Rick Altman's Silent Film Sound and Q. David Bowers' Nickelodeon Theaters and Their Music are both good, well-researched resources about what was played in silent era cinemas and with which instruments or instrumentations.
Bob Birchard wrote:
Where I draw the line is when I think the music calls attention to itself and does not serve the picture. The example I'll use (though it's not a silent) was Phillip Glass's score for "Dracula." Now I actually like a lot of Glass's music, and have liked some of his film scores, but his "Dracula" (especially in its live presentation) was a horrible exercise. Set aside the premise of the project (i.e. they would have put music in origianlly if they could have), which was a completely bogus jumping off point, but what Glass was doing was really a piece of performance art with colored lights shining through from behind the screen, music overpowering dialogue, poor choices in matching music to picture, etc. It was just a mess, and all designed to let you know every minute that Phillip Glass was an artist and so superior to the film on the screen that he had condescended to come down from his musical Olympus and bless the great unwashed with his brilliance and let them know what REAL art was all about--and it certainly wasn't about "Dracula."
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