Sunday, December 25, 2011

Music For The Birth Of A Nation

The following is from the 1965 edition of FILM CULTURE MAGAZINE marking the 50th Anniversary of THE BIRTH OF A NATION. The issue was written in whole by Seymour Stern.

The Film Was Called “A Musical Spectacle”

‘music’ is a mere word. Some music there has been everywhere and always, even before any genuine Culture, even among the beasts.” —OSWALD SPENGLER, THE DEC LINE OF THE WEST; I, 227. (Orig. Am. ed., Knopf, New York. Atkinson trans. 1926).

To pay tribute to David Wark Griffith as a film-creator without paying it to the great musical composers whose works formed the auditory reinforcing emotional unfoldment of his films, is to pay tribute to only one-half of Griffith. As certain film-students of today know, the images alone did not stun or agitate the world during the first quarter-century of the film’s stormy career: it was the images together with the music and, more specifically, it was the particular score that Griffith and the encyclopedic composer, Joseph Carl Breil, fitted to the images. For it was not edited images alone that Griffith created or even sought to create. Above everything else, he tried throughout his career to create the power of basic human fulfillment—that is, emotion and feeling; raw emotion, raw feeling. Without this, as the more important of his films teach us, the reaction of the spectator is limited to the experience, and to the mode of reception, of the classroom. Since this would limit method to an intellectual, lecture-conditioned type of stimulus, from which emotion and feeling may be excluded, the experience or reflex of the spectator would therefore be correspondingly limited.

The very limitation of non-emotional teaching methods imposed upon the process of perception may be useful, and without argument necessary, for some kinds of classroom learning, On the other hand, it can be, and almost always is, as destructive as death, when applied to dramatic and cinematic efforts—which are, in effect, nothing more than attempts at either emotional or esthetic directed-reflexes. Perhaps the mistaken application of the non-emotional technique is the flaw or weakness of audio-visual films as educational “tools”. It is undiplomatic to point out their ineffectiveness. However, we may not tarry to examine this question here. After half a century, The Birth of a Nation proves, perhaps more than it proves anything else, that what one commentator of the day enthusiastically termed the “marriage of music and spectacle” (see ahead)—or, as we might now say, the marriage of music and cinema, was, and remains, the most powerful combination of auditory-visual stimuli in the history of all the media of communication and expression, all the arts. To put it figuratively, it is a combination of cinematic-musical ‘molecules’, which produce, in synthesis, a type of atomically explosive emotional release.

It is only on the basis of this musical-cinematic alliance that the ideological-intellectual concepts and themes of The Birth of a Nation can be analyzed in focus. For the music, too—that is, the original score, assumed an ideological character. Accordingly, we can profit, cinematically and creatively, from the record of the cine-musical “atomic” event of 1915, if we take but a passing look at the musical aspect of the occurrence, brief and inadequate though this glimpse may be.

Film Music and Joseph Carl Breil

Musical accompaniment to films began in earnest with the appearance of The Birth of a Nation.
Limited or partial accompaniment had already occurred at an earlier date. Griffith’s own major release of the preceding two or three years— for example, Home, Sweet Home (1914), The Avenging Conscience (1914) and The Escape (1914), appeared in the larger cities with small accompanying orchestras, usually consisting of five to ten pieces, except on the occasion of the first New York showing of Home, Sweet Home, which featured a concert orchestra of twelve pieces. Yet even before the exhibition of these films, the value of music as an emotional reinforcem ent to screen-images had been recognized by a few filmmakers, starting with Griffith himself.
It was he who initiated the practice of having music played on the set to “put the players in mood”, and perhaps also to put himself “in mood”. It was he also, in 1909, who brought into the field the first compiler of “background” music for the movies, Joseph Carl Breil. Later, Breil’s “arrangements” were played on pianos, in the nickelodeons: still later, in the 1911 era, on player-pianos; then, beginning about 1913, in the early, primitive “palaces” of the cinema, on organs; and finally, as film-history approached the climactic year of 1915, by symphony orchestras. At first, small concert orchestras served the purpose, but with The Birth of a Nation, the full- scale symphony orchestra as we know it made its first appearance in the movie houses. Music as a cinematic ally had arrived.

In the nickelodeons, music was played continuously on pianos or player-pianos. In the theatres that replaced the nickelodeons, orchestral accompaniment was limited to a few sequences of the feature film—usually, the climactic sequences. Before the musicians assembled in the pit, the score was played by an organist. When the musicians retired, organ-music ‘picked up’ the score and continued it for the rest of the feature as well as for the short subjects—a virtually universal movie-house policy that remained in effect to the final days of the silent film in the “continuous- run” houses. The policy, however, did not apply to the two-a-day, two-dollar-a-seat houses that began with The Birth of a Nation.

In 1914, Griffith introduced the use of a small “concert” orchestra for the initial New York showing of Home, Sweet Home. Paced by this precedent, the two Italian spectacles, Quo Vadis? and Cabiria, and Edwin S. Porter’s production, The Eternal City, in 1914, during their initial New York City runs, carried symphony orchestras of about a dozen pieces each. It is noteworthy, however, that even these more ambitious accompaniments still largely failed of effect. The reason is that the selections were haphazardly, and for the most part creatively, chosen. More often than not, the music bore only a vague and superficial relationship to the action on the screen, or tried to imitate it instead of reinforcing the meaning and the visual rhythm, if any. The general policy was to allow the conductors, who were eng aged by the management of individual theatres, either to improvise their own scores as the film unfolded or, as in the case of the “better” first- run houses—(and in New York this meant, principally, the theatres of the Times Square area) —to compile the scores on the basis of only one screening prior to the public showing. Composition is perhaps too grand a word for the random and cinematically unrelated selections, largely from current popular music and sweetly-sentimental tunes of the day, that comprised movie-scores before The Birth of a Nation. Music as an attempted accompaniment there was, as we have seen, but music as a planned complement to the action content and emotional mood of individual scenes, did not begin until the Griffith-Breil score for The Birth of a Nation was assembled.

Joseph Carl Breil was born in 1870, in Pittsburgh;1 he died on January 23, 1926, one day after Griffith’s fifty-first birthday, at 56. He had studied music in Leipzig and Milan, and, as already mentioned, had started writing film-music for Griffith in 1909. He was also a symphony- orchestra conductor. According to Griffith’s recollection thirty years later, Breil and Griffith first met, as nearly as Griffith could recall, at a symphony concert in Chicago, where the then aspiring young actor was ‘playing the boards’, while Breil was conducting. After his fame had been established as a compiler and arranger of the scores for The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, Breil wrote an opera, “The Legend”, which was performed in 1919 at the Metropolitan Opera House.

If this background of ability and attainment had of itself been the sum of his assets to Griffith, it might have proved sufficient, as indeed it did, to make him an invaluable creative aid, but Breil possessed one additional qualification which end owed him with historic significance--namely, a creative, sympathetic attitude toward the screen. He was remarkably uncorrupted by the pervading atmosphere of genteel and pseudo-intellectual snobbism which had already, even at this early date, turned the New York stage into a veritable hothouse of anti-creative conservatism and esthetic mediocrity. Quick to recognize the inherent possibilities for adapting music (“flowing sound”, in Griffith’s term) to films (moving images), Breil wholeheartedly admired Griffith; he never tired in later years of expressing his admiration and gratitude for the director’s recognition, in that far- gone and forgotten day of 1909, of the function and importance of film-music. Originally engaged by Griffith to provide background music on the set, Breil appears to have been the first film-score composer, though perhaps not necessarily the first musician, to enter films, professionally. The association between Breil and Griffith must therefore be placed in the same category, and on the same level, as similar professional relationships which Griffith enjoyed with cameramen and players.

Neither Breil, however, nor any other compiler of film-music of the time composed a complete original score for a motion picture. The first score composed in its entirety for a film, except for one sequence, was written by Edmund Meisel for the Berlin premiere, in 1925, of Eisenstein’s Potemkin. For the sequence of the massacre of the Odessa steps, Meisel used the dramatic sect ion of Prokofiev’s “Love of Three Oranges”, because it paralleled and reinforced the rhythm of the action to perfection. All the rest was original.

Griffith himself had a workable knowledge of music. He had never learned to play an instrument, or the piano. But from his early days as a youth in Louisville, he had acquired a music- lover’s knowledge of opera and symphony. He carried melodies and tunes in memory for years. More important yet, he had the natural creativeness and inventiveness, and later some of the knowledge and technique, of a composer. The theme-music to Broken Blossoms, the orchestral leit motif, entitled “White Blossom”, is his composition, copyrighted in his name. William Saroyan in 1941 was fond of playing it on a player-piano, or pianola, in his office at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Griffith now spent two months with Breil, selecting, arranging, composing, theme-tunes and ‘transitions’, and rehearsing the enormous orchestration for The Birth of a Nation. No such pains taking effort of equal duration or magnitude had previously marked the scoring of any film. Here indeed was the true beginning of the musical accompaniment to motion pictures!

During the eight weeks that music was fitted to the more than 1,500 scenes of the big film, Griffith drew upon his own rich store of memorized folk- melodies of the South. He incorporated in the score a wealth of cues and themes gleaned from the symphonic background-music of a dozen or more operas and symphonies. The musical score to The Birth of a Nation, like the film itself, was composed under his personal supervision, and was subject to his approval; it is a ‘two-arranger’ work and has been properly accredited as such.

Symphonic music in 1915 was virtually unknown on the West Coast. It is therefore hardly surprising that the film took the city, and the country, by storm, quite apart from everything else, because of the musical score. The Birth of a Nation opened on February 8 at Clune’s (now the Philharmonic) Auditorium, Los Angeles, with a forty-piece orchestra, conducted by Carl D. Elinor, a backstage chorus of twelve singers, and several “sound-effect” men in the wings. The chorus was heard during the plantation-scenes of Part 1, and again during the Epilogue. The impact of a musical complement of such magnitude at this time, separate and apart from its connection with a film-spectacle, can be measured against the general status of symphonic music on the Pacific Coast, as revealed in April of that year in the following news item:

In a little over a month Los Angeles will for the first time have an opportunity of hearing the noblest of works in the symphonic form. Beethoven’s titanic achievement, the Ninth, or Choral, Symphony, with the magnitude of its conception, its beauty of melodic and harmonic design and its classic lucidity, recognizedly deserves this description.2

The “Western premiere” of the Ninth Symphony (Opus 125) was given by the Los Angeles Orchestra on the afternoon of May 17, 1915, at Clune’s Auditorium, more than two months after Griffith’s film had appeared. For this single performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the exhibition of The Birth of a Nation, in the only instance of its kind on record for any film, was suspended that afternoon.*
* This suspension of a single performance was for the sake of another art. But in May, The Clansman was suspended for one week for the sake of religion. The Los Angeles Times, May 18, 1915, explained that the film would resume its run a week later, because of need of the large auditorium by the Temple Baptist Church for its West Coast convention. These are the only instances I have found of the suspension of a first-run exhibition in the interest of other (non-cinematic) events.

It was an excellent, singularly fitting tribute by a masterpiece of a great new art to a masterpiece of a great old art. Half a century later, we may be grateful for its significance, for of all the other arts, music with its edited notes and “flowing sounds” is the one to which the cinema, with its edited images and flowing relationships, is most nearly akin. The true actor of the screen is the image; the true script, the relationship of the individual images to one another. As in music, so on the screen.

Joseph Carl Breil became famous. While formerly no attention had been paid to him, his comings and goings now were recorded as news.3

The accompaniment of orchestra, chorus and sound-effects was to be found in the larger cities until 1921. The size of the orchestra varied from forty to fifty pieces, depending on the size of the pit. American stage-theatres of the period were unequipped for the type of exhibition Griffith required, and again and again, enlargements of the orchestra-pit had to be made in many theatres across the nation. Then, in 1921, when the first of its post-World War I revival-series began, The Birth of a Nation appeared at the Capitol Theatre, New York City, with an orchestra of 90 pieces. The sound-effects were retained and, in fact, amplified, but the chorus was dropped and was never restored: it had been found too cumbersome, and as time passed, archaic.

After 1916, in the smaller towns, where orchestra-pits and other facilities were inadequate, the traveling accompaniment, especially in the post- World War I years, was reduced to from thirty to twenty pieces, while the sound-effects were rendered by the orchestra proper. The kettle-drums bore the metaphorical lion’s share of the task of simulating sound-effects. But despite these enforced reductions--this is perhaps the only instance in American film-history where the creative conception outran the mechanical and physical facilities—the significant fact emerged that the symphony orchestra had come into the movies, and had come to stay.

The tide of comment records the precedent:

Of importance is the music. It consists of an elaborate symphony score arranged after Griffith’s suggestions of the musical motifs of the leading characters. Now grave, now gay; now sounding the loud diapason of war; again sweetly harmonizing love’s sighs and rhapsodies; anon bringing back the old plantation melodies, or the crash of riot and rapine…it fits the changing scenes like- a flowing, beautiful garment.4

Many newspapers commented on the superiority of the new sound-and symphonic accompaniment over the stock-in-trade sound-effects familiar from the speaking stage:
Music plays no meager part in its perfection. The instrumental war effects are a welcome substitute for the blank cartridge of military drama [on the stage] .

