Silent Film is more popular now than it has been since before the invention of talkies, and the Front Range is one of the hottest parts of the country for celebrating the tremendous art and music of these treasured parts of cinematic history.
We hope you had a chance to catch the Denver Silent Film Festival over the past week! The American Music Research Center holds one of the largest collections of music from silent films in the country--more than 500 linear feet and growing. The collections help support a variety of activities in the Boulder/Denver area, from a summer silent film festival at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, to performances throughout the country and beyond by the nationally renowned Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.
Silent film music grew out of the theatre orchestra tradition of the nineteenth century, where each theatre had a house band, organist, orchestra, or other regular performers that provided music for vaudeville and other live shows. When film began to take hold, those ensembles were engaged to provide music for the films. Some theatres employed their organists, whose performances were either entirely improvised or, later, shaped from "cue sheets" that provided seed melodies for the different sections of the film. Other theatres used small chamber ensembles or even full orchestras, stitching together dozens of short fragments into a score. Rarely, disc recordings were available for theatres with no live musicians. A few films, such as 1927's "Wings," the first Best Picture Oscar winner, came with a complete score.
The AMRC held at the CU Boulder Archives holds four collections of silent film and early theatre orchestra music. The George Layton scores is the largest, consisting primarily of orchestra arrangements of music. The Frederick Lavigne theatre orchestra music is one of the largest collections of pre-silent film music in existence. The Hank Troy scores consist primarily of cue sheets collected by the Boulder resident and prominent silent film scholar and performer. Finally, the "Silent Film Music collection" contains smaller collections from individual collectors. Finding aids and more information can be found on the AMRC's website.