797615

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199797615.001.0001

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The Art of Not “Playing to Pictures” in British Cinemas, 1906–1914

The Art of Not “Playing to Pictures” in British Cinemas, 1906–1914

(p.111) 6 The Art of Not “Playing to Pictures” in British Cinemas, 1906–1914
The Sounds of the Silents in Britain

Jon Burrows

Oxford University Press

It is traditionally thought that during the first ten years in which permanent cinemas became established in Britain, the accompaniment to silent films was typically supplied by lone pianists who improvised musical themes that subserviently complemented narrative developments as they unfolded on screen. This chapter acknowledges that, following a period in which mechanical musical devices predominated, this model was widely espoused around 1909–10. But it argues that such practices quickly fell out of fashion. Using the evidence of cinema licensing records, as well as debates published in the film-industry trade press, the chapter demonstrates that miniature orchestras had been installed in the majority of cinemas in London by 1913 and that such orchestras rarely attempted to tightly synchronize their music with the films they accompanied.

Keywords:   silent cinema, film music, film sound, music licensing, cinema orchestras, cinema pianist, British cinema

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