The idea of sound-effects was also first noted about this time:

Every mechanism of the stage is brought into play to give the proper effects, not possible with the film alone. The roar of the cannon, the rattle of artillery and the noise of battle are reproduced behind the screen.

The first application of the term itself also appears to have occurred here, as in common reference to the fact that the film was “accompanied by musical and Sound effects, making the spoken word unnecessary . . . A complete symphony orchestra is carried.”7 (Italics mine). More and more, as critical and public excitement increased, reference was made not just to the orchestra alone, but to the “musical and mechanical effects”, 8 (italics mine), and in Chicago, its coming was heralded with the announcement that “a large orchestra and numerous realistic effects are adjuncts to the production.” (Italics mine). “The musical feature is in keeping with the massiveness of the picture itself.” And more, endlessly more, in kind.

Nor was audience-reaction to both orchestra and score overlooked. It was widely noted by Critics and trade alike, as, typically:

The music of the symphony orchestra timed to the picture with exactness added tremendously to the enjoyment of the audience. 12

The individual numbers played, whether in their entirety or only in excerpt, began to attract attention. Critics, reporters and spectators began to take an almost ecstatic delight in the sweeping ferment of the film’s emotional overriding attack on both eye and ear. Some of the news accounts gave special attention o the numbers, and some of them became amusing in the excitement and impressionability of their appreciation. The Chic ago Examiner, writing of the wonders of the “spectacular masterpiece”, mixed information with press releases:

The whole gamut of orchestra harmony, from soft plantation tunes and croons to the terrific battle music, is run by the lengthy score written for The Birth of a Nation. The quick changes and violent contrasts from soft to heavy, from gay to tragic, impose a severe tax on the nerves of the musicians, whose vigilance must never relax for a moment during the three hours of playing.
Every musician in the Griffith orchestra was selected not only for artistic proficiency but because of hardy physique, chest measurement, lung expansion and comparative absence of “nerves.”

With The Birth of a Nation the position of orchestra leader advances to a plane of new importance in the world of entertainment. 0. L. Mayhood is the conductor. There are 214 separate music cues in a performance of The Birth of a Nation. The cue is marked by certain action seen on the screen by the director, and this he must communicate by baton or spark lever to his many subordinates. Some of these cues call for the softest melody, dainty to the degree of gossamer. With the quickness of lightning the orchestra must plunge into the wildest, fiercest fanfare of savage war music. The suddenness of the changes is accounted by the fact that Director Griffith tells the story of The Birth of a Nation with swift transitions from battle scene to quiet fireside, from sweet love episode to deeds of violent murder. And the music of thirty musicians must shift in theme with the quickness of whirling celluloid film.

Mayhood is qualified for the leadership of this skillful corps of musicians. For two years he was in the United States regulars as bandmaster of the Third Infantry. One of the most stirring incidents in The Birth of a Nation is the review of a confederate regiment, leaving bravely and gaily for the front at the beginning of the civil war. The playing of “Dixie” by the orchestra is rendered with a vim and a dash which sets the blood of every spectator tingling. Later on “Marching Through Georgia” is rendered in the same dashing manner.

Trumpet calls in the battle scenes of The Birth of a Nation are real military calls, not the languid edition of these signals given by the average orchestra cornetist. Three trumpeters, all with military experience, are members of the orchestra. They are able to sound “reveille” with the expert staccato of an army “tooter” and clarion the battle order “charge” with wild and joyous ferocity. Likewise they sound “taps” for the dead with the lingering mournfulness that reaches every heart.

The rallying call of the “Ku Klux Klan” is a weird, haunting combination of two notes and heads the musical theme of the second part of The Birth of a Nation. It is a trumpet call peculiarly consistent with the secret purposes of the whiteclad night riders of the South.’13

In fact, it was the call of the Ku Klux Klan or the “Klan Call”, as it became popularly known and named in conversation and critical writing. that was more responsible than any other passage or group of passages in the vast score for a growing awareness, among audiences as well as critics, of much of the score’s predominantly ideological
“The audience shouts”
“the applause frequently overwhelmed the music of the symphony orchestra.”

—THE DAILY OKLAHOMAN (Oklahoma City), review; April 28, 1916.

“At certain points in the Griffith film the audience shouts. The people applaud and cheer and stamp their feet and otherwise everlastingly debar themselves from being known as the most phlegmatic audiences on record.”

—FLORENCE E. YODER, in a review of the film in the Washington (D.C.) Times; reprinted in the Martinsburg (W. Va.) World, May 5, 1916.
character or intent. From the derisive reference to the “hoochy-coochy music” (the Negro motif), by Francis Hackett in his bitter review of the film in the New Republic,14 to the increasing recognition in news reports, press releases, and reviews, of the bold application of ideological purpose to music and of music to ideological purpose, the score as a function or weapon of idea and propaganda became a journalistic theme and made news. Here, in The Birth of a Nation, music and ideology came to power together. The Chicago Examiner again noted, that
The “Ku Klux Kall,” a peculiar combination of trumpet notes, haunts the memory of those who have witnessed the ferocious charges of the Southern Knights.’14

while other commentators gave vivid word-pictures of the awesome effect

One leaves the play with the strange weird, melodic calls of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” and “Flying Dutchman” ringing in the ears. This is because the call sounded in reeds and trumpets in the rush of the “Ku Klux Klan” are modifications of these themes. This call is sounded most impressively, and more than any stage mechanism, brings right to the mind the rush of legions of men. It brings convincingly to the auditor as well just what the author in- tended to bring, the idea that these men of the play had of an absolute consecration to a cause that they believed to be a holy one. The call, with all of its fire and venom, is most exalting.’15

Southern papers commented ecstatically on

. . . the welcome Ku Klux Klan call that fell so gratefully on the ear of Southern whites, sorely oppressed by the “servants in the Masters’ hall” …16

Some Southern papers went further and referred descriptively to the “wild, barbaric strain of half-breed lust and unjustified ambition”17 that characterizes motifs played with the respective screen-appearances of Silas Lynch, Gus, and swaggering Negro henchmen and militiamen, concluding that

. . . The music is wonderfully adapted to the picture. The score of an opera could not more perfectly express the sense of the lines than does this music interpret the situations, thought and spirit, of The Birth of a Nation. 18

The score was branded as an ideological weapon by the New York Independent, which warned that

Music lends insidious aid to emphasize the teaching of the screen, for the tom-tom beats from time to time to convince us that -‘the colored man, well drest and educated though he may be, came from Africa. Why is not some Asiatic instrument used to remind us that the Aryan race came from the wrong side of the Caucasus?’19

So powerful and so unmistakable was the ideological import that some commentators, perhaps unwittingly, described the effect in reverse—that is, they referred to the scenes as mere illustrations of the music, as in references to the “thrill that the galloping of the Ku Klux Klan on an errand of mercy gives to the accentuating music,”20—a workable example of the overwhelming impression made by the idea-impregnated music.

Closely linked with its power as ideology was the score’s nationalistic character. Martial or military strains highlight the action. “It is hard to keep one’s feet from dancing to the well-beloved tunes of the martial music,” wrote the Pittsburg Leader, adding that, “Often the old war shouts are heard in the audiences from the lips of veterans who momentarily forget that it is only a picture”.21

As the men and boys in the southern town answer the bugle’s call, leaving the ball room and the bonfire lighted in the celebration of the South’s claim of independence, the orchestra, which until this time has been little more than audible, breaks out into a sudden burst of martial music (“Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys” and “Dixie”) that starts the blood to running quicker and every person in the audience slips to the edge of the seats, feeling themselves almost a part of that southern scene of half a century ago.22

“There were many situations last night,” a North Carolina paper recorded, “that evoked vigorous applause. A goodly number of old soldiers were in the audience and when the strains of ‘Dixie’ were heard there was a shout which echoed and reechoed again and again.”23
Still another critic, the morning after a mid-Western premiere, told his readers that “the stirring strains of the national airs never fail to provoke a storm of applause.”24

As a rule, however, despite its ideological thrust, it was, in the final analysis, the score as a score, together with the new fact of an effective symphonic accompaniment, as commonly designated, that created the biggest sensation, the deepest impression, and that inspired the more significant write-ups. “. . . the feature of the entire production is the fine orchestra of twenty pieces which so graphically portrays the thrilling scenes enacted on the canvas. The power of music has seldom been borne home with greater force than in the wonderful musical setting with which this drama has been provided. This in itself is alone worth the price of admission…”25 “Not three hours of action alone, but three hours of music,” wrote the critic of the Detroit Journal. 26 “The orchestra is in itself a whole show. It plays with remarkable precision, and its work goes a long way to make the big scenes of the play what they are.”27 “The musical score is as complex and elaborate as that of any grand opera.”28 “A wonderful score of operatic reaches accompanies the narrative. It is all done upon a most stupendous scale.”29 There were numberless comments in this vein.
The first application of the term ‘sound effects’ also appears to have occurred here, as in the repeated reference to the fact that the film was “accompanied by musical and sound effects, making the spoken word unnecessary [italics mine]

A complete symphony orchestra is carried.”30 The score itself was rated “on the high plane of grand opera.”31 “This estimate together with the elaborate orchestral accompaniment rivaled press mention of the “music, which is as much a part of the entirety as the films themselves.”32 Harlow Hare, dramatic critic of the Boston American, hailed the “marriage of music and spectacle”.33 References to the film as a “music-coated drama”34 and as a “musical spectacle” (Harlow Hare), were common. Hare also gave perhaps the best recorded description of the contents of the score, as follows:


How the Score of the Great Spectacle Is
Made to Identify Itself with Action of the Film.


One of the most effective features of The Birth of a Nation production is its really brilliant musical setting. During the two hours and a half which the big film requires, the orchestra plays an arrangement which perfectly fits the unfolding story and which includes many of the finest bits of melody extant. The library of the old masters and the collections of songs and ballads of the 60’s have alike been rifled to make up the score of The Birth of a Nation.

When the beaux and belles of ‘61 danced the small hours away, they did not have the hesitation, the tango or the fox trot, but a waltz or polka tune, a schottische or a lancers, or perhaps the Virginia reel put rhythm in the feet and the tingle in the blood. So David W. Griffith, in his marvelous reproduction of the Piedmont ball in The Birth of a Nation, has the young people dancing to the strains of “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” changed to waltz time.

On this lovely, almost sensuously intoxicating scene is brought the tattered flag that had been through the first Battle of Bull Run when the Confederates drove the Federals headlong before them and baptized the Stars ‘and Bars in glory.

How the Johnny Rebs exult and how the women cheer as the flag is displayed and one hears the strains of the “Bonnie Blue Flag”
“The power of music has seldom been borne home with greater force than in the wonderful musical setting with which this drama has been provided. This in itself is alone worth the price of admission.”
succeeding the waltz music! But soon comes the news that the young officers at the ball must go to the front. A scene of wild confusion follows upon the joyous, orderly dance, and at daybreak, when everyone is racing about the streets, the chaos and alarm approaching strife are reflected by the strains of Suppe’s “Light Cavalry Overture.” The little town of Piedmont has its early share of the horrors of war. Weber’s “Freischutz Overture” reproduces them to the ear as the pictures on the screen reproduce to the eye.


A wonderful art, this, the marriage of music and spectacle, and one wonderfully achieved by Mr. Griffith and the man who put together the score, a composite of great themes suitable to Griffith’s great ideas rather than an original work. It is, however, comp arable to the way European composers like Liszt, Chopin and Dvorak take the melodies of the common people, the folk music, so to speak, and combine and elaborate them with more erudite themes.
Thus the big moments of the early part of The Birth of a Nation, laid in the Southland, revert to “Dixie”, “My Maryland,” “Marching through Georgia,” “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp! the Boys are Marching,” “Kingdom Coining,” “Girl I Left Behind Me,” and “Home, Sweet Home.” To what other tune should the Southerners bound for war march than to the ever familiar “Dixie”? What more splendidly typifies the rescue of the Piedmonters from the guerrilla troops by their own men than the glorious “Maryland. My Maryland.”

Of course, “Marching thro’ Georgia” sets the pace for the extraordinarily vivid depict ion of Sherman’s March, but it is a “Marching through Georgia” with a sad antiphony— wails of the victims in minor keys answering the marching song of the conqueror. “Taps” for the deep tragedy of war’s peace [subtitle and still shots]; “The Star Spangled Banner” to mark the grand victory of the North, and the inspiring strains of “America” for reunion of North and South in a greater nation when Grant and Lee clasped hands at Appomattox—such is the appropriate, if somewhat obvious, instrumentation of pathetic scenes.


When piquant little Elsie Stoneman decides to become a nurse and solace gallant
“Frederick Arundel, musical director of the Tremont orchestra for The Birth of a Nation, at the Tremont Theatre, is the first director in the country co-operating in the new art of musical spectacle as developed by David W. Griffith. Of late the tendency has been to cut down theatre orchestras. With some forms of the regular drama the orchestra has disappeared altogether. But the music of the stage, on the other hand, has received a tremendous impetus through its enlarged use of the screen drama, and in this use and the skillful handling of large numbers of symphonic players, Mr. Arundel is the pioneer.”

—FREDERICK JONES, screen and stage critic, Boston American,
‘Sunday, April 18, 1915.

