Exhibition at the museum

Music and Silent Pictures

From September 19th, 1995 to January 07th, 1996 -
Musée d'Orsay
Esplanade Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
75007 Paris
Map & itinerary
© DR

This documentary exhibition recalled the lost magic of the first thirty years of silent films, and showed the crucial part played by music in the adventure of this new artistic mode. The experiment proved to be totally original, at a time when the association of animated pictures, pantomimes and music evoked a filiation with dance and theatre. With the arrival of talking pictures, this art form disappeared and fell into oblivion.
First, historical facts attest that no show was ever completely silent. The theatres always show the existence of an orchestra, at least of a piano. The Lumière brothers were accompanied by a composer and pianist, Mr Marval, on a Gaveau piano. Shortly afterwards, in 1904, Georges Méliès provided the operators with a score adapted from Gounod for his film, Faust et Margueritte.
Finally, in 1908, Camille Saint-Saëns composed a piece of synchronous dramatic music for the art film L'assassinat du Duc de Guise. A section of the documentary exhibition was devoted to his work, which represents one of the most successful attempts to associate music and pictures.
While the cinema was discovering its narrative and dramatic functions, music played an ever more important part. It reinforced the spectator's attention and dynamized the rhythm of the pictures. During the first years of the cinema, many efforts were made to synchronise mechanical music and recorded music with the moving pictures. The biophonograph, the Gaumont chronophone and the noise machines witness to this evolution.
After these first attempts, the time came when renowned composers accepted to create symphonic scores to accompany prestigious silent movies in the largest cinema houses. Portraits, objects, projectors and sound devices, posters and scores traced this unique audio-visual experience now abusively called "silent" film.

The exhibition is now over.

See the whole program