Published: Sept. 12, 2022

The American Music Research Center (AMRC) and the University Libraries have received a grant to digitize music scores from the Grauman’s Theatres Silent Film Score Collection. 

The grant was awarded to AMRC and the University Libraries by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Containing 3,854 scores, the Grauman’s Theatres collection is unique in that it contains complete orchestral parts for musicians, rather than music for solo piano or organ which was much more common. The collection provides insight into an industry that, until the 1930s, employed more than half of the professional musicians in the United States. It also provided access and professional opportunities to women composers and Black composers that the nation’s concert halls and opera houses did not. 

“The breadth of the collection, its musical content, and the specificity of its provenance will interest those tracing topics such as cultural knowledge, taste, trends and fads, gendered activities and behaviors, class and social stratification, and the history of film and popular media,” said Susan Thomas, director of the AMRC and professor of musicology at CU Boulder.

Since handing the scores to a local vendor for digitization, the University Libraries have begun creating metadata records for each of these scores. These records include important information such as the composer, arranger, instrumentation and other key features of each piece that can be searched for in the CU Digital Library. To date, over 600 scores have been made publicly available and more are being added each month. 

“The handwritten notes in these scores provide interesting historical detail, particularly with regards to the venues in which they were performed and films they accompanied,” Metadata Librarian Erik Radio said.

For example, the repurposed music of Richard Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” contains what are likely script cues for the accompanying film, noted Thomas. Another score that stands out in the collection is “Theme and Variations” composed by Heinrich Proch and is an original, handwritten score. Overall, many of the scores throughout the collection contain handwritten notation in various sections of the score, but this score is completely notated by hand. 

“While lyrics are not frequently included in the scores, ‘Bei Mir Bist Du Schön’ is an interesting example that contains them,” said Thomas. “It was common for movie palaces to feature music before and after movies, and this may have been one of those scores.”

The entire Grauman Theatres Silent Film Scores collection will be digitized and publicly available by Summer 2023. Stay tuned for more news and curiosities from this exciting project!