NOTE: Carli D. Elinor, conductor of the orchestra at Clune’s Auditorium, Los Angeles, cooperated in Griffith’s “new art of music spectacle” before Arundel did by a margin of about two months. Frederick Johns was a good critic, who, before The Birth of a Nation appeared, had devoted himself almost exclusively to the stage. However, in 1915, cultural communication between far-flung areas of the United States, and often even between distant parts of the same area, was sporadic, meager, and largely non-existent. Johns in all likelihood knew nothing of Elinor’s achievement as an orchestra conductor at Clune’s. Frederick Arundel became famous for his mastery of the orchestra at the Tremont.
wounded youths back to health, even as [British] Cabinet officers’ daughters have done in the present war, her going and comings are accompanied by a most adorable little air which she is supposed not only to sing but also to pick on the banjo. In the close-ups you can see the dainty lips fashioning the words of the song and in the full figure you can see her working the banjo a little over time, while the handsome sufferer on the pillow manages to turn his head about three-quarters in order to get a look at her. Many persons have asked what this tune is. It is Henry E. Work’s “Kingdom Coming,” otherwise known as “Massa’s Jubilee,” one of the most fetching ditties that was ever picked out of banjo or guitar.

To return to the great war scenes. There is a magnitude about Griffith’s representation of war and battle that demands the most elaborate effects. The scenes themselves are enormous, panoramic; the action is both marvelously complex and marvelously vivid; the music must reproduce this immensity, complexity and thrill at once. Thus one is not surprised that Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” suite, “In the Hail of the Mountain King,” is used for the terrific pictures of “the torch [of war] against the breast of Atlanta”; that Wagnerian operatic crashes accompany the cannonading and infantry charging at Petersburg; and that even when a national army tune like “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp” is used, it is elaborate and built up into a great, overwhelming symphonic movement. So, too, in the scene of Lincoln’s assassination in Ford’s Theatre, Washington, April 14, 1865. The appearance of the emancipator is greeted, as it was greeted on that occasion, by the well- known strains of “Hail to the Chief.” But the fatal crisis of that hour can only be rendered by classical music of enormous complexity and power such as Bellini’s “Norma Overture,” which is the work selected.
Three distinctive strains or motifs run through the second half of the picture, emphasizing by contrast the three elements of which it is composed. For the loves of Ben Cameron, the little Confederate colonel, and Elsie Stoneman, the dainty Northern heroine, we have Breil’s “Perfect Song,” an original composition for this play and now published in sheet form. it is one of the most beautiful love themes that has ever been invented. It returns and returns with peculiar increasing effectiveness, but perhaps it is sweetest in the outdoor scene when Elsie kisses the dove and Ben repeatedly tries to steal a few for himself while she is doing so.

[NOTE: Breil’s “The Perfect Song”, known in 1915 and during the 1920’s as the “love- music” of The Birth of a Nation, became famous to a later generation, in the 1940s and ‘SOs, as the “signature” music for the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” radio programs].

Then there is the wild, chaotic-seeming tune that marks the entry of the negro carpet-bagger mobs and the racket of the rioters. Perhap3 Mr. Griffith got this out of the semi-musical cries of the negro dancers on the old plantation in Kentucky when he was a boy. It is certainly original so far as can be learned. It does not represent the negro of today by any means. For the last negro motif in the play is Hermann’s beautifully liquid, enticing “Cocoanut Dance” to the strains of which the Hampton Institute films are shown.

But above all and everything else, the biggest thing in the second part of The Birth of a Nation and indeed of the whole play is the welcome Ku-Klux-Klan Call, the signal that the Fiery Cross of St. Andrew has been borne from South to North Carolina and back again and that the little band of oppressed whites, including the hero and heroine of the story, are to be saved by these Highlanders from the fury of the riotous elements unloosed upon them. The call makes the welkin ring at the opening of each part of the film. It strikes across the moments of agony, horror and suspense like a clarion note of rescue from another world. The call is not original, but an adaptation of the famous call in Wagner’s “Die Walkure.”
[NOTE: this is an error. The Klan call in the formative Klan sequences is taken from eight notes from the climax of the fourth movement of Smetana’s “Quartet in E Minor”  (“My Life”), and in the maximum climactic sequences the “Grand Call” (also known as the “War Call”) “of the Invisible Empire” is taken from Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. This is the ultimate Call of the Ku Klux Klan. Smetana’s fiery blast is played once, however, and for the last time, during the grand climax. See ahead for “The Call of the Ku Klux Klan”].


Just a flash of the ghostly horsemen, the big Ku-Klux call, and the spectators become almost frenzied in their applause. Often the call has a weird effect, as when the thin- voiced oboe plays it alone. Often it comes stridently powerful against entirely different notes.

The final Piedmont scenes of The Birth of a Nation are very strenuous. It seems almost impossible to conceive how Griffith could have got action of such lightning-like speed, involving such enormous numbers of people and carried on with such apparent defiance of the rules of order yet with a strange logic of its own. While these big flights, riots and rescues are going on we have the appropriately big music of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” Wagner’s “Rienzi Overture,” the “Zampa Overture,” the Fire Music from “Die Walkure” and “The Ride of the Valkyries.” It all ends up, as good adventure stories should, with the triumph of the heroic characters and thus naturally with the parade of the returning clansmen for which of course “Dixie” is the tune. Then after the scenes depicting negro progress above referred to, which are enlivened by the “Cocoanut Dance,” the double honeymoon by the sea is shown and the strains of “In the Gloaming” are followed by Breil’s “Perfect Song.”


The finale of the picture is Griffith’s remarkable conception on the one hand of the “human salad” of War with the blonde brute on a horse in the background striking at his helpless victims, and, on the other hand, of a Utopian brotherhood of love and peace, with some of the folks [garbed] like Koreans and others like early Romans, and the figure of the Saviour blessing the glad assembly.

These fine bits of allegory are accompanied by the “Gloria” from Haydn’s Mass in C, and as the last Utopian scene fades out and the immortal words of Daniel Webster on Liberty and Union appear on the screen, “The Star Spangled Banner” rings out in all its splendor, and the scenes that have made The Birth of a Nation are done.35

“One [Klansman] holds high a cross of fire. Upon a distant hill other figures catch the signal. Now a group of white-clad horsemen has foregathered. The scene shifts to a great open field at night. There is a blood-curdling trumpet blast from the orchestra pit, pitched in a minor key. A troop of white figures upon spirited horses dashes at breakneck speed into the picture and wheels into position. There is a cheer from the audience. Comes another blood-curdling trumpet call and another troop, and then another and another . . . At last, as far as the camera’s scope can gather is assembled a vast, grim host in white. One more troop—they are a little late; you think they have come a long distance—wheels into place, right in the camera’s very eye!”

—NED McINTOSH, the “Tarheel Boy”, in a feature article, recalling the Atlanta premiere of The Birth of a Nation in the Winston- Salem (N.C.) Journal, March 12, 1916. NOTE: McIntosh was then on the staff of the Atlanta Constitution; he went to Winston-Salem to cover the North Carolina premiere, held in the Elks’ Auditorium, for the Winston-Salem and other Southern newspapers.
1. ‘Refer, International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians. Edited by Oscar Thompson. Dodd, Mead & Co., 1939. New York. P.234.

2.  Edwin F. Schallert, Los Angeles Times, April 11, 1915.

3. Cf: “James (sic), C. Breil [Joseph Carl Breil] who composed the music for ‘The Clansman,’ as the same is being given in New York, is in the city.” Los Angeles Times, August 16, 1915.

4. Chicago Examiner, July 18, 1915.

5. The Dramatist, April, 1915.

6. Gainesville (Tex.) Register, April 10, 1916; Daily Oklahoman, April 28, 1916, and other Southern newspapers.

7. Austin (Tex.) American, March 5, 1916.

8. Pittsburg Leader, September 10, 1915.

9. Chicago Examiner, July 18, 1915.

10. Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, March 5, 1916.

11. C.E.C., review, Arkansas Gazette, December 28, 1915.

12. Florence (S.C.) Times, April 11, 1916.

13. Chicago Examiner, July 18, 1915.

14. The New Republic, March 20, 1915.

15. New Brunswick (N.J.) Times, March 7, 1916.

16. Gainesville (Tex.) Register, April 10, 1916; Daily Oklahoman, April 28, 1916, and other Southern newspapers.

17. Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, March 12, 1916; syndicated in other Southern newspapers. Cf. Francis Hackett’s comment on the “hoochy-coochy music”, in The New Republic, March 20, 1915.
18. Ibid., N.C.

19. lndependent (New York), April 5, 1915.

20. Philadelphia Record, September 12, 1915. The “errand of mercy” refers euphemistically to the ride of the Clansmen on their “appointed mission” (subtitle) to destroy Negro power in the South.

21. Pittsburg Leader, September 10, 1915.

22. Elwood (Indiana) Star, April 18, 1916.

23. Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, March 5, 1916.

24. Streator (Ill.) Independent-Times, March 14, 1916.

25. Ibid.

26. Detroit Journal, January 4, 1916. Review by WJB.

27. Elwood (Indiana) Star, April 17, 1916.

28. Pittsburg Leader, September 10, 1915.

29. Taylor (Tex.) Daily Press, March 9, 1916; Vincennes (Ind.) Capital, March 10, 1916; Twin-
City Daily Sentinel (Winston-Salem, N.C.), March 11, 1916.

30. Austin (Tex.) American, March 5, 1916. making the spoken word unnecessary”.

31. Ibid

32. Paterson (N.J.) Evening News, January 4, 1916.

33. Harlow Hare, Boston American, July 18, 1915.

34. Frank P. Morse, The Washington Post, April 30, 1916.

35. Harlow Hare, Boston American, Sunday, July 18, 1915.

THE FILM’S SCORE: II                                =============================================================================
Its Content and Technique                                                                                                                                                           American Southern And German Classical Music Dominate.

I have no technical knowledge of music. I merely listen and appreciate, and afterwards try to record my emotional impressions• and reactions, and the observations or thoughts derived from the reactions, as well as I can under the weakness of technical and terminological illiteracy. Therefore, this survey of the creatively and ideologically important score for The Birth of a Nation is written in layman’s language. This is as well and may be all to the good, because the primary purpose of the survey is not so much the historic record, important though this may be, as its potential reference utility for creative film-students and filmakers, who may need it as firepower in the never-ending war of ideas. Automatically, this in turn means they will need as many cues as possible for identification of the creative elements and sources, which in 1915 spelled clue-musical power in this titanic explosion of a film.

When the theatrical and fine-arts magazine, “The Dramatist”, reviewed The Birth of a Nation, in its issue of April, 1915, it printed two headings: “THE BIRTH OF A NATION”, and then, directly under this, a sub-heading: “Movies to Music”. Whether the meaning was intended or not, the 3-word sub-heading of “The Dramatist’s” article summarized, better than any phrasing has ever done, the totality known as The’ Birth of a Nation. The summation applied not only to the cinema’s atomic phenomenon of 1915; it applied, even more pointedly, and in a way, perhaps, which the unsigned reviewer for “The Dramatist” may not have noted in the torrent of excitements and impressions of that far-away yet strangely lingering event of half a century ago,’ to particular vital techniques that Griffith, as editor of the filmic and musical material, introduced here. “Movies to Music” has a deeper significance as a 3-word description of the architectonic blueprint of The Birth of a Nation than has yet been assessed.


The musical score for The Birth of a Nation was, and may still be, in the possession Museum of Modern Art Film Library. Other copies exist and as Life magazine reported (and photographed) two years ago, a young people’s orchestra in Philadelphia rehearsed the playing of the score, apparently without the film. Our difficulty is in determining whether the scores in possession of the Museum are 1915 originals, with the final and relatively minor emendations made after the early exhibition at Clune’s Auditorium in Los Angeles, or the May, 1921, score, as played by the 90-piece orchestra at the Capitol Theatre in New York City. This was arranged by Erno Rapee, William Axt and Hermann Hand. It retained all the permanent and fundamental key- numbers compiled by Joseph Carl Breil and Griffith, everything from the Negro tom-tom music to “Dixie”; from Bellini’s overture to “Norma” to Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”; and from Weber’s “Overture to Der Freischutz” to Auber’s “Massaniello” overture and Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyrie”; and it stirred over fifteen thousand spectators at all of the 3 main performances, daily, in a fashion and degree that no one who witnessed the daily demonstrations will ever forget. Fundamentally, the Rapee-Axt-Hand arrangement was the same as the Griffith-Breil original, but there was a difference in emphasis in various sections, and The New York Times of May 2, 1921, in its survey of the then 6-year-old production, which opened at the Capitol on May 1, complained that the “new (sic] musical accompaniment at the Capitol
is much too noisy most of the time”. Whether Rapee, Axt and Hand, who, though more sensitive in esthetic taste and far better qualified technically and creatively than the present-day movie music manufacturers, lacked the overall superiority in taste, feeling and judgment of Griffith and Breil, whether they were trying to capitalize on Griffith and Breil’s work, or were merely in process of becoming absorbed in the earlier phases of the growth of “show biz”, is a testy question, which need not here concern us. As a score for The Birth of a Nation, the Capitol’s new arrangement, which I had the good fortune to hear time and time again—I first saw The Birth of a Nation starting with the Capitol’s first matinee performance on May 1, 1921—was of extraordinary effectiveness and satanic power. The Times’ complaint of “noise” refers to the cannonading forays by timpani and sound-devices, during the battle sequences, and to the shattering trumpet- blasts of the call of the Ku Klux Klan. all of which were heard beyond the range of the outer lobby and down the street, on Broadway. The Capitol’s tremendous innovation was the simultaneous use of the giant organ in selected sequences with the full orchestra in session. The visceral effect of the added music-power, particularly during the climactic battle-scenes of the Civil War and again during the turbulent scenes of the rise of Negro dictatorship in South Carolina, was that of a major artillery-bombardment. The walls shook.

