3 JULY 1936, Page 26

Music in the. Cinema BOOKS OF THE DAY

By DYNELEY HUSSEY Music came into the Cinema originally to perform the most menial of tasks. Once the novelty of seeing projected photographs moving, or rather flickering, upon a screen had worn off, it was quickly found that the spectacle of men or machines in uncannily silent motion left a hiatus in the Spectator's mind which had to be bridged if his interest was to be held. In default of the possibility, in those days, of reproducing the sounds as well as the images of movement and conversation, music was called in to fill the gap—though even so early as 1893 a friend was to be seen taking off his .hat to Mr. Edison while one of the great inventor's phlino- graph cylinders croaked out : " Good morning, Mr. Edison ! -How do you like the cinematograph " Music came in the form of a cottage-pianoforte on which more or less suitable music was strummed out according to the wit of the executant. Then as the Cinema' prospered small bands were engaged, and, in the larger houses, full symphony orchestras with well-known conductors. For them, of course, music had to be arranged, and there grew up' a library of suitable excerpts to fit every imaginable situation. The Flying Dutchman became the symbol for a storm at sea just as nowadays a bit of " Tapiola " is played on a gramophone whenever there is a mention in a broadcast of cold winds in the Arctic. It was only after the War that the cinematograph magnates commissioned .composers to write special music for their films, and then with the adVent of electrical recording and amplification the whole fabric crashed to the ground. — • • The building had to begin anew on a different kind of foundation. But if the human voice now entered the Cihema, it did not mean that music had to go. It became 'a more important. element in the film because it could now be liSed with absolute exactness to heighten the effect of the visible images instead of being, as in the old " silent " days, a general and often ill-fitting accompaniment. It has taken the Cinema industry eight years, a 'long time in these days of quick developments, even to begin to appreciate the potentialities of the new kind of film. For the kind of man who can successfully run a great popular entertainment business is not usually susceptible to artistic considerations at all, much less to such fine distinctions as must be raised by the examination of what proper contribution music can make to the film.

It is an indication of the neglect to consider this question seriously that the publishers ,are: able to claim that Dr. Kurt London's book is the first-'of its kind. The wonder is that, thanks to the work of a few directors with artistic sensibility and still more to the experiments 'amen working on a modest scale that enabled-thein to ignore the larger public, the music of the films has not sunk lower than it has and has even at times reached a respectable artistic level. - It was high time for a statement of the practical problems which the film sets to musicians, and, still more, of the aesthetic ones which arise from the conditions of the cinema.

It might seem at first thought that once it was possible to reproduce sound, musical or other, all the film-makers had to do was to engage some opera-singers and an orchestra and photograph their performances of Carmen, Der Ring and The Girl from —, and they would have opera' music-drama and musical comedy all ready to hand. It does not, however, take much experience of the cinema to reveal that it is even more impossible to transfer an opera to the screen than it is to film a stage-play. Anyone who saw One Night of Love (or any of its imitations) will remember how, slow even the brief Film Music. By Kurt- London. 1Trinalated-by E. S. Bensinger. (Faber and. Faber. 12s. 6d.) excerpts of opera these presented seemed, for all the fidgeting of the camera on and off the stage, into the auditorium and behind the scenes.

It is a question of pace. The film moves fast, while music, as hitherto understood, takes so long to deploy its forces that it seems by comparison to stand still. Dr. London rightly emphasises this point throughout his book. The composer for the film is, therefore, face to face at once with a funda- mental problem of form. In the few seconds it takes to show the average sequence he has no time to develop his music symphonically, and, although there may be occasions when music may properly be used to weld into an emotional unity a series of brief scenes, as Arthur Bliss does in Things to Come, he will more often be called upon to express in half a dozen bars what he has been accustomed to take fifty to say. This consideration—and it is a point that Dr. London does not make—might well deter serious composers from accepting so great a restriction upon their art. It might even seem to make music,, in, the true sense, impossible.

Not only has the composer to reconsider the form of his music, but also its very material. The reproduction of sound is still far from perfect and during the many stages between the performance in the studio and its emergence from the loudspeaker music may suffer many changes. Perhaps the most valuable part of this book, from the practical musician's point of view if not from that of the general reader, is its detailed examination of the new instrumental technique which is found to produce the best results.. The tone of the violins and contrabasses is notoriously impossible to reproduce with anything like fidelity, and any complexities of counter- point or instrumentation are ineffective because, despite the use of resonating apparatus, the reproduction sounds flat and two-dimensional like the visible image on the screen. _ The ephemeral nature of the individual film, which is usually scrapped once it has gone the rounds of a general release, is unlikely to deter composers from writing for the films. Of all the eighteenth-century operas, Mozart's and Gluck's alone are alive today, and composers certainly were not deterred from writing by the thought that their work would not survive. Modern composers are no more likely to scorn a practical and well-paid outlet for their art, though they may think twice about accepting the conditions offered by unintelligent producers.

Dr. London's examination of his subject is thorough with an unsmiling, Teutonic thoroughness. Only one aspect is not given its -due emphasis—the orchestration of natural sounds, whether incorporated with music or not. It is in this field that directors like John Grierson and Basil Wright, with Walter Leigh and Benjamin Britten as composers, have achieved the most striking and successful advance towards a complete co-operation between music (in the widest sense) and the film. Breaking away from the conventions of musical material and form, they have created a new kind of, music that, though it has no independent life of its own, is a real contribution to the film as a whole. Although their work has been, for the most part, documentary, their method is per- fectly, applicable, and has been applied by the more intelligent directors, to dramatic films and will without doubt be devel- oped in the future.

It is a pity that this valuable, if sometimes rather elementary, book has not been better translated. The reader is continually being pulled up by sentences like " Experienced gramophone conductors only allow muted passages (sc. on strings) to be played in the piano part, without using dampers," where the author presumably meant " softly, without using mutes." Nor can one feel confidence in a musical judgement which praises film-composers with so little discrimination.