THE FILM’S SCORE:
The Film Was Called “A Musical Spectacle”
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.
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] .
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.”
“The audience shouts”
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]
MUSIC MARVEL IN
Made to Identify Itself with Action of the Film.
“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.”
_STREATOR (Ill.) INDEPENDENT-TIMES, March 14, 1916.
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.”
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.”
‘Sunday, April 18, 1915.
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.
[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”].
City Daily Sentinel (Winston-Salem, N.C.), March 11, 1916.
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.
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.
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.
¶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.
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”).
AMERICAN CIVIL WAR MUSIC
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 ñrst 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.
KEY EXAMPLES OF THE TECHNIQUES OF FILM AND MUSIC IN ALLIANCE
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.
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.”
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.
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:
Influence and Remembrance
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.
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.”
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.
Thanking you for your reply,
Roger Pryor Dodge
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.
Still Powerful After 40 Years
“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.
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 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.
vs. the Non-Creative “Fact” Film