The problem for us, then, is to ascertain the date of the Museum’s score, but since this seems
a problem for cineastes and scholars specializing in musical research, we will merely set down here a notation on the score as a whole, from which the specialized job may some day take its cue.

For the record, then: the Museum’s score-book for The Birth of a Nation consists of 151 pages of music and contains the 214 cues that Epoch had originally publicized (in 1915) as punctuating the score. A typical cue, taken from the Epilogue, and probably the simplest one in the manuscript to consider, is the following:

“A cue: DISARMING THE BLACKS [subtitle] drummer catches the negroes as they run, with single sticks on snare drum. then roll ‘till PARADE OF THE CLANSM EN [subtitle]

Or, again, other typical subtitle-cues which app ear in the score-book are—





This is the order in which these subtitles app ear; the last one (No. 4) is given complete on the score-sheet as on the screen. The first one (which, complete on the screen, ends: “planted the first seed of dis-Union.”) is, and was from the start, the first subtitle of the film, whether of the first, uncensored, prints or the later, censored or deleted, ones. Important for film-students to note is the fact that its appearance, which verbalizes the basic theme of the epic-spectacle about to unfold, is time-cut with Breil’s Negro tom-tom music.

A final glance at the score-book as a whole:

Instruments and Orchestral Directions

Orchestral directions throughout emphasize the use in complex groupings or relations of brass; cymbals; percussion instruments: bass drum, kettle drums (usually, five); snare drums; fife and drum; cornet and bugle: French horn; trumpets; woodwinds; violas; violins, and other strings. The horn dominates Klan sequences; the trumpet, the Klan-call. The whistle (reed —?) is also heard, repetitively, solo, in Klan-sequences, shrill and authoritative. The piano plays a recurrently important part.

Principal tempo-indications, as examples, are as follows:

Maestoso vigoroso (on subtitle: “The Clans prepare for action”)



Adagio funebre; Funebre

Dolorosa Modto




Pin animato d = 116

Pill animato

So much for this glimpse of the score as a whole. Now a word of summation on it, as viewed today in a perspective of fifty years.


Harlow Hare’s account of the score in the opening months of the 1915 run is the finest we have and as such its historic reference utility can hardly be overestimated. But a few changes were made, and the complete score as it ultimately evolved by the time of the Capitol Theatre’s 90- piece orchestration of May, 1921, is the final and, in my layman’s hearing, by far the most satisfactory one this cinematic totality has ever had and probably ever can have.

Certain numbers listed by Harlow were entirely “dropped” and were replaced by other, more fabulously dramatic numbers.

The revised, and ultimate, score at the Capitol emphasized German music far more than the first or early ones did, yet these had favored it from the start. Nevertheless, on the whole, the score for The Birth of a Nation remained the same as it originally was in the opening months of 1915. The dominants were the same and unchanged, but now there were as many more of them as there were eliminations of the earlier connectives. Hassling among themselves, Rapee, Axt, and Hand had somehow succeeded in highlighting or sharpening Griffith’s and Breil’s original intent but without changing its identity, and without the slightest concession to, or other form of destructive recognition of, the changing modes, fashions or styles in commercial movie music that even as early as 1921 were laying the groundwork for the anti-creative degeneration of the capitalist screen (and with it, of all of American culture). The Times might complain of “noise”, but the wild and tempestuous blasts that carried from the vast auditorium to Broadway itself signaled the replacements of dramatic Italian and French classical music with German-romantic musical thunder. Still, there had already been much of this in the Griffith-Breil compilation. Backstage explosions and the added sound-effect and timpani cannonading, reinforced with full orchestra, organ, and massed trumpets, simply heightened it. And perhaps Rapee, Axt and Hand, cognizant of the advantage they enjoyed from the preceding six years of precedent and experience which marked the film’s stormy career of violent emotional conquest, knew in advance that the uproar of the audience, like an angry sea, would drown out all music, all sound, all form.

Fundamentally, it remained intact. This was especially evident, for example, in relation to the characterization-motifs, which Breil and Griffith, both steeped in opera and both motivated by the same basic conception of what a film-score should be, introduced to the screen. Each leading character has his or her own motif, and each, upon his or her initial appearance in the story, is introduced by it. The character-motif for Gus, however, is a stepped-up “play” on the African tom-tom theme, as though it were suddenly springing to life like a jungle-beast, ready for the “kill”. The music for the dramatic “high moments”, and for the episodes of history and war, also remained the same as it originally was in the opening months of 1915, but the specific battle-music was augmented.

The relatively few changes were not made because the replaced passages were wrong—on the contrary, the score from the initial showings on February 8, in Los Angeles, and March 3, 1915, in New York City, fitted “the changing scenes”, as the reporter for the Chicago Examiner noted when it came to Chicago, “like a flowing, beautiful garment”—but because the discovery was soon made that the same category and style of music, rendered through a change of specific numbers, could (and did) heighten the psycho- emotional reaction of the vast general audience in the nth degree.

This explains the shift, in all but a few sequences, from Italian-classical to dramatic Germ an-romantic music. However, it must be emphasized, that except for (1) American folk- music, chiefly of Southern vintage, (2) the music of Stephen Foster, (3) Civil War tunes of both North and South, and (4) the national anthem and war-song of the Confederacy—Daniel Decatur Emmett’s “Dixie”, all music of the score for The Birth of a Nation is classical music in the broad esthetic sense of the term, as compared, for example, with the music of contemporary America—the music of jazz; the music of “pop”; the music of the dance-floor and the night-club; the formless noise of Hollywood movie-music with its exaggeratedly shrill and unreal cadences; or, in sum, as must be evident from these few examples, the music in general of the commercial amusement culture of the United States. On this basis, of course, even the exceptions noted would probably be included as samples of classical in the broad categoric and esthetic sense, but I mention them separately the better to distinguish them from the use of the term as a designation of schools of period- composition in musical history. Yet even here, a rare exception occurs in the score for The Birth of a Nation in the use of a few bars from a popular post-Civil War tune, played and sung for decades throughout the United States: i.e., the once famous, turn-of-the-century melody, “Where Did You Get That Hat?”, rendered in excerpt, when the Northern Stoneman boys visit their Southern Cameron friends at the Piedmont plantation and joke with one another about the different styles of hats they wear. This exception proves the rule.

The Principal Changes

The principal changes made after Harlow’s listing appeared were as follows:

¶Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” Overture
Offenbach’s “Orphee aux Enfers” (violin solo)
¶fVerdi’s “Nabucodonozar” and “Sinfonia, Giov ana d’Arco”
¶fMassenet’s “Le Jougleur de Notre Dame” ¶fRouget de Lisle’s “La Marseillaise”
Bizet’s “L’Arlesienne” (Prelude and “La Carillon”)
NOTE: Griffith later used all of “La Marseill aise” and strains from “L’Arlesienne” Suite in the score for Orphans of the Storm.
¶T. W. Thurban’s “Americana” Suite
¶Tschaikovsky’s “1812” Overture
¶Haydn’s “Gloria” adapted from a Mazerta mass (“Mass in C”?), (one brief excerpt ret ained);
¶“Incidental”, music selected by Carli D. Eli- nor and L. Brown.

Except for the passage from “La Marseillaise”, which is from Harlow’s listing, these compositions were listed as they appear here, and with the same spelling, in the ushers’ programs, handed to the spectators at each performance throughout the film’s 22-week-run at Clune’s Auditorium, Los Angeles, in 1915.

The reference to Carli D. Elinor is of interest. Elinor conducted the orchestra at Clune’s with such spirit and triumphant timing that Griffith engaged him, in 1918, to compile the score for Hearts of the World. Elinor looms important in the history of music for the screen.

Later segments of Griffith’s films after The Birth of a Nation will draw from my files on Elinor.
The elimination of the Offenbach Orpheus strains is of interest for historical reasons. When the film ran at Clune’s, the violin solo was “interpreted by Miss Elsa Grosser” (Clune’s program), whose work here attracted the attention of the knowledgeable music circles which flourished at the time in the “City of the Angels”, and led to a concert career for Miss Grosser. The idea of solo performances during the playing of film scores was Griffith’s—a sort of ‘hang-over’ from the hard days of the traveling stock companies soon after the turn of the century. As a new feature of motion picture exhibition and presentation, it had popular appeal, and Griffith, who personally supervised the Liberty Theatre showing of Intolerance, in September, 1916, as a continuation to creating the film, brought the solo idea to a fine measure of fruition at the Liberty. But the weight of the growing commercial film-culture began to make itself felt as an anti-aesthetic antithesis to film-culture of explosive creativeness, and the industry-product began to stifle the experimental spirit and practice of film creation. As a result, the Griffith-Liberty policy of presentation with solos became unmanageable, as against standardized presentations, and had, ultimately, to be abandoned.

Naturally, elimination of certain compositions, in varying measures of excerpt, meant replacement by other music in kind, though sometimes the difference was barely audible or discernible except for the increased degree of emotional timbre—even if only a degree or two, an emotional assonance or two, an emotional neutron or two. Hence, when the score was finally done and “polished”, it included, by way of replacement of the foregoing very early numbers, the following new and permanent numbers:

—Schubert’s “Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major”—contains one of the character-motifs for Stoneman, dramatic usage only; “Rosamunde” (Part Two, subtitle:

“The land’s miserere, etc.” and subsequent related imagery).

—Dvorak’s “The Water Sprites—Symphonic Poem”; and “Scherzo Capricioso” (both Parts).

—Schumann’s “Symphony No. 4 in D Minor”—brief repetitive dramatic strain, used near the beginning of both abridged and unabridged versions.

—Mozart’s “Symphony No. 39”, 2nd movement—has a passage used as an alternative Stonernan theme and also as a fundamental motif in continuum—(i,e., with “breaks” and “returns” over a series of intercut or thematically interrelated scenes) —throughout Part Two.

—Tchaikovsky: “Concerto in D Major”— excerpts in continuum, but played at length near the beginning of the film; “Manfred Symphony” (in continuum); “Symphony No. 2 in C Minor”, 3rd movement (scherzo) in continuum through Part One, and sectionally as a leading theme in Part Two.

Neither the earlier pieces which these replaced nor the replacements themselves included the basic, dominant or key music for The Birth of a Nation. The key-music was in the score from the start, as of February and March, 1915; it was in the score at the Capitol Theatre, May 1921; and it has remained in the score for the past 50 years. For reference and for possible future use, I list the key-music, as follows:

¶The opening score of the entire film, the Negro tom-tom music, an original composition by Joseph Carl Breil. This is in a lower pitch, a more sombre mood and a slower tempo than, and has a different tune from, Albert Ketelbey’s “Jungle Drums”, but in its opening bars suggests the Ketelbey rhythm: its theme is not savagery but arrogance, autocratic insolence, played softly and in minor key, except during Lynch’s victory at the polls, and again during the Negro reign of terror (both in Part Two), when it is heard loud and triumphant. The impossibility of trying to describe music in words, mere words, reduces any attempt at written or verbal description to an exercise in futility. (I understand as never before Gustav Mahler’s objections to musical program-notes. Mahler so rightly contended that if program- notes or “explanations” are needed, the music itself has failed and there is no need for it). It may be possible, however, to indicate the effect of a given strain or motif. The effect of Breil’s Negro-theme is that of a black penis pushing into the vagina of a white virgin. The Breil theme occurs throughout the score and “cuts into” the heart of the Klan-music in those climactic sect ions of Part Two which relate to thematic scenes and subtitles on racial intermarriage.

¶lOverture to Weber’s “Der Freischutz” Both Parts: see ahead.

¶Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyrie” and overtures to “The Flying Dutchman” and “Rienzi”. “The Ride of the Valkyrie” became known to millions of Americans, especially in the hinterland, who had never heard it or heard of it until that time, as the “Klan-music from The Birth of a Nation”, yet it is played once and once only, as the climactic music of the entire film, during the final or grand climax of The Ride of the Ku Klux Klan.

¶Bellini’s overture to “Norma.” This has nearly always been identified with scenes of Stoneman (Thaddeus Stevens), especially in the opening passages. As the action unreels, however, different parts are played with other scenes. It is the music for scenes of dramatic power, as in Ford’s Theatre up to and including the assassination.

¶Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. See ahead.

¶Mahler’s “Symnhonv No. 1 in D Major:; numerous excerpts.

¶Herold’s “Zampa” overture. First and second sections in different parts of the film. See ahead.
ifFlotow’s overtures to “Martha” and “Stradel. Ia”; excerpts only.

¶Suppe’s “Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna” overture and “The Light Cavalry Overture”. “The Light Cavalry Overture” opens the Civil War after Ft. Sumter and recurs during battle and cavalry charges (in continuum). It is not played during The Ride of the Klansmen, except for the opening bars, which are heard at a given point in the assemblage of the “white multitude”.

