Of course there were no soundtracks for films of the silent
era. Music was provided, in situ, in cinemas, by pianists
or small instrumental groups, and, very occasionally, by orchestras
playing in large cinemas for important film premieres. Often
the music played comprised odd snippets - frequently from well
known classical compositions that fitted the locations, pace
and mood of the on-screen action. Years later when these Silent
Era classics were rediscovered, new original music was composed
for them. Foremost amongst composers for silent films are Carl
Davis – and William Perry. This Naxos CD is a celebration of
William Perry’s Gemini Concerto draws cleverly on themes
created for films of the 1920s; for example the ‘New York: Broadway
and Finale’ quotes music written from: Show People (1928),
Fine Manners (1928) starring Gloria Swanson and from
King Vidor’s 1928 masterpiece, The Crowd. The
Gemini Concerto was written for the Swiss identical twin
sisters, Fiona and Ambra Albeck, featured on this recording.
It was premiered in Greenfield Massachusetts in May 2010.
The Gemini Concerto begins with an ‘Introduction and
Travel Music’ that is a fizzy, exuberant mix of styles beginning
with a ‘we’re off’ train whistle sparking material evocative
of accelerating train wheels; this sparkling Introduction has
colourful harmonies and imaginative orchestrations and ensembles
- piano and violin solos, chamber and orchestral segments -
all in pursuit of adventure, discovery and revelling in nostalgia.
The sense of the train proceeding continues with ‘Dublin, Celtic
Air and Runaway Reel’ which is the Concerto’s second movement
that has a typically Irish tune with a prominent violin solo.
The third movement takes us to Berlin for a ‘Cabaret March and
Berliner Lied’, beautifully evocative, reminiscent of that city
between the wars. It has an exquisite poignant melody for piano
and violin - the Berliner Lied – that speaks of sadness of parting.
This movement is worth the price of the CD alone. On to Moscow
for a ‘Twilight Troika and Romance’ horses trotting through
a snowy landscape; sleigh bells a-ringing before bells of a
different kind introduce a sweet Romance for piano and violin
à la Rachmaninov. In Vienna there is a sparkling and
gaily romantic ‘Polytonal Polka and Waltz ‘Wiener Wein’ that
sends champagne corks a-poppin’. Finally we land in New York
for the Concerto’s glittering, jazzy ‘Broadway Ballet and Finale’.
Perry has drawn together music from three of his scores to form
the somewhat less original, less inspired The Silent Years:
Three Rhapsodies for Piano and Orchestra. The first of these
Rhapsodies is on music for the 1927 John Barrymore swashbuckler,
The Beloved Rogue which was a film based on the adventures
of 15th century rogue and poet, François Villon.
Fanfares announce a swaggering devil-my-care theme for Villon.
The suite includes music for court pomp and majesty and the
requisite love music - material that Korngold would not have
sniffed at - Blood and Sand famously starred Rudolph
Valentino and Perry’s score is suitably exotically Latin, including
flashing flamenco rhythms and music reminiscent of de Falla,
for this Andalucian-based torrid melodrama about the fortunes
of bullfighters. The evocative score follows this story of bravery
in the bull ring, passion and betrayal and ultimate tragedy.
Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush inspired Perry to pen
music suggesting labouring with pick and hammer, comic and poignant
adventures of prospector Charlie, a New Year’s party dance,
Charlie’s shy romancing and his big gold strike.
Perry explains that he sometimes conceives themes that could
be used to score film assignments he might yet receive. Accordingly,
from such a store of themes, he has drawn together another brilliantly
coloured suite of music entitled, Six Title Themes in Search
of a Movie. Number one is a Dance Overture for an imaginary
film that might conceivably be entitled ‘Wild Nights in Toronto’.
It’s wild alright, bright and breezy and jazzy redolent of the
roaring twenties with gangsters and their molls. Next we travel
to France for a typically Gallic waltz that could grace such
a film called Raincoats of Dijon; the obligatory
accordion is featured prominently. Then it is south to Italy
for a Serenade for a projected film Angelus for an Angel.
The orchestration calls for wistful use of tubular bells. The
fourth theme carries us off to South America and another Perry
dream film, The Bridge on the River Plate. This
time he uses stirring quick march music that he had actually
composed for a silent film about World War I, What Price Glory;
the soldiers must be in a happy mood judging by their whistling!
Now comes a Nocturne in jazz blues mode for a film that might
be entitled, The Black Marigold possibly
a film noire set in a Manhattan night club? The final theme
is for an imaginary science fiction film called Voyage
to the Dog Star. This is a glamorous score that reminds
one more of those Ziegfeld musicals and Bette Davis tear-jerkers
than a sci-fi epic. The music might remind one of the grand
Late Romantic piano concertos and there is a grandiloquent solo
Siren Song from Irish soprano Helen Kearns as the space craft
nears the fiery surface of Sirius. A wonderful way-over-the-top
The RTÉ Orchestra and Paul Phillips play these colourful
and melodic works with great enthusiasm and panache and mention
must be made of Robert Nowaks brilliant orchestrations.
Naxos have really gone to town with the documentation for this
release. The 16-page booklet includes colour pictures of the
composer and all the artists, plus full notes and even musical
examples. Pity then that the dates of composition and
films are not always given.
A glorious, joyous, tuneful celebration of the days of Silent