These are album notes for Mont Alto's CD recording "Entreaty," available for purchase through CDbaby. The eco-friendly wallet we published the CD in did not have a lot of space for text, so I'm publishing it here.
The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, a five-piece chamber ensemble, revives music composed and arranged for silent movie orchestras. This album features romantic themes from our recorded scores for The Blot, Children of Divorce, College, The Coward, Les Deux Timides, The Fall of Babylon, The Flying Ace, Mothers of Men, The Penalty, Ramona, The Silent Enemy, Timothy’s Quest, and People on Sunday.
The complete films can be found through links on our “recordings” page.
1. Canzonetta, J. L. Nicodé (4:09)
We first recorded this lovely light salon piece by Jean Louis Nicodé (1853-1919) for Kino’s release of The Bluebird. We re-recorded it for Ramona, where it underscores the early scenes of Ramona’s idyllic life on the rancho. The orchestration is very full, with nice solo work for all of the instruments. This is a good example of theater orchestration, where the careful distribution of musical lines through the various instruments makes our quintet sound larger than it actually is.
2. Entreaty, J. S. Zamecnik (3:32)
One of the first pieces by J.S. Zamecnik that we ever read, this gorgeous violin showpiece serves as a key love theme for our live score for Sunrise. It’s a good example of a piece that will load emotion into any scene you underscore with it. Susan Hall recorded it for our “Cinema” CD back in 1999. For years, we avoided putting it on a video recording, but its heart-tugging melody turned out to be perfect for Children of Divorce, which in many ways is a love story between Clara Bow and Esther Ralston, with Gary Cooper being more a disposable side-issue. This is still one of my favorite photoplay music pieces.
3. Serenata, Valentina Crespi (3:30)
Valentina Crespi was a violin soloist from Milan who toured America and Europe giving concerts and recitals. She was not known as a composer, but three of her compositions were orchestrated and published for silent film use by S.M Berg in 1917 and 1918. The original orchestration gave the melody to all of the instruments, so I re-orchestrated it to share the wealth and create some harmonic interest. We recorded this for Ramona, as a kind of anxiety-love theme when things aren’t going well. Another of Crespi’s compositions, “Thoughts,” appears in our score to Cobra.
4. Legend of the Canyon, Charles Wakefield Cadman (3:49)
Cadman was an American ethnomusicologist and composer who lived in Oklahoma and Colorado, before moving to Los Angeles. His compositions were inspired by Native American themes and Western landscapes. “Legend of the Canyon” was dedicated to Fritz Kreisler, who used it often as an encore at his concerts, and recorded it in the 1920s (go find it: it's a bit scratchy, but lovely). The original composition was for piano and violin, but I added cello, clarinet, and trumpet parts for Mont Alto, leaving the violin part as Cadman wrote it. We used it as a love theme in our live score for the Kiowa film Daughter of Dawn. It was so much fun to play that I reused it and recorded it for the proto-feminist film Mothers of Men for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
5. Melancholic Andante, Jacque Pintel (1:56)
Jacque (sometimes "Jacques") Pintel appears in old newspaper reviews as a touring concert pianist. His taste for unusual and unpredictable harmonies makes him irresistible as a composer. We used this for an early scene in Beggars of Life, back when we could only show that film from battered 16mm prints. Fortunately, this year we were asked to record that score for a Kino-Lorber release of the George Eastman Museum’s restoration. Another of Pintel’s compositions, “Euphonious Agitato,” appears on our previous CD, Love, Betrayal, and Redemption.
6. Romance D’Amour, A. Arensky (2:23)
Arensky’s compositions are quite useful for silent film work, and always interesting to play. We recorded this one for Children of Divorce, as a love theme for Gary Cooper.
7. Serenade Lointaine, Irénée Bergé (2:01)
This charming and slightly hesitant piece was perfect for our score for Les Deux Timides, as a love theme for shy people (it also opens and closes the film). The lack of downbeats in the accompaniment keep it a little off-balance. For Les Deux Timides, a joint restoration by the Cinemathèque Française and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, I decided to use almost exclusively the music of Irénée Bergé, who was a French composer who emigrated to America. Quite a few of his “oriental” themes appear in our Kino score for The Thief of Bagdad.
8. Melancolie, E. Nápravnik, (4:13)
We first recorded this piece for the Russian film Bed and Sofa, where it perfectly communicated ambivalence in the abortion clinic sequence. The piece alters between sad and achingly pretty, which is a useful character in film score music—it can seamlessly follow a scene that changes its tone. We re-recorded it in my new home studio for the Lon Chaney film The Penalty, which is the version heard here.
9. Confession, J. S. Zamecnik (3:37)
Another piece we recorded for The Penalty, “Confession” is a curiously structured piece. Starting with a solid, almost hymnal melody, it changes to a fast agitato for most of its running time. Of course, in the right scene, it can seem to track the action as though composed tightly to the film.
10. October Twilight, Henry Hadley (2:03)
Henry Hadley was a highly regarded American classical composer and conductor, who wrote a number of symphonies and suites. He scored the John Barrymore film When a Man Loves, which was recorded for use in sound theaters and is one of the finest surviving original silent film scores. "October Twilight" is one of many of his pieces published in re-orchestrated form for theater orchestra use, and appears during the siesta scene in People on Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag). This was recorded before I got my nice grand piano, and David Short apologizes that it’s his older cello.
11. Fleurette, Victor Herbert (2:52)
Before his fame as a composer of operettas, Herbert was better known as a virtuoso classical cellist and conductor, and composer of symphonies. His cello concerto has recently been experiencing a revival. This is an early waltz with a particularly gorgeous middle section. We recorded this for the early 1912 version of Robin Hood filmed in Fort Lee New Jersey (available on the DVD The Champion), but we also used it as a love theme in Buster Keaton’s tragic-comedy Daydreams.