¶Rossini’s “Tancredi” and “Semiramide” overtures.

¶Fielitz’s “Silent Woe” and “Anathema”.

¶Auber’s “Massaniello Overture”; see ahead.

¶Fragments from Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony”.

¶Smetana’s “Quartet in E Minor” (“My Life”). 4th movement: the chief source of the Klan music.

¶Three Brahms symphonic fragments, but played as variants in the Capitol Theatre score (May.

¶Bach’s Sinfonia in D Minor—Largo and Presto One strain (Part Two).

¶Breil’s “The Perfect Song”, the love-motif for The little Colonel and Elsie Stoneman. (This is the composition later taken over and used by the commercial entertainment-culture as the signature-music introducing “Amos ‘n’ Andy” radio shows).

¶Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, from which the Klan call of Klan-action sequences and the climax of the Klan-assemblage sequences was taken. It is also played once—a single thundering blast filled, as one reviewer expressed it, “with fire and venom”, during The Ride of the Klansmen. But it was Smetana’s composition that furnished the early or introductory calls of the Klan during the organization’s formative period. It is the call of the forest and the distant countryside, far away, haunting, owlish, ghostly.

Popular Music

As mentioned before, “Where Did You Get That Hat?”; and, in a similar context, a momentary strain from “After the Ball” (end of Cameron ball); it gives way to bugle-call of mobilization. “Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys”, and then “Dixie”.

Period-Music and American Folk Music

¶“Comin’ Through the Rye” (Cameron ball on eve of Ft. Sumpter).

¶Turkey in the Straw” (slave-quarters, rest- period dancing).

¶The “Beautiful Ohio” of Robert H. King (accredited still, in earlier programs, to King’s origin al pen-name, “Mary Earl”). (Cameron ball).

¶John Howard Payne’s “Home, Sweet Home”— for the little Colonel’s homecoming followed by silence (musical pause), during the scene of the family greeting on the porch of Cameron House. ¶Meta Orred and Annie F. Harrison’s “In the Gloaming”—for love-scenes between the older sister, Margaret Cameron, and Phil Stoneman.

¶Stephen Foster music: “Camptown Races” (slave-quarters, at noon dancing); “Massa’s in De Cold, Cold Ground”; “My Old Kentucky Home”; and “Suwanee River” (also spelled, “Swanee River”, and listed in some early prog rams of the film under the ancient original title, “Old Folks at Home”). It is interesting, however, that one of Foster’s contemporary commercial favorites, “Jeanie with the Light-Brown Hair”, was not included in the score for The Birth of a Nation in any version whatever, at any time.

Other famous or historic pieces that were consistently shunned by Griffith and Breil as “out of spirit” with the rest of the Civil War music, and which therefore never appeared in the score, were:: “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”, “Just Before the Battle, Mother” and “Yankee Doodle”. Griffith featured “Yankee Doodle” in the score for America.

¶The Negro actress, Mme. Sul-Te-Wan (see cast-list), then under seven years’ contract to Griffith, furnished Griffith and Breil with some of the lyrics, and the tune, of the original Negro “Jim Crow” plantation-song, from which segregat ion-policies of the twentieth century later took their name. Thirty-two years later, in 1947, in Griffith’s apartment at the Hollywood-Knickerbocker Hotel, she danced and sang as much of it as she could remember, including this refrain, which I took down:

Jigaboo, jigaboo zis-boom-bah! Jigaboo, jigaboo rah, rah, rah!

¶Henry E. Work’s “Kingdom Coming” (“Mass a’s Jubilee”).


Julia Ward Howe’s “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, listed in Southern-theatre programs and in early mid-Western and some Northern programs under its ancient, original and religious title, “Glory Hallelujah”. This is played ├▒rst in the score (over the subtitle of Lincoln issuing the first call for volunteers and over related imagery). The playing of “Dixie”, on the other hand, occurs for the first time, when the little Colonel leads the Confederate regiment down the main street of Piedmont, off to the front. Thus, “Dixie” enters the score considerably later (330 to 400 feet) than “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”; and, while “The Battle Hymn” is played softly, almost nostalgically, “Dixie”, on the contrary, is heard in a spirited crescendo, then with increasingly rapid tempo, as a Southern counterpoint to Northern war-music.

¶“John Brown’s Body”

¶“Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys Are Marching”

¶“Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys”

¶”Bonnie Blue Flag”

¶“Girl I Left Behind Me”

¶“Maryland, My Maryland”

¶“Marching Through Georgia” (Sherman’s march to the sea).

¶“The Star-Spangled Banner” is played at the end of the filmed conflict, starting with the subtitle: “The North victorious.” It also replaced, with “America”, the Mazerta-Haydn “Mass in C” over two sequences of the Epilogue.


Short of setting down here the entire continuity of the film, shot by shot, with the musical indications for each scene—a policy which I oppose on several grounds, the chief of which is that a motion picture is made to be seen, not read, and little if anything will ever really be known or learned of any film from merely reading the script—short of this, the most useful course for this commemorative purpose is the one, as in this chapter, of assembling as far as possible the record of what was done, how it was done, and the effect and influence it had. As the world- significance of the musical score for The Birth of a Nation emerges for all time as one of the fundamental weapons of dramatic-emotional power and political propaganda in the annals of art and politics, we may recall, if only with passing memory, a few examples of precisely how the score was used, and to what purpose and ultimate effect. Here are the leading clues and cues:

1. Herold’s “Zampa” overture. The “second” part begins and develops in a very different key, mood, and tempo from the first. It has the air, the effect, of a pleasant, light-tripping dance. This is used as the theme-music, signalizing Mae Marsh’s first appearance in the film, as Flora, the Pet Sister. (Flora as a child is played by a child-actress, Violet Wilkey). The locale is the porch of Cameron House, in Piedmont, S. C.; the time is approximately the second and a half year of the Civil War. Flora is grown now into a young beauty. She steps out (as Mae Marsh) from the front door onto the porch, accompanied by her older sister, Margaret (Miriam Cooper), and wearing frilled pantaloons in the teen-age style of the period. Flora is reading a letter, her face absorbed and smiling, from her brother, Ben, the little Colonel. The letter was written at the front. Margaret, in flounce-skirts, opening a parasol, steps close behind Flora. It is an “entrance” in the classical theatrical tradition, but a good one, because it does not manufacture the action, which needs to be shown, anyway, but makes it serve a secondary purpose_the introduction of Mae Marsh—as well. In short, the “entrance” is ‘in-built’ in the action. And the full imagery of this opening Mae-Marsh sequence is unfolded to the descriptive music of the bit-’o-minuet effect from “Zampa”.

As the two girls step from the porch, Flora still smilingly absorbed in her brother’s message, they bustle through the gate and turn to the right along the old-time wooden sidewalk. Up to this time, the dainty little “dance” from “Zampa” continues. It is a brief, sweetly charming interlude, much the same as on any friendly, peaceful village day, anywhere. There is not a sign of trouble.
A subtitle announces that Piedmont is about to experience its first guerilla-raid of the War.
A man at some distance from the camera, up the main street, near the outskirts of town, is seen running. Sudden panic breaks out.

Northern white and Negro troops invade Piedmont.

Townspeople flee back and forth in confusion. All scurry frantically before the advancing guerill as. War brings chaos, terror, and violent death to the Dixie town.

The Cameron girls, wide-eyed with horror, watch the Yankees shoot their way down the main street. Suddenly, the girls break into panic and run back to the house.

The “Zampa” music abruptly stops at this point—a musical pause. Then, as the whole scene mounts into frenzy, people fleeing in all directions, and the Cameron girls, frightened, hurry through the gate into the house, and lock the door, the music cuts to—

2. Weber’s overture to “Der Freischutz”. The strains of distant war-thunder rise here from almost the middle section of the composition, where the introductory and opening passages suddenly give way to a muffled tremolo of kettle-drums and strings, and the burst of drum-crash that follows, heralds to the second the first shocking sudden shot of a savage force of white and Negro Federal guerillas, swarming from outside town into the streets, shooting the populance down like dogs.

Sight and sound here are as one; the auditory rhythm and the visual rhythm are one and the same. It is the introduction of actual war in The Birth of a Nation. By the same token, it is the introduction of “Der Freischutz” into the score— an introduction long remembered by the excited audiences of half a century ago: for years afterwards, the musically-uneducated general audiences of the United States continued referring to the Weber music that so brutally followed “Zampa’s” little dance as the “war music from The Birth of a Nation”.
This is the first, but not the last, time that Weber’s epochal overture works into the score. It thunders in again during Part Two in the early and middle phases of The Ride of the Klansmen, before it gives way, after intercutting to scenes of the Negro reign of terror in Piedmont, to a wild trumpet-blast from the Call of the Klan and then, “cutting along” with the eerie emergences of the onrushing hooded legions, first to “Dixie”, then to the timpani-and-trumpet sweep and thunder of “The Ride of the Valkyrie.”
3. Down the decades, this past half-century, there has been to my knowledge no example in all filmdom that duplicates or parallels the singular use of music which Griffith introduced in the scoring of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” to the sequence of the Burning of Atlanta, in Part One. It might be more to the point to reverse the phrasing and speak of the scoring of the Burning of Atlanta to Grieg’s music. For here is what happens:

At the end of the sequence of Sherman’s March to the Sea, which is scored by “Marching Through Georgia”, the Union armies enter, sack and burn the city. The famous subtitle reads: “The torch of war against the breast of Atlanta”.

Action following this shows the familiar scenes of buildings artillery-smashed, falling amid flames; populaces fleeing in frenzies of terror; and streams of refugees, swelling into the thousands, as they take to the outlying countryside and hills.

It is unnecessary to recount the whirlwind comp lexity and variety of the wholesale imagery of this world-famous bloc of scenes—the younger generation have seen it as well as the older gene rations, and this summary serves our need.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, the total sequence repeats on the screen. For half a century, the more knowledgeable or perhaps the more intere sted, as the case may be, among spectators have asked or wondered why Griffith repeated the same shots or, as a film-buff put it ages ago in an all-night question-and_ansve session with me, “Why did Griffith burn Atlanta twice?”

I got the answer from Griffith himself many years later, after the British Film Institute published my Index to The Birth of a Nation (Part 11 of “The Griffith Index”; July, 1945) which included a brief section on the musical score. Alt hough I took down what Griffith said, there was no thought of using this material, unless and until what I hoped would be a thoroughgoing presentation could be published, describing in detail the dine-musical affiance that Griffith had established with the Civil War-Reconstruction epic. Here it is:

“In the Hall of the Mountain King” mounts in a steady crescendo from climax to climax. When it attains the first climax, there is a musical pause; then, as almost expected by the listener, the motif begins again, but faster and louder. When it attains its final climax, another, longer, pause punctuates the final series of crescendos, and the entire motif overflows into a supreme or ultimate climax of timpani and full orchestra. When Griffith and Breil scored the Burning
of Atlanta, they saw no way of ending Grieg’s piece without thereby creating an impression of a composition left unfinished, an uncompleted tune “in mid-air”. This could be, and often is, done with impunity with many other compositions, but not with this one, because, both the tune and the rhythm are a compelling continuous whole, of which even the pauses themselves are an incitement to renewal. Most natural, under the circumstances, would have been a decision to include more material on the screen; then Grieg’s music could have been played along with it to its own completion. There was no question of any lack of material: the “overflow” footage on the burning of Atlanta was 6 reels, but the remaining material was different in detail, and was never used. And neither Breil nor Griffith was willing to force a break in Grieg’s tightly knit section of the Suite. The most serious objection was the prospect of breaking the rhythm of both the imagery and the music; for to do this would have meant breaking the entire emotional buildu p. Thus the determining factor was not even the filmic action or the music per Se, important as each of these was. The determining factor was the emotional continuity.

Accordingly, Griffith did what Grieg did: Grieg repeated the motif; Griffith repeated the scenes. The repetition was nicely timed (with only one ascetic deletion!) to permit the whole composition, “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, to run its course. In short, in this sequence the film was edited to the music.

This vitally important revolutionary precedent in the developing alliance of sight and sound will likely bear new fruit when films of combined dram atic, emotional, ideological, and psychological impact are made again. We need only to bear this first, and classic, example in mind, to recall the pointed meaning in “The Dramatist’s” subh eading: “Movies to Music”, and the reason The Birth of a Nation was well designated, half a cent ury ago, as “A Musical Spectacle”.

“In the Hall of the Mountain King” does not appear again in the score.

4. “Massaniello”, the exciting overture of Auber, written in 1828, or three years before Bellini’s “Norma”, plays a single but overwhelming role in the sequence of the chase of Flora by Gus through the pine forest (Part Two).
The girl knocks Gus across a log and flees, terror-stricken, after the Negro tells her he’s a captain now and wants to marry her. The early scenes of the chase are played in medium-close and close shots. But as the girl plunges deeper into the woods, farther from any point from which screams for help can be heard, the camera range changes, and we see the action from a distance, in long shots, like a hidden spectator who can proceed no further into the wilderness. Here the camera- scheme plays a vital role, because the perspective of distance, through long shots, increases the sense of the girl’s isolation and utter helplessness.

