This Photoplay Music Starter Kit is a collection of vintage orchestral “photoplay music” from the libraries of silent film theater musicians. If you've read my About Photoplay Music page, you'll know how this repertoire was used. The introductory article below gives more practical advice on how to compile, rehearse, and perform from the collection.
The Photoplay Music Starter Kit is intended for students, music historians, chamber ensembles, freelance musicians, community orchestras, symphony orchestras, or anyone wanting to experiment with this remarkably efficient and flexible approach to orchestral silent film scoring.
The Photoplay Music Starter Kit has over 90 orchestrated pieces, selected from libraries once belonging to silent film theaters, that I have found useful in creating compiled scores. It should provide you with all of the music you need for scoring a typical silent film. If you enjoy these projects, you can expand this music library with more pieces from archives.
The boxes in this photo represent about a fifth of the Grauman Theater Collection, now at the University of Colorado. As you can guess, this repertoire is dauntingly huge. So my kit is intended to give you a curated collection of useful pieces, so you won't have too few, or too many, pieces to get started with.
This version of the Photoplay Music Starter Kit is Rev 2020C. The remaining problems are that some of the scans are from low-quality originals, and a few arrangements are missing one or two orchestra parts. As I upgrade the collection, I'll update the revision number.
For Rev 2020B I was able to obtain several missing parts from La Rançon de Bonheur from the Chicago Public Library.
Rev 2020C has better scans of three parts for The Vampire, thanks to David Gill.
This introductory article describes the contents of the Photoplay Music Starter Kit, and how to use it to create compilation scores for silent films, for any size of musical ensemble from solo piano to a large theater orchestra.
This is a database containing the contents of the Photoplay Music Starter Kit in Excel format. You can sort by title, composer, orchestra size, etc. Keep a copy of this database, and expand the database as you expand your collection.
This is the Kit! A Zip file containing over 90 full orchestrations of "photoplay music" cues, all arranged for orchestra. They are scanned as black-and-white PDF files. They are not intended to be pristine representations of the original publications: I have corrected some obvious typos, and edited and cleaned them up a bit to make them more useful to working musicians.
Some Recordings of Music from the Photoplay Music Starter Kit
The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra has recorded a number of the pieces in the kit. The following recordings show what some of these pieces sound like when played by a quintet of piano, violin, cello, clarinet, and trumpet/cornet.
Agitato No. 4, by J.S. Zamecnik
Allegro Precipitoso, by Domenico Savino
A Critical Moment, by G. Becce
Dramatic Recitative No. 1, by Sol P. Levy
A Gruesome Tale, by J.S. Zamecnik
Lovely Flowers, by Gaston Borch
Marche Triumphale, by Leo Kempinski
Pastorale, No. 39, by Otto Langey
Selections from "The Rainbow Girl" (first half), by Louis A. Hirsch
Silhouettes: III Italian, by Henry Hadley
Silhouettes: IV American, by Henry Hadley
Weird Night, by William Axt
All performances (P) The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra