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ep. 44: Exploring the Music of “City Lights”…From Inside the Score

Ben relates the journey of playing piano as part of a full orchestra live accompanying Chaplin’s City Lights under the baton of the score’s restorer, Timothy Brock, during the Silent Film Days Festival in Tromsø, Norway. Ben also explores how he experienced Chaplin’s score “from the inside” and what he learned about making music to support silent film as a result. He describes the technical difficulty of playing live accompaniment with a large group, and analyzes Chaplin’s choices of accompaniment, the structure of his melodies, matters of authentic technique and style in a 1931 score for a 1931 film, and Chaplin’s innovations in scoring at the dawn of synchronized sound.

Episode 44 Show Notes:

  • Introduction
  • How Ben was invited to play piano and celeste with the Arctic Philharmonic playing the score of City Lights by Charles Chaplin live under the baton of Timothy Brock, music restorer and consultant to the Chaplin estate.
  • Timothy Brock on restoring the score of City Lights
  • Learning to play the piano score
  • Studying and learning the score leads to revelations about Chaplin’s choices in scoring
  • Excerpt from Ben’s accompaniment for His Nibs starring Colleen Moore (1921) recorded at CapitolFest in Rome, NY on August 24, 2021 on the theater’s original 1928 Möller theatre pipe organ.
  • How Timothy Brock kept the music in tight synchronization with the film in a live performance 
  • Use of sound effects on the film soundtrack
  • The agitato theme as conducted by Timothy Brock
  • Peculiarities of the copyright deposit score (lyrics, wrong keys)
  • The interrupted waltz as The Tramp examines the statue – turning pantomime into dance
  • Keeping on the beat with a large orchestra, given the delay of sound waves
  • How undercranking works with the synchronized music
  • How the agitato motif in the boxing scene works across the rhythm of the physical movement
  • The City Lights score as innovative in underscoring
  • Use of scalar melodies to avoid drawing attention to the music
  • Excerpt from Ben’s accompaniment to The Ploughshare (1915), an Edison/Biograph film directed by John Collins, improvised at a performance at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY on September 17, 2021
  • Matters of authenticity
  • Ben becomes a section by name: Strings, Brass, Percussion, “Ben”
  • Observing the film while playing to see how Chaplin uses music
  • Chaplin’s use of 7-bar phrase rather than the standard 8
  • Ben sums up how Chaplin broke away from silent era scoring technique of music beds and mood cues to create genuine film underscoring as it developed in the synchronized sound era.
  • Sign-offs

3 thoughts on “ep. 44: Exploring the Music of “City Lights”…From Inside the Score”

  1. Thank you for this. CITY LIGHTS is my favorite Chaplin film, in fact, my overall favorite of all time. Being with you as you experienced this was a wonderful, revealing voyage.

    1. The podcast show notes? If that’s it…you’re welcome. This was one of co-host/co-producer Kerr Lockhart’s initiatives for the show, and I’m glad you liked having these.

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