From the moment Gus reveals his presence, Flora begins rushing blindly, terror-stricken, from tree to tree—always far from the camera. And Gus, concealed first behind one tree, then behind another, leaps out after her like a jaguar, hounding a “kill”.

The girl sees him, hides behind a giant tree. For seconds the woods seem empty—no one is in sight.

Then Gus, still a long way from the girl, leaps out from behind his tree and runs closer to hers.

The girl, in turn, flees from her momentary refuge across the open spaces to another.

Gus strikes again, darting closer. As this desperate tactic of fear-torn hide-and-seek continues, Gus, each time, gains a little.

As spectators, we see it all from afar, always from long-shot range, as though we were watching two little animals, dwarfed by the giant trees of the woodland, far away in a gruesome whirl of touch-and-go, of which the end-objective, the prize, is the life of one.

Here, in this horrendous sequence, Auber’s music becomes of such crucial importance that, once having heard and seen the episode, it is hard ever to see it again without the “Massaniello” incorporation. The music here is no mere “background”: it is the action itself. For what the “Massaniello” Overture does is to enter not just into the physical action on the screen, but into the terror, the emotional psychology, of the action; it vitriolizes its rhythm. The Overture with its recurrent rushing crescendos, followed by musical pauses, transmutes into sound not only the recurrent rushing movements of pursuit and flight of the two opposing characters, followed by the recurrent momentary disappearance of each and a recurrently “empty” scene, but it also transmutes the determinant of the screen-movements— namely, the recurrent ebb and flow of terror in the girl’s heart, followed by sickening static moments of impossible hope—the hope of doubtful safety and escape.

If the direction is a triumph for Griffith, the music that extracts and dominates the scene’s emotional rhythm raises the triumph in the nth degree. It leaves the spectator with the awed feeling, that when the grim event occurred the music was there too, fatefully participating. It is perhaps understandable from a psychological point of view that the Boston authorities felt this sequence, above all others in the film, to be “too much” and ordered its deletion. Here again, Griffith introduced that alliance of music and cinema for which The Birth of a Nation, on this account alone, is of epochal and enduring significance, a landmark of all landmarks, a revolution unto itself, with repercussions in the realm of cine-music for all time to come, and which hucksters who manufacture Hollywood movie-music in our time fail to grasp: it is a marriage, an alliance, and bears no relation to the use of noise (“music”) for “background”. The child or “fruit” of this cine-musical alliance is not the screen-action but the emotional content, the psychological rhythm, of the action. The two arts together here, which are more closely related than any other two, either fit or they do not; each example must prove itself to the other—and to the spectator. This type of film-music is not only not “background”, it is not even an accompaniment: it is a part of the total montage of the total imagery. The use of the “Massaniello” Overture in this context is a permanent and tremendous precedent.

5. But by far the outstanding key-example of the revolution affected in The Birth of a Nation by the incorporation of music as a part of the montage of the total filmic imagery is the alliance between the “Storm and Tempest” section of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony with the entire uncensored original sequence of the trial and castration of Gus, and the dumping of his body on the porch-steps of Lynch’s headquarters. For the past half-century, all of us who have seen The Birth of a Nation have witnessed only the remaining fragment of the sequence of Gus’s trial. However, at a one-night benefit-showing in 1933 at the Filmarte Theatre in Hollywood, with organ and piano accompaniment playing the original score, I saw for the first, and to date the only, time an unforgettable, very nearly complete print of the film. It included all the original final sequence showing the enforced deportation of the Negro race back to Africa. It was owned, and lent for the occasion, by a once-famous film star who demanded, and got, no publicity for her Griffith collection which, as far as I know, she still owns, and here was the sequence of Gus’s capture, trial and death by castration—(or “mutilation”, as the priggish newspapers, or the few that mentioned it at all, referred to the incident at the time).

The actual castration in physical detail was not shown but was indicated so clearly, with such forcible suggestiveness, in the original images that their deletion was demanded both in New York City (by Mayor John Purroy Mitchel) and elsewhere. All the visual implications were thus struck from the prints. But it was precisely here that the awesome fury of .Beethoven’s “Storm and Tempest” from the Pastoral played its revolutionary role.

The capture of Gus at a fence (at the opening to a corral or field) is familiar to all viewers of the film and has remained in the picture, intact.

The scene then cuts to the heart of the pine- forest, at night. We are informed in a subtitle, quoted from “The Clansman”, that Gus has been taken here, “that he may be given a fair trial in the dim halls of the Invisible Empire” (subtitle).

In a clearing, deep in the forest, Gus lies prostrate on the earth, bound and chained, before a conclave of Klansmen, towering in full regalia over him. Walthall in the foreground removes his mask. From the significance of this unobtrusive detail—namely, that his identity, as revealed to Gus, does not matter—we already know the verdict.

Subtitle: “¶Guilty.”

From this moment, the moment of the subtitle, to the later point at which the four Cyclops ride off with Gus’s body slung across one of the Klansmen’s horses, material was censored out, and it was on this bloc of eliminated shots rather than the shots of the Cyclops riding off, after the verdict and the castration, that Beethoven’s “Storm” music began, originally.
For fifty years, spectators have seen Gus alive at the start of the trial, prostrate before the Klansmen-jury, and then, suddenly, after the subtitle, “Guilty”, they have seen his body thrown across a horse, as its masked and hooded rider spurs it out of scene, with no explanation or indication of how he, manifestly, died. But as first shown during the first five or six weeks at the Liberty Theatre and for the first half-decade in the South, the sequence depicts Gus’s death fully, as follows:

Upon the pronouncement, “Guilty”, a Klansm an steps one pace forward and towers over Gus’s huddled figure on the ground. (NOTE: This is the scene featured in the early billboards and 24-sheets, and the original advertisements, and reproduced on the stage of the Capitol Theatre in May, 1921, as a tableau to “introduce” the second half of the film). Then, as The little Colonel performs a mystic ceremony, similar to the later ceremonial with the bowl or chalice containing Flora’s blood— (a subtitle, again quoting from Dixon’s book, terms it “the sweetest blood that ever stained the sands of Time!”)— the first Klansman, now to camera-left, back to camera, swiftly raises his arm, draped in white, and holds it aloft for one restraining second. The upraised hand clutches what appears to be a carving-knife or small sword.

Beethoven’s music now cuts on the movement of the Klansman’s stepping-forward, which instantly follows the “Guilty” subtitle. As everyone familiar with the musical passage knows, the storm-music begins with simulated gusts of wind blowing from a distance through a forest; then follows up with the first crashes or peals of thunderous percussions, until the tempest itself roars into hearing, like an advancing giant with mighty strides, and the full orchestra now reinforces the timpani-thunder. It is upon the split- second cut of the first Beethoven outcrash that the Klansman’s hand plunges the first time—and comes quickly up.

As the white-sleeved arm again poises for a split-second, the second crash of Beethoven’s thunder is heard, and the avenging hand again swiftly plunges—and as swiftly pulls up in the same ritualistic and totemic gesture.

Moaning strings and agonized woodwinds follow the second thunderous crash with a simulation of howling gusts through trees. There is an instantaneous cut on the sound of the string instruments to the face of Gus, in close-up, the mouth flowing blood, the eyes rolling white in agony, the head falling back. The strings suddenly are dimmed by a third, terrifying, unexpected outcrash, in the split-second needed to bring it in, roaring, like a final judgment over the dying Negro’s face. In flash-cuts, the Klansman’s hand now plunges and rises, plunges and rises, again, again, and still again, on each down-beat of the timpani, all within a few frames of film. On the final thunder-crash of the series, there is a final flash of the castrated Negro’s pain-racked face and body. Gus is dead.

At this precise point, on the cut, four Cyclops mount their waiting horses. One of them sweeps up Gus’s body in the process with his white- draped arms and hands, and slings it before him across the saddle of his horse. The four wheel off through the woods and head toward town, where they will dump Gus’s corpse, with a “K.K.K.” avengers’ note pinned to the shirt, on the front porch of Lynch’s headquarters. The time is dawn.

The entire action, from the trial and the cast ration to the dumping of the body and the return of the four Klansmen, up the road whence they came, back into the forest, takes only a few screen-minutes, and all of it is edited to the music —i.e., to the final, furious, majestic crescendo of the storm-climax to the Pastoral’s Third Movement. Dumping the body, an action of seconds, is split-timed to the final and decisive percussion boom, more like a thud; and the Klansmen are seen riding away, vanishing like ghouls to diminishing echoes of thunder, grown fainter, farther, as the storm travels on, the night wanes, and this brief interlude ends—a Poesque short story within the larger historic epic-panorama of The Birth of a Nation.

Of foremost significance here is the emotional effect created by the alliance of the elements of power from two media, which are based, above all others, on feeling and the reality of feeling. Here the Beethoven music joins its esthetic kin, the Griffith imagery, in a definitive expression of the verdict on Gus, and on his punishment. But so awful is the judgment, so terrible the punishment, that the scene transcends its own brutality and actually evokes sorrow and pity for Gus. His evil character is struck down by the terror of the cast ration, as though by a mighty hand of retribution. The emotional revolt which rises in the spectator in the moment of judgment, the utter dismay at the avenging act, is a realization, that as bad as Gus was, neither he nor any other Negro ever had a chance in the first place.

American Film-Imagery, German Music

The combination of American film-imagery and German classic-romantic music—.-the imagery of Griffith and the music of Weber, Beethoven, and Wagner—is the heaviest artillery-destruction to which the white race has ever subjected the black people known as Negroes. The emotional devastation in the realm of the imagination, not to mention social relations, was incalculable. When the ultimate history of Race War is written, much of it may be found to be a history of wounded male vanity. And much of this, in turn, may well shape itself as an invisible history of elemental emotional conflict, running parallel to, yet crossing lines with, the equally elemental and ferocious money-struggle—Class War.

From such a history, a history-in-depth of the basic and ultimate springs of human action and behavior, the cataclysm resulting from the explosive impact of the massed weaponage of Cinema, joined in audible-visible concert with the massed weaponage of Music, in that first epochal embodiment of the two primary emotional media, fifty years ago, The Birth of a Nation, may be grasped at last in its full and awesome significance.
Influence and Remembrance
The first half-century now ending since the original appearance of The Birth of a Nation has witnessed the creation of many films of primary artistic importance. Some may be great; a considerable number appeared with memorable scores. We have only to recall, at random, other of Griffith’s own major films—Intolerance, Hearts of the World, Broken Blossoms, Way Down Fast, Orphans of the Storm, and America, each of which had a beautiful score that won the admiration of music-lovers and film-critics; stirred audiences; and, last and least important, impelled the film-industry itself to emphasize music— which it did, bureaucratically, by starting music departments in the film-factories of New York and Hollywood. In the decade that followed the world- premieres of The Birth of a Nation, besides Griffith’s own salient films, other famous productions took their cues from this birth-film. Today, if we recall The Covered Wagon, Greed, He Who Gets Slapped, The Big Parade, or the final masterpiece of the silent screen, Murnau’s Tabu, to mention a few gems of the silent-film era; or, later, Cimarron, Stagecoach, Citizen Kane, or Limelight, to name a few of the sound-era, then we also recall, perhaps without knowing it, great, powerful, or at least impressive and memorable, scores, together with the images of the films themselves.

We have also noted how in 1915 and 1916, Weber’s Overture to “Der Freischutz” and Wagn er’s “The Ride of the Valkyrie” became famous among the musically-illiterate mass-audiences of the time as the battle-music and the Klan-music, respectively, of The Birth of a Nation. The same mode of experience repeated itself, some five years later, when Tschaikovsky’s “Humoresque” became nationally famous as the “gossip-music” (theme-music of the malicious gossip) from Griff ith’s Way Down East (1920): not only was it whistled and hummed the land over, but it was issued as sheet-music, with apologies to Tschaikovsky and with a Way Down East identification!

The late Theodore Huff, who played the piano during the first two years of film-showings in the auditorium of the Museum of Modern Art (1939 and 1940), and who alone played the silent-film
scores as they were written—until Iris Barry, the institution’s former unlamented curator stopped him, because she insisted the music be softened or ‘watered down’ to meet the effete tastes of the effete tyros of New York’s upper middle-class social satellites, not to mention her own effete and non-cinematic tastes,-.---Huff insisted that the greatest score ever put together for a film was the one for Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm (1922). It may be difficult to dispute this claim. Here was a score that did precisely and primarily what film-music should do: it extended not the filmic action only, but the emotional architecture and intent of the imagery, into the domain of sound. It evoked to the peak of thematic conviction the sum- image of a people oppressed under the blood- soaked heel of the church and the aristocracy; and then it evoked, in the spirit of Griffith’s imagery, the passion and the rhythm, rather than merely the action, of the French Revolution. However, we get ahead of ourselves: we shall try to examine the score for Orphans of the Storm later, in the segment devoted to this production, in GRIFF ITH: V—The Mamaroneck Films.
There were other instances, too, of the impact of the themes of classical music on the popular consciousness. Perhaps the most notable of the popularizations, after those from The Birth of a Nation and Way Down East, was the “theme- music” for James Cruze’s The Covered Wagon (1923). The score was compiled by Hugo Riesenfeld, a master of the art. At the outset of each new trek of the immense wagon-train across the prairies, Riesenfeld brought the full orchestra into a rousing rendition of Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in G. Minor”.* The “Prelude” was enthusiastically adopted by the public as “The March of the Covered Wagon”. Like the Tschailcovsky “Humoresque” from Way Down East, it, too, was issued as sheet-music, with apologies to Rachmaninoff, and under the title, “The March of the Covered Wagon”.
On the other hand, the tragic aria from “Pagliacci” was not especially mistaken by the public
At the Criterion Theatre, Times Square, New York City. as original music for Victor Seastrom’s He Who Gets Slapped, because when this film opened in 1924 at the Capitol Theatre, the opera and its orchestration were already familiar in the United States. Times were changing.
The Specific leading numbers of The Birth of a Nation were not ‘picked up’, and I cannot recall another film of these past 50 years in which I have heard this film’s main thematic overtures--“Norma”, “Massaniello”, “Der Freischutz”, “Zarnp a”, “Semirainide” “Tancredo”, or the Suppe pieces; nor the Grieg movement; nor “The Ride of the Valkyrie”. But the Score left a lasting mark as an idea, a way of expression, and as a Weapon.

