The Art of Not “Playing to Pictures” in British Cinemas, 1906–1914

Jon Burrows

in The Sounds of the Silents in Britain

Published in print December 2012 | ISBN: 9780199797615
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979738 | DOI:
The Art of Not “Playing to Pictures” in British Cinemas, 1906–1914

Show Summary Details


It is traditionally thought that during the first ten years in which permanent cinemas became established in Britain, the accompaniment to silent films was typically supplied by lone pianists who improvised musical themes that subserviently complemented narrative developments as they unfolded on screen. This chapter acknowledges that, following a period in which mechanical musical devices predominated, this model was widely espoused around 1909–10. But it argues that such practices quickly fell out of fashion. Using the evidence of cinema licensing records, as well as debates published in the film-industry trade press, the chapter demonstrates that miniature orchestras had been installed in the majority of cinemas in London by 1913 and that such orchestras rarely attempted to tightly synchronize their music with the films they accompanied.

Keywords: silent cinema; film music; film sound; music licensing; cinema orchestras; cinema pianist; British cinema

Chapter.  6367 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Popular Music

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.