French Composers in Silent Films

During last week’s class, we briefly touched on the main difference between music composed for silent films in the United States versus France. In general, the biggest contrast was that film composers in the United States often weren’t well-established as art music composers prior to working in film while it was normal for successful composers from other artistic media (opera, ballet, symphonic poems) such as Camile Saint-Saëns and Erik Satie to compose for films. In many cases, these composers used throw-away material that they hadn’t used elsewhere.

Camile Saint-Saëns composed a “special score” for L’assassinat du duc de Guise (1908) which was distributed with the film – an innovation in its day.

Experimental music favorite Erik Satie lived up to his quirky reputation by composing the score to Entr’acte (1924), an experimental short film directed by René Clair which served as the prologue and entr’acte of a ballet performance. The 90-second sequence at the beginning stars Satie and Clair.


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