Some of it may conceivably have found its way into other music, too. For example, listen to the opening bars of Aaron Copeland’s “Billy the Kid Suite”. These seem a faint echo of the Klancall. They are repeated throughout the suite as a motif, although truncatej as against the original: in short, weak imitations or, at best, resemblances.
Zandonai’s opera, “Juliet and Romeo”, comp osed in 1921 and produced in 1922, also features a Klan-call motif, which recurs throughout the overture. A strong resemblance here pounds my ears.

And I have heard at least two renditions in relatively recent years of Mahier’s “Symphony No. I in 0 Major”, in which the Klan-call motif was highlighted, as against earlier renditions, when it was subdued

The mode of both the American folk-music and the Stephen Foster music (virtually one and the same), as rendered in the Griffith-Breil score, is of special interest, for a simple reason: it was played as written void of modem “arrangements” or “interpretations” On only one other occasion in modem times have I heard a comparable rendering of the folk-music of old, rural America. During 1956, Los Angeles radio station, KFAC, “The Music Station”, gave a series of American folk-songs programs, collectively entitled, “Songs of the Old South”. As I listened, I felt the music forcing me to speculate that at least two of the selections may well have been used in one of the variant scores for The Birth of a Nation in the during the late ‘Twenties: the Negro folksong, “Nobody Knows de Trouble I’ve Seen” and the old Kentucky folks ong, “Keemo, Kimo”, (also known as: “Keemo, Kimeo”; “Kimeo, Keemo”; “Kimo, Kimeo”; “Kimeo, Kimo” etc.). On July 20, 1956, over KFAC, William Clauson, the Swedishborn folk- singer, sang “The Frog and the Mouse”, in the same classic historic folk-mode

Note that all these are authentically in the classic-historic mode of musical Americana, in contrast to “Saturday Night” of “The Ozark Set”, by Elie Siegmeister The damage through attrition and other causes to original native-Americana in music begins with pieces like this one--American folk-music overlaid with raucous commercialized jazz or its musical equivalent, and marked with themes of false timbre. For all practical puroses, the commercialized folk-music syncopations of Elie Siegmeister, Aaron Copeland, Freddie Grofe, Deems Taylor, Meredith Wilson, and others of the species, give the impression of a regional school of music. The region is New York City, and the perspective is strictly east of the Hudson River. It is not even of New York as a whole. On the contrary, it may be a rewarding research-task for musical scholars to trace the source of the influence of the commercialized, Syncopated “folk-music” to the particular neighborhood, the particular block in a neighborhood the particular house, or even, who knows?--the particular toilet.

Nevertheless, this school of self-conscious “folkmusic”, strictly attuned as it was to fashions of the ephemeral cult of syncopation, was not the only form of debasement from which the original music of native-Americana has suffered The decay crept into the equally commercial realm of Supposedly high-class renditions of the specific music of the Civil War period. A self-revealing and significant account of one of the more popular recordings along this line appeared, of all places, in The New Yorker magazine of January 22, l955 (Griffith’s birthday!), page 23, wherein The New Yorker chronicles, in part:

“By all odds the season’s biggest morale- booster for Confederate supporters and Sympathizers_in the South and in the North, and abroad as well--would seem to be a phonograph record of a cantata entitled ‘The Confederacy.’ The cantata, which is made up of songs that were popular among Southern troops and Southern civilians during the Civil War, was composed by Richard Bales, conductor of the National Gallery Orchestra, of Washington and in the recording it is sung by the cantata choir of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, with Mr. Bales conducting. If you don’t believe what we said about morale-boosting, listen to this: During the first couple of weeks after its release by Columbia, ‘The Confederacy’ handily outsold the original-cast recording of ‘The Pajama Game’ in Richmond, Atlanta, Charlotte, New Orleans, Dallas, and Memphis. Furthermore, it outsold the latest Liberace record in every one of these cities except Atlanta, where Liberace ran slightly ahead on late suburban returns. As for the North, Detroit ordered more ‘Confederacies’ than either New Orleans or Dallas. Detroit, a mysterious source of Southern strength, also ordered more ‘Confederacies’ than it did Liberaces or ‘Pajama Games.’ Philadelphia ran neck and neck with Charlotte. New York was even with Atlanta.”

The New Yorker further in its chronicle writes that Mr. Bales “decided to top the cantata off with the famous Rebel yell, and to do his research on this, he paid a visit in May, 1953, to the Southern historian, Douglas Southall Freeman, in Richmond.” Freeman gave him a demonstration “with a full-blast transposed Rebel yell. Mr. Bales faithfully wrote it into his cantata.”

This is all fascinating, but unfortunately, from my standpoint, the Confederacy cantata conjures up no feeling, no form or spirit, no “image”, of either the Confederacy or the Civil War. At the base of the musical atrophy is the cantata choir of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation. The voices—their intonation, their interpretation, their pitch, their ultra-respectable timbre—all sounded to me what I can only describe as “churchy”. They sounded as though they were singing solemnly moralistic hymns on Sunday morning. When I first listened to “The Confederacy”, I made a few notes, which I filed, not under “Music” but under “Religious Propaganda in the USA”. The performance of the cantata is down in my notes as one of a multitude of post-World War II attempts to suppress and overlay the onetime secular culture of the democracy with the feudal-religious culture of the republic. The sapping of the rhythm and the spirit of these marching and war-songs of the Confederacy--revolutionary, even though they were counter-revolutionary!—by this pathetic, middle-class church-choir evokes the contemptuous impeachment by James Baldwin of “their brave and sexless little voices” (“The Fire Next Time”, page 56), referring, as Baldwin does, to the “deep freeze” from which white-American singing emanates, in general. But this, I would add, is due not to white pigmentation, but to church conditioning. There can be no more destructively antiseptic influence over any people or any culture. It goes hand in hand with the non-culture of the commercial dictatorship.
Five years later, The New York Times, August 28, 1960, featured an article in its Sunday Music Department, by Herbert Mitgang, on “Civil War Songs”. Mitgang wrote: “The centennial of the Civil War is being noted in songs and stories in the field of recorded Americana”, and commented that, “Some are popularized, some authentic, some compromise the usual sincere efforts to make history attractive for youngsters.”

He named, “Songs of the War Between the State--.a Golden Record LP disk”, which includes “such familiars as ‘John Brown’s Body,’ ‘Yankee Doodle,’ ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home,’ ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic,’ ‘Goober Peas’ and some less known, such as ‘Corp oral Schnapps,’ ‘Hard Crackers,’ ‘Sweet Lorena’ and ‘Just Before the Battle, Mother.’”
Mitgang also named “a long-play Victor record, Stories and Songs of the Civil War, narrated by Ralph Bellamy,” which, he said, “is a somewhat more original and mature presentation of similar presentation.”
Golden Record LP disk’s “Songs of the War Between the States” is beneath contempt. The popularization and, worse, the compromise of sincerity noted by Mitgang are its dominant characteristics. They undermine the bit of weak authenticity that occasionally slips into the tunes. The Ralph Bellamy record is better in most respects, but better for the stories than for the songs.
The missing link in all the recordings, as in the church-choir abominations, is the mingled fire, nostalgia, rhythm, and snap, of the period itself— the “spirit”. Several years ago, on a Decoration Day, I turned on the radio, but missed the title- announcement. As I listened, I thought the music corning over the air was from a contemporary Broadway musical show or possibly from a new Hollywood film. At the end of the program, I learned it was a Morton Gould “arrangement” of Civil War music. It is dreadful to contemplate what it would be like, if the church and “show biz” together ever decided to commemorate a Reconstruction centennial in this country. It would probably sound like the Ku Klux Klan in a musical comedy “hit” parade.

Actually, the last great and only authentic rendition of the music of the American Civil War, South and North alike, that has been heard in the United States, with the possible exception of local bands in small towns, is the Breil-Griffith score for The Birth of a Nation. It had the advantage of coming just half a century after the Civil War had ended—far enough removed to achieve a perspective, close enough to create a renewal. And we have seen that from its very first showings, the music for the film captured the general audience and the music-lovers alike. It should come, therefore, as no surprise, that as a fitting reward for its authenticity, originality, and excellence, the score was long remembered.

Under date of June 19, 1950, New York, N.Y., thirty-five years after The Birth of a Nation first appeared, I received a letter, in Larchmont, N.Y., from Roger Pryor Dodge—_a genealogical relative of Arthur Pryor, the turn-of-the-century American band master, who studied under John Philip Sousa and at one time rivaled him. The occasion of Dodge’s writing was the May-June, 1950, reissue of The Birth of a Nation at the Beverly Theatre, New York. He had inquired of The New York Times regarding a false screen-credit on Aitken’s sound-print. The Times referred the inquiry to me.

I am writing to ask why the music of The Birth of a Nation is credited to Louis Gottschalk. The score that has been dubbed on the print which played at the Beverly Theatre, New York, is, except for a few changes, that of Joseph Carl Breil

I replied that the credit to Gottschalk is false, and is only one of many other esthetic and technical outrages of Aitken’s sound-print. Gottschalk had conducted the orchestra which played the music for the sound-print, made in 1930, and should not have been accredited with the score itself. The score was and remains Breil’s and Griffith’s. Louis Gottschalk compiled scores for other Griffith films, the most notable of which is that for Broken Blossoms (1919).

Dodge replied, under date of June 22:

My purpose is purely one of artistic credit. I do not know J. C. Breil but I have always had a tender feeling (in no way comparable to that I have for Griffith) for his score. I will admit it is nearly nostalgic in its way but so are my feelings towards The Birth. I don’t know of a picture which has gripped me, and lastingly so, as has this picture. My purpose, I believe, is the same as would be yours if you happened to chance on seeing the picture in some theatre and saw the name Griffith replaced.
Thanking you for your reply,
I am,
Sincerely yours,
Roger Pryor Dodge
Our correspondence regarding Breil’s score continued in this vein; then, under date of July 6, 1950, Dodge wrote:

As I told you, the picture and the score are so deeply embedded in my youth (I was 17 when I first saw The Birth) that I find it hard to bring any objective criticism to the film. As I saw the film many times in the beginning, the music became familiar and an inseparable part of the film to me. As practically all of the music was new to me at that time, its associative quality is so great that whenever I hear any bit of it that particular part of The Birth looms up in front of me.

Referring to Aitken’s 1930 reduced print with a sound-track, Roger Pryor Dodge Commented:
Aside from the few differences in the music, my criticism is of the ‘Sound effects’. It is a silent film and music in no way makes a silent film seem anything else, but ‘sound effects’ are so patently false that I am greatly exasperated when I hear these effects. I remember that when the film moved from the Liberty Theatre to another theatre, some sort of back-stage sound effects were devised with chains, etc., and at the time I thought how out of place it was.

Whether Dodge is right about the use of chains or not, I do not know. The desire for sound amounted to craving. We know this from such forgotten but revealing incidents as the hiring, in Chicago, of an “extra” by the Colonial Theatre management, to provide “shouts” backstage during the battle scenes. Ashton Stevens, the celebrated film, drama, and literary critic of The Chicago Examiner, commented on the innovation in his column of November 28, 1915. It should be noted, however, that it was neither the makers nor the distributors of the film but the theatre managements, in Chicago and elsewhere, who chose the methods of backstage vocal effects, even though choral accompaniments at curtain time, both at the beginning and at the end of the picture, had been introduced as a part of the musical orchestration by Breil and Griffith.

The device of chains, on the other hand, to my knowledge was first used, and with fantastic effectiveness, at the Liberty Theatre presentation of Intolerance, in September, 1916, for the sequences of the Persian attack on Babylon. It may well be, that, as the device proved its power at the Liberty during the Intolerance run, it came into use also for the post-Liberty showings of The Birth of a Nation, which continued running, uninterruptedly, for two and a half years, until United States military entry into the First World War. I myself never heard this type of sound-effect used with The Birth of a Nation, but this, of course, does not necessarily mean it was not later added. The American obsession with mechanics, and the failure to recognize when a supremely consummated esthetic creation is “it”, may have caused commercial exhibitors of the film to attempt such “improvements”. I associate the chains with the sound-and-music-power of Intolerance, in which the chains, dragged back- and-forth across iron grating and a piece of railroad track, backstage, were integrated from the start, at the time Griffith and Breil formed the score to which the chains overpoweringly contributed. But if the chains were ever incorporated in the music-structure of The Birth of a Nation, then Dodge is right to condemn their usage here on esthetic grounds, for they did not belong.

