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The Birth Of Movie Music From A-Z
The early history of soundtracks in 26 letters

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I is for Intertitles
This was the bit of silent films that, in Murnau, Chaplin or Wiene's films, made audiences privy to an important snippet of dialogue. In less skilled hands, they explained what in the name of Jehoshaphat's auntie was actually happening on screen. Either way, they needed musical accompaniment. After all, if people wanted to sit and read in silence they'd probably have gone to the library. Friedrich Murnau's Sunrise has some of the most memorable intertitles – check out the 0:24 mark here – but the work of the director and his composer, Hugo Riesenfeld, was substantially assisted by new sound-on-film technology of Fox's Movietone system. This was the first film to utilise a new technology that would make matching music and image a cinch.

J is for Juilliard and Bernard Herrmann
The musical schooling of Bernard Herrmann, like that of his fellow movie composer Alex North, took place at New York's arty hothouse. It was a springboard for work with Orson Welles (there was an Oscar-winning debut gig on Citizen Kane) and an acrimonious battle with RKO over its hatchet job on The Magnificent Ambersons. But it's his partnership with Alfred Hitchcock, beginning with The Trouble With Harry in 1955, for which he's most famous. Their relationship, sometimes testy, was definitive (there's even been a play written about it), with B-Hermz's mastery of tone, mood and musical texture contributing hugely to classics like Vertigo and North By Northwest. Just watch his rollicking, baroque-influenced opening track on the latter and you know what's in store: thrills, spills, and, who knows, maybe even a bit with a cropduster, a bus and a suave dude in a suit.

K is for Korngold
Erich Wolfgang Korngold Not just the coolest name in soundtracks, Erich Wolfgang Korngold was one of the founding fathers of movie music. Like his peer Max Steiner (see: 'S'), he hailed from Vienna and was a musical protégé who caught the eye of the great Gustav Mahler. Anchluss and Hitler's Jewish pogroms drove him west to Hollywood where Warner Bros. put him to work filling their films with his distinct character leitmotifs. His great work on The Adventures Of Robin Hood has endured with the film, but The Private Lives Of Elizabeth And Essex and The Sea Hawk were classics of their kind too. As Korngold expert Brendan G. Carroll points out, "His style has exerted a profound influence on modern film music". In your face, Adolf.

L is for Lift To The Scaffold
Miles Davis' moody score for Louis Malle's sparse 1958 thriller was cinema's birth of the cool: a crossing of the two hip streams, the French New Wave and American bebop, into something so new and edgy, you couldn't even listen to it without sunglasses on.

M is for Modern Times
"The three giants of 20th century art are, for me, Picasso, Stravinsky and Chaplin," the great conductor Carl Davis told The Guardian. The tribute to Charlie Chaplin's was testament to his amazing self-taught musical skills as much as his filmmaking and physical comedy. He picked up a myriad of influences in his music hall days and used them to score his films with music that was much more nuanced than the improvised pianos and classic pieces prevalent in the silent era. There was a big place for classical music in his film too, like Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight Of The Bumble Bee (The Gold Rush) and the Hungarian Dance by Johannes Brahms (The Great Dictator), and the ballet of Modern Times. Something for everyone in other words, even those fluent in gobbledygook.

N is for North
Proof that you didn't have to be from Vienna to be a movie music great in the early 20th century (although it helped). Alex North was Juilliard educated, studied modern composer Aaron Copland and called on jazzier influences than his European brethren like the classically-informed Korngold and Steiner. Essentially the coolest cat in '50s movie music, he cut his teeth working with jazz band leader Benny Goodman and penned theatrical music for Elia Kazan's Death Of A Salesman, before following Kazan to LA for A Streetcar Named Desire. The first jazz soundtrack, Streetcar was followed by an edgy, modernist piece (Viva Zapata!) and a score that saw Ancient Rome get its groove on to the super-funky ondioline (Spartacus) – a true pioneer, in other words. That said, he also wrote Unchained Melody, so you can blame him for Robson & Jerome.

O is for Oklahoma!
If they'd written a musical called 'Kerrr-ching!", Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's impact on the coffers of '50s Hollywood could not have been much clearer. The pair were golden boys whose Broadway musicals were transformed, one after another, into big-screen hits with the inevitability of a Michael Bay blockbuster, albeit with fewer bum shots. Show Boat, The King & I, South Pacific, Carmen Jones, Carousel, State Fair, The Sound Of Music… their work crossed the Broadway-to-Tinseltown divide with freakish regularity and success, with a little help from Alfred Newman and others. Ghoulishly, the pair sit still second on Forbes' list of highest-earning dead celebs.

P is for Piano
PianoBack in cinema's earliest days, musical accompaniment was provided exclusively by a man (or woman) tinkling the ivories and often just used to cover up the whirl of the projector. When, in 1896, Auguste and Louis Lumière's train steamed into Ciotat station to a chorus of terrified gasps, the accompaniment was an incongruously jaunty piano melody. In modern-day terms, this is a bit like Chas and Dave playing along to Unstoppable at the IMAX.

Q is for Que Será, Será
Chirpier than a tree full of sparrows, Doris Day's rendition of 'Que Será, Será (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)' in The Man Who Knew Too Much was penned by one of movie music's great double-acts. Composer Jay Livingston and lyricist Ray Evans have been proclaimed "the last great songwriters in Hollywood", and while Hal David and Burt Bacharach and others might argue, three Best Song Oscars take some bettering. Rather than a trillsome piece of cross-promotion, Hitchcock made their song integral to the narrative. Day's character sings it to let her son know that she and hubbie Jimmy Stewart are about to get all Bryan Mills on his kidnappers.

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