12. Heart o’ Dreams, J. S. Zamecnik (3:55)
Another particularly gorgeous love theme by Zamecnik, I’ve used this in films ranging from Miss Lulu Bett to Wings to Ben Hur. This recording was made for Children of Divorce, which called for quite a few scenes of tortured longing. The opening violin statement comes back at the end played by cello with the violin taking on a nice counter melody.
13. Serenade Romantique, Gaston Borch (2:34)
Gaston Borch was one of the most prolific photoplay music composers. In an attempt to create a biography through old documents, newspapers, and census records, we found quite a wild domestic life (see our “composer biographies” page on Borch). We recorded this richly harmonized off-beat romantic theme as a second love theme for Felipe in Ramona.
14. Lovely Flowers, Gaston Borch (2:42)
Borch wrote so many light-classical love themes that one could fill a boxed set with them. We recorded this for Mothers of Men, as a love theme for the governor of California and her husband. It has the advantage of a more agitated middle part based on the same melodic material, so one can use the piece as written for scenes that start well and go south, or start in the middle for scenes that start badly and turn out better.
15. Pathetic Andante No. 1, Otto Langey (1:35)
A short, beautiful cello piece with lots of emotion. I have used this in a number of films for wistfully sad scenes, but we recorded it for a brief thoughtful moment in Buster Keaton’s College. Otto Langey was a prolific orchestrator as well as a composer. In fact, in one collection of 1065 orchestrations I have, 111 are arranged by Otto Langey. His composing credits go back to the 1880s, and his woodwind tutorials are still in use by music teachers. The term “pathetic” in the title pre-dates movies, with the meaning “music with pathos,” and was a common descriptor of music for live melodrama.
16. Serenade, Cecile Chaminade (2:49)
Though Cecile Chaminade (1857-1944) lived through the silent film era, her music was not intended for film use. Though she wrote symphonic works and ballet music, she mostly composed for chamber players on piano, voice, and violin. Her works were very popular, and in 1913 she was the first female composer to be awarded the Legion d’Honneur. In their voracious appetite for music, publishers orchestrated her piano works, as in the case of this 1884 “Serenade, Op. 29.” We recorded this for an early scene in Ramona.
17. At Sunrise, “Desert Suite,” Homer Grunn (2:26)
Like Charles Wakefield Cadman, Homer Grunn was part of an “Indianist” movement in American music. The “Desert Suite” was originally written for piano solo, but adapted for theater orchestra like so much other music of the period. We recorded three of the movements of the suite for the film The Silent Enemy. Rudolph Valentino’s manager George Ullman recalled that Grunn’s “Desert Suite” was one of Valentino’s favorite pieces, and was played on-set during filming of The Son of the Sheik.
18. Les Roses d’Ispahan, Gabriel Fauré (2:52)
This is an outlier on the album: to my knowledge, this Fauré art song (originally for voice and piano) was never adapted for silent films. However, a song recital scene in Les Deux Timides called for a slow French art song, and I remembered this from college days and orchestrated it for Mont Alto. In the film score it’s used twice, but the scenes were either too short or too long for the song as written, so I was forced to cut or add repeats in the film score. Here I’ve digitally edited it to match Fauré’s original structure.
19. Nydia, J. S. Zamecnik (4:06)
This moody piece starts with an odd, almost oriental violin flourish, then continues into a moody dramatic tension theme. Then the key unexpectedly turns major for a slow, pastoral section that may reveal influences of Antonin Dvorak, with whom Zamecnik studied in Prague for two years. These multiple moods are helpful when fitting music to a film scene that changes mood, as in Lois Weber’s film The Blot, for which we recorded this.
20. A Simple Love Episode, Herbert Haines (3:16)
One of the prettiest light love themes, we use this in several live scores, including Harold Lloyd’s The Kid Brother. We’ve used it twice in recorded scores, once in the charming early Maurice Tourneur film The Wishing Ring, and again in Timothy’s Quest, from which this recording comes.
21. Silent Sorrows, Gaston Borch (2:31)
Gaston Borch was a master of sad vignettes. This one is perhaps a little more hopeful than some. We first used it in a live score for A Woman of Paris, but this particular recording shows up in our scores for both The Coward and Timothy’s Quest.
22. Serenade, A. Rubinstein (5:59)
One of the more well-known pieces on the album, this Serenade was arranged for theater orchestra by Otto Langey. We use it for Ramona and Alessandro’s trek into the wilderness in Ramona.
23. Adieu, J. S. Zamecnik (1:53)
A light love theme by Zamenick, this appears in our score for The Flying Ace, for a scene where the heroine and a man who proves later to be the villain take a joy-ride in an airplane.
24. Solemn Scenes from Nature, Christopher O’Hare (5:13)
Christopher O’Hare is remembered now, if at all, as an arranger and composer of marches and two-steps starting in the late 1890s. But he let his classical side shine in a set of extremely well-written photoplay pieces for Oliver Ditson Co. in 1918, including this “Solemn Scenes from Nature.” The piece has the additional description “For mountains, forests, dark waters, mines, caves, etc. Also for religious or other solemn ceremonies.” The piece is constructed a long slow build-up from a lone piano bass-line to about as full a sound as you can get from a quintet. Someday, I have to hear this with full orchestra! This was very effective in our live score for the Czech film Erotikon, but we recorded it for D. W. Griffith’s The Fall of Babylon's crane shot revealing the huge Babylon set.