What Are Some of Your Favorite Silent Film Scores?

I think it’s time to offer up some love for the hardworking accompanists who pour their hearts into making silent films sound as good as they look. I want you to share some of your favorite scores, live or recorded, and tell us why they’re so wonderful.

Obviously, everyone has an opinion on music and we may not all agree but this is all about positivity and celebration. Don’t bash anyone else’s choices and don’t be shy about pouring on praise!

I personally swoon over Robert Israel’s orchestra score for Judex, a gloriously strutting score for a stylish musical. And Neil Brand’s theremin-infused music for The Cat and the Canary— yes, please! I don’t mean to toot my own horn but when I heard Ben Model’s score for my release of Kidnapped, well, I did actually shriek with excitement a little. And Philip Carli’s live score for Mare Nostrum was something, let me tell you! And the Carl Davis score for the 1925 Ben-Hur is the finest Ben-Hur music there ever was and I do not make the statement lightly.

I know I am missing a TON of favorites but what about you?

Please share your score picks! They can be authentic or modern, played on any instrument you like. Let’s show some musical love.

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19 Replies to “What Are Some of Your Favorite Silent Film Scores?”

  1. Gaylord Carter’s score on Wings is great – any of his stuff actually and I am so lucky to have seen him perform in person

  2. One of my favorite scores was done with a live screening of “Page of Madness” that my friend and I put on in Greensboro, NC. My friend is a very good pianist who has been accompanying silent films for years. For “Page” he used an upright piano, took the top off so that he could get at the strings, and for much of the film manipulated the strings in the piano for a rather unique sound that definitely fit the chaotic mood of the film.

  3. The Cat and the Canary is a big favorite of mine, too. Beyond that, pretty much anything by Donald Sosin or the Mont Alto Orchestra (I understand from friends Mont Alto did a lovely job with the SFSFF showing of Keaton’s Our Hospitality this year). Another huge favorite is the Jeff Rapsis piano score for Swanson’s Zaza, adapted from the original cue sheets.

    Also seem to recall a mighty nice piano score written and played by David Gill for a great little movie called Four Square Steve 😉

  4. Without a doubt, Ben-Hur, The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg, The Big Parade – all by Carl Davis. And Scaramouche, by Jeffrey Mark Silverman. I even contacted Silverman to congratulate him on his fine score and he replied that I made his day!

  5. Two scores by Carl Davis: THE THIEF OF BAGDAD and NAPOLEON. The former makes liberal use of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” while the latter uses adapts from Mozart and Beethoven.

  6. All of the Carl Davis scores, especially The Big Parade and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Does anyone else listen to the scores as music in their own right or is it just me? I often listen to Metropolis, Lonesome, West of Zanzibar, and The Unknown while running.

  7. When a listing concludes with the words “… featuring live accompaniment by Philip Carli”, it means I’m especially eager to get myself over to the George Eastman Museum for a silent movie. Okay, so it’s not full orchestra, but “only piano” — but when Carli is playing that piano, it’s always perfectly attuned to what’s happening up on the screen. As to home video, I always say with particular delight, “Ooh, look — it’s got a Carl Davis score!” I’m especially happy with his music for “The Crowd”, “Thief of Bagdad”, and “The Wind”.

  8. Any score Jon Mirsalis plays, live or on DVD is always a winner. And I really like the scores for “The Wind” and “Love” by Carl Davis.

  9. The greatest one in my eyes is Charlie Chaplin, i often replay all of his scores for all his films, the kid being one of my favs.

  10. “Putting Pants on Philip”, scored by Robert Israel is wonderful. The music works in it’s own right, but he utilized traditional Scottish folk songs and the lyrics of the songs, if one is fortunate enough to know them, correspond perfectly to the scene’s action. Brilliant!

  11. Love just about anything Carl Davis has done, but I really like the original Gottfried Huppertz scores for Metropolis and Die Nibelungen; Siegfried and Kreimhil’s Rache.

  12. My favorites are the usual: Davis (The Wind, Ben-Hur), Israel (La Roue, Les Vampires), Carli (Volga Boatman), But I also love the vintage composites: Hugo Reisenfeld (King of Kings, Way Down East, Sunrise, Tabu). And I’d like to put in a plug for Carmine Coppola’s stirring score for Napoleon (no, haven’t heard Davis’s yet).

    But for one I have a special warm spot. When “Modern Times” was re-released in 1959, United Artists brought out an attractively packaged LP of highlights. That was the first silent movie I saw, as an adult, in a theater, & I immediately bought the recording, the first pressing of the score. I have owned the movie in several video formats since, but I’ll still bring out the vinyl when I want something to keep me awake while exercising.

    Altho’ I prefer, as a film, “City Lights,” & do like its score very much, “Modern Times” has to be considered Chaplin’s musical masterpiece & one of the all-time great silent scores. I recommend Timothy Brock’s online article, “The Music of Modern Times.”

  13. Torbjorn Iwan Lundquist’s score for Victor Sjöstrom’s The Outlaw and his Wife. Really modernist yet so compelling all throughout.

  14. Donald Sosin’s scores for three silent Ozu family comedies in a Criterion package are very charming.

    Not a silent film per se, but Carl Davis’s sweeping waltz theme for the Brownlow & Gill HOLLYWOOD series is unforgettable.

  15. One of my favorite scores was the Jon Mirsalis score for the Kino dvd of Woman in the Moon. I was disapointed that my MoC and Kino blu-ray discs didn’t include it and prefer to watch my old dvd.

    I also love the “depressing” La Roue score. Sometimes I just put the dvd in, close my eyes and listen. I also had the score on my iPod and listened to it when I left for work on cold, dark winter mornings.

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