To say that French people are more passionate, is a cultural stereotype. Looking at the French publications in our collection of silent cinema scores certainly reinforces that. Even more so, when I compare them with the bland, twee, or merely prosaic titles from UK composers and publishers.
Last time in this thread, I looked at American and German publications, and their differences – both in their presentation, and how they were used by their one-time owners. I find it fascinating to get some sense of which titles were used, and which weren’t, or, at least, not so much.
Take these two publications, one French, the other British:
[clicking on the images will enlarge them.]
They both use imagery from the ancient classical world, yet they’re very different. The clean, restrained background framing, and the female muse, contrast starkly with some of the titles listed: Extase langoureuse, Sur une tombe, Douce intimité. I can’t find anything online about the composer, J. Dyck. It may have been a pseudonym; something that happened with other composers of silent movie music. It’s very difficult to imagine any British published title from the period including the word Ecstasy in the title. Extase langoureuse is a set of parts in our collection, so Harry T . Saunders, the then owner, must have found some use for it in and around Glasgow. Or, perhaps, he hoped to find some use for it, because the set looks in suspiciously good condition.
Compare that with the British published set of parts next to it. Reginald Somerville was an actor and composer, mostly known for his drawing room ballads and a handful of operas. Passion flowers is an example of a piece of music which wasn’t written for cinema use, but found its way into a soundtrack simply because it fitted. A large number of sets in the collection come under this heading. I love the way both the figures on the cover, while trying to appear classical, instead look like a bored husband and wife, sitting on either side of the hearth.
It’s all too easy to be dismissive of a popular melody called Passion flowers, but Saunders evidently found it very much to his taste. And useful. The melody is sweet and tuneful, but hardly the epitome of passion. Although the restless accompaniment does suggest emotional unease of some kind. Take a look at this piano conductor score, protected with copious amounts of brown paper tape:
This has the appearance of a score that was employed often, and was an essential part of Saunder’s working collection.
Looking at our collection, it appears that French publishers were more likely to employ images on their front covers. Take a look at this one on the left:
[clicking on the image will enlarge it.]
L’ile enchantée, indeed, although it does look a bit more like a jungle as well. Not that French publishers were against series covers, which listed all available titles. In a competitive market, this sort of cover made commercial sense – if you’d bought one title and liked it, seeing a list from the same publisher would hopefully make you buy more. But once again, just the simple list with its French titles seems much more exciting, and visceral, than its British equivalent – with its talk about hurricanes, ambushes, revolution …
A rather unfair comparison might be made with this listing from the famous British publisher Hawkes:
Notice that Reginald Somerville makes an appearance again, this time writing music specifically commissioned for use with silent films. Often, it appears that this was a young man’s game, their first foray into composing music, and earning a living. Somerville, as an older man, was writing music for what purpose? A new experience, perhaps? Or, a comparatively easy way to make some money – certainly easier than trying to get an opera staged.
Take a look at the listed titles by one Frederick Noyes:
Agitato is a word that appears in three titles. Although is it descriptive to a certain extent, a Heavy agitato has nothing on the Guet-apens (Ambush), L’assassinat (Murder) or Violence of the Dramafilma listing. As for Jollifications – I’m afraid my eyes roll in a particularly twenty-first century way.