УДК 785 : 791.03
BORIS B. BORODIN
Urals Mussorgsky State Conservatoire,
“THE RACKED PIANOFORTE” AND “THE GREAT SILENT CINEMA”
Abstract. The article considers the activities of pianists accompanying silent cinema. They can be equally related to the history of cinema, the history of music, and piano performance. Musical accompaniment was an important additional means of influencing the viewers and a variable component of the historical film show. This practice is a thing of the past now, along with silent cinema, and attempts to revive it in modern conditions are a mere reconstruction. The author suggests that it was not the invention of technical capabilities for synchronizing sound and images that determined the aesthetic boundary between the silent and sound era; it was the renunciation of pianists as direct musical accompaniment of the films, the removal of the “human factor”. The most authentic materials for studying the activities of illustrator pianists are interviews and archival filming of musicians who had actual experience in silent film scoring. Of the printed sources, photoplay music—sheet music collections for tappers—are very informative. There could be one or many authors to such collections. The article analyzes the photoplay music by John Stepan Zamecnik and Ernö Rapée. The conclusion is that the plays included in one-author collections are distinguished by the simplicity of form, genre definiteness, and recurrence of musical language. By contrast, compiled collections including works from different eras composed by different authors, systematized by themes, are stylistically diverse. Using pieces from photoplay music collections, as well as from popular classical melodies and contemporary dance music, illustrators compiled their “soundtracks”, linking them by composed or improvised parts. As time passed by, “taper culture” revealed its patterns, which later became the basis of cinema music in the sound era and was clearly manifested in the work of Shostakovich. The author draws several parallels between the recommendations of the photoplay music compilers and the artistic practices of filmmakers of the second half of the twentieth century. Speaking about the revival of silent film illustrators as a profession in the modern cultural space, the author emphasizes that piano helps to preserve the artistic integrity of silent pictures for modern viewers. This activity of pianists is interpreted as one of the branches of historically informed performance. The article offers examples of similar specific art projects. In conclusion, it is emphasized that modern cinema, by the way it preserves and reproduces reality, has become a totally technical art. In mass cinema, recordings of live symphony orchestras are being replaced by less expensive computer phonograms. The author sees this as the next aesthetic boundary beyond which the cinema will enter its digital age.
Keywords: cinema history, piano performance, silent cinema, film music, silent film accompaniment, illustrator pianists, I.N. Khudyakov, D.D. Shostakovich, Gregg A. Frelinger, Ernö Rapée, John Stepan Zamecnik