Dodge’s conclusions on the score are challenging:

The success (for me) of  The Birth’s score poses a great question as to what a movie score should consist of. A potpourri of tunes does, in this case, seem far more moving than some of the music which has been composed especially for a picture by more famous composers. Probably the answer is in the fact that, except for you and me, most people only go to a movie a few times, at most, while original music cannot be absorbed in one or two sittings.
Finally, in the same letter of July 6, 1950, Dodge also complains of the Aitken sound-track print of 1930. Although Dodge recognizes the score as the original one, he seems not to take sufficiently into account the fact that it suffers from numerous excisions because of the elimination of three reels of film, which means, of course, the elimination of three reels of music, and so ends his comments with the statement, that

The original score has ‘Comin’ Through the Rye’ played extremely slowly. [N.B.: this is correct]. I don’t remember any omission in Sherman’s March to the Sea. The original music, however, was much more pronounced and gripping. [N.B.: to be sure. It was played by symphony orchestras, not by Hollywood film-factory or ‘show bin’ bands].

A background to this correspondence was the second installment of ‘The Griffith Index,” published in July, 1945, by British Film Institute. The installment, of 16 pages, was devoted to The Birth of a Nation. In it, as far as England’s wartime paper-shortage permitted, I included a very condensed section on the music, with a brief summary of the fundamental numbers, by name only, and a reference to Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, as the number drawn for the Klan- call in climactic Klan-sequences. I made no mention of Smetana’s “Quartet in E Minor” (“My Life”), 4th movement, as the source of the formative and assembling calls of the Ku Klux Klan, the “signature”-call, nor of the ramifications underlying the reasons for two different, or variant, selections to serve a single theme.

The second installment of “The Griffith Index” became, like the first one, a kind of reference or source-work, which made further research cons iderably easier. The first one, which deals with films made by Griffith from the beginning of his career up to the eve of The Birth of a Nation, “The Birth of an Art: or, The Biograph Period”, had served, and apparently continues to serve, as a standard for listings of films, with or without annotation and information. Now the installment on The Birth of a Nation seemed to be continuing the same function.

The British film critic and film-historian, Ernest Lindgren, wrote to me in 1952 for permission to quote in his book, “The Art of the Film”, then in preparation, the passage from the “Index to The Birth of a Nation” on the musical score. He stated he did not know the score and wanted to include mention of it. Fragmentary though it is, the music passage was at least a cue, and it appears in Lindgren’s book.

Further remembrance of the musical score continued, and not only among music-students and professional musicians, compilers, composers or historians. Nostalgic, popular memory also retained the score over the years, in conversation and in personal letters, and on one occasion even led to an unexpected outpouring of reminiscence. Wallace Walthall (Henry B.’s brother) during 1951 took Aitken’s sound-print of The Birth of a Nation on a revival-tour through the lower tier of Southern states. By way of exploitation in the modern mode, Walthall launched a letter- writing contest among audiences of the Deep South. The contest yielded a batch of appraisals and opinions from a new generation of spectators, along with fond reminiscences from an older generation, or from those who had seen the film during earlier reissues—actually, three generations of spectators: the first, which saw The Birth of a Nation in 1915 and in the years up to 1930; the second, which knew it from Aitken’s sound-print, from 1930 up to the Second World War; and the third, which was seeing it for the first time, from the beginning of the post-World War II period.

Thanks to Harry E. Aitken, I was privileged to examine the assorted letters, written by patrons throughout the Deep South, and to copy the more literate ones. (Many were illiterate to the point of unintelligibility, and, while this consideration was waived in the interest of research, their failure to say anything meaningful, new or unusual, one way or the other, made it pointless to record them). I was pleasantly surprised to discover more than two dozen letters which either emphasized or at least mentioned the music—and this, from audiences of the Deep South! Probably the most typical, though it was literately written, and the one Aitken seemed to think had won a Walthall prize, was from a Miss Edna Hoidner, of Dallas, Texas, who wrote, in part, under a dateline of August, 1951:

Over a quarter of a century ago, at the Majestic [in Dallas], I saw D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation.. . Enthralled at the first performance, I returned twice to listen to the haunting musical motifs [italics mine]. I have seen many great pictures since then, but for me The Birth of a Nation stands out in my memory as the most impressive of them all.

In April, 1955, The Group for Film Study, of New York City, under management of Gideon Bachmann, published an enlarged edition of the “Index to The Birth of a Nation” for distribution at a special showing by The Group, which almost coincided with the film’s 40th anniversary. The enlarged edition, which I was forced to prepare on short notice, ran to 39 pages on 83/2X1 1 paper and was entitled “THE BIRTH OF A NATION— A Monograph”. It was a commemorative feature, even though the date of the 40th year was a month past, but Bachmann’s Group wanted it primarily for their own reference and study purposes. It was “Special Issue No. 1”, a part of The Group for Film Study’s “Cinemages” series of monographs and pamphlets on film criticism, esthetics, history, and opinion.

The Monograph included a more extensive, but still far from detailed, treatment of the musical score than had the earlier section in the “Index” published by the British Film Institute and reprinted by Lindgren.

Interest in the musical score had persisted after the appearance of the original “Index” in 1945; it persisted long after the publication of “The Art of the Film”; and now it extended beyond the enlarged edition of the “Index”—the Monograph.

The Los Angeles Mirror-News (defunct), August 13, 1955, on its motion picture page for that Saturday, featured an article, without a byline and under a double headline:

Music for D.W. Griffith’s Film
Still Powerful After 40 Years

The article was “planted” in the Los Angeles Mirror-News by an ex-pugilist (Hollywood style), who was now functioning as a press-agent for a well-known arranger of background-noises for commercial Hollywood sassafras, Dmitri Tiomkin. Tiomkin himself, according to letters to me from editors of the paper, may not have been directly responsible for the article’s publication, but he had engaged the services of the expugilist, who persuaded the Mirror-News and other newspapers to print it, and in any case Tiomkin never repudiated it. The main burden of the deceitful article, which purports to be an “interview” with Tiomkin, is the alleged “discovery” by Tiomkin of what it describes as “his new idol”—Joseph Carl Breil, and his “discovery” of the score for The Birth of a Nation, which Tiomkin is alleged to have “studied . . . while viewing the picture in a showing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York”.

Like so many other publicity-releases manufactured in and for Hollywood by illiterate and irresponsible fatheads serving the promotional interests of dollar-celebrities, this one is replete with error, falsehood, and misinformation, and is included in the record here, only to alert students doing research in the field to the fraud as it appeared in the Los Angeles Mirror-News and in other newspapers.

The article fails to mention the part played by Griffith himself in compiling the score—probably, because it is inconceivable to the contemporary crop of background-noise manufacturers in Hollywood that a creative film director, even one of the towering stature of Griffith, could be musically educated and could therefore actively assist in, and collaborate on, the compilation and arrangement of the score to a film. But Griffith’s knowledge both of American folk-rnusic and of Wagnerian music was substantial and was in no way dependent on Breil or any other technician. For original passages, on the other hand, Griffith needed Breil, and this meant for the “connective” music. Breil was of inestimable importance for all that he contributed—his stock of musical knowledge, as previously mentioned, was enormous, or Griffith would not have used him in the first place. But the score was not his alone: it was almost equally Griffith’s, and after the showing at Clune’s Auditorium, the changes already surveyed were entirely Griffith’s, particularly the new emphasis on German music.

The Tiomkin-press-agent folderol, however, crowns its chief omission with an error of commission—namely, the false statement that this “was probably the first original score ever written for an American movie”. This type of misinformation could quite conceivably, and, typically, have come from the authoritarian museum-curators who grovel and kowtow to Hollywood Names. We have already seen that the score was not an original work, like Meisel’s score for Potemkin, and neither Breil nor Griffith ever claimed it was. Only “The Perfect Song”, the Negro tom-tom music, and some dramatic connective passages were original—Breil’s; so, too, was the music of ferment-and-tumult connected with this, as in the bloc of scenes following the episode-subtitle from the Klan-warning: “Sowing the wind”. This, too, was Breil’s. All the rest was compilation.

“Tiomkin insists that it was the most influential and widely copied score in history”. Influential, yes; “widely copied”, no. Very little of the music from The Birth of a Nation was ‘picked up’ in scores for other films, Griffith’s or anybody else’s. The selections were no mere “background” music but an integral part of the historic tragi-epic content of this entity as the marching-songs, “Dixie” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, were a part of the Civil War itself. There were other historical film-epics in the years ahead, but none in the peculiarly tragic cast and spirit of this one. As to influence, neither the “Index” nor the Monograph traced this—there simply was no space. Tiomikin’s press agent offers no examples either, only the statement, as in the “Index”.
“Tiomkin swears that this score for The Birth of a Nation established the musical themes which have become standard and are still heard today.” Which themes? No examples. There are none. Why did he “swear”?—did be suspect no one would believe him? Tiomkin probably did nothing of the sort. He merely chose the wrong press agent for music—an ex-prizefighter.

“These [musical themes] include the love theme which accompanied the romantic scenes between The little Colonel and Elsie Stoneman.” The “Index” mentioned the love-music, without going into Breil’s authorship of “The Perfect Song”. Tiomkin and his press-agent evidently never heard of it; nor is there evidence that they ever heard of the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” appropriation of it. But this was on radio, not the screen.

The ultimate deception in this cheap, tricky, typically Hollywood-style publicity-distortion is the statement that “the clarion themes that accompanied the formation and rides of the Klan in the movie have been imitated ever since.”

“If the composer of this score didn’t actually originate the Klan-call theme,” Tiomkin grins, “at least he was the first movie composer to steal it from Dukas’ ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.’”
Despite Tiomikin’s grin, there is seemingly no bottom, no limit, to the cheapness of the Hollywood crowd. Neither Breil nor Griffith “stole” anything from anybody. They were not hucksters, and in 1915 the thugs of movie-cornmercialdom had not gotten the American screen into their clutches. As we have noted, the numbers of the score were widely publicized at the time: there was no secret about them. On the contrary, it was a source of pride—the kind of pride that Hollywood’s hucksters of our time would have to be born again before they could understand--that the score featured such a vast array of selections as it did from the great music of the Western world.

The Klan-call was never imitated or used again on the American screen in the 50 years that have passed since it was first heard in The Birth of Nation. It has been forever identified with this one film. There was no intention on my part to create a “booby-trap” in referring in the index to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, while not mentioning Smetana’s “Quartet in 13 Minor”. A paragraph was all the space that could be allotted in that wartime era of paper-restriction. Any dit inctions between the two Klan-calls, and any elaboration on why there were two in the first place, and from two different sources, was quite out of the question. When Tiomkin “studied” the score at the Museum of Modern Art, he apparently failed to “study” the passage from Smetana. And when the press-agent manufactured the “interview”, he used only the items which appeared in the “Index”, and even has Tiomkin quote them in a backhanded way.

A babel of cultures is worse than a babel of tongues. Tongues can be learned to the enrichment of each, and without destruction of any. Cultures are a larger and different quantity. Fusion of one with another invariably means the annihilation of the one which fails to serve the other’s economic base. We cannot remind ourselves often enough of this hard truth. In the case of the Hollywood film culture, we do not have to remind ourselves: it reminds us day-in, day-out, minute- by-minute, through and with the product. This is projected from story to music as “entertainment” (although, in fact, most of it is propaganda). For some persons it may be entertainment. It does not entertain me. The creative elements in it are in constant process of dissolution. The fusion of the creative culture with the commercial means automatic and virtually instantaneous death for the creative. it has little or no need of the commercial culture, and even if it uses it, it does not distort it or divert its money-purpose. But the commercial culture cannot use the creative without first distorting it, then absorbing it, and, finally, destroying it, which is what its partisans want to do in the first place. Rulers of the commercial culture who have the power to hire and fire may not themselves be guilty in every instance of dishonest actions, but they are responsible for those whom they place on the payroll. The timeless influx of satanically low-grade personnel, including thugs, into the world of the American film is, as any genuine history reveals, of the essence of the commercial culture. The species and the system attract each other.
The chief objection to theft of literary or research material is not so much to the theft itself
—this can sometimes be flattering, although this in no way lessens its criminality—as to the fact that when the pilfered material emerges elsewhere, it tends to distort, falsify, or garble the original, and so creates fiction where fact labored to tell the truth.

This wretched but typical incident in the fifty- year history of the Breil-Griffith musical score for The Birth of a Nation would not be worth recording, as nothing from the thieves’ market sources of Hollywood and New York ever is, but for the danger that future film-researchers may stumble over the garbage in newspaper archives and, like children, unthinkingly swallow it, because though unsigned, it “quotes” a “celebrity”.
vs. the Non-Creative “Fact” Film

The high excitement touched off by this stupendous film and its overpowering music was an experience unknown to the entertainment-“fans” of our time. Dry-as-dust documentaries, with musical accompaniments that are more noise than rhythm and that fail to conceal the dullness of what is being viewed, can hardly substitute for this type of grand cinema.
—STERN, in “Monograph on The Birth of a Nation”; The Group for Film Study, New York. April, 1955.

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