Joseph Carl Breil

Birth of a Nation [Original Soundtrack]

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Joseph Carl Breil's 1915 orchestral score for D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation gets a polished, reverent performance from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under conductor Clyde Allen. The music is a somewhat too reverent antecedent to the kind of score that Max Steiner later delivered (much more successfully) to the sound-era Civil War epic Gone With the Wind, but as a link in a creative chain, the Breil work is fascinating. As was the custom in those days, recognizable traditional tunes are used as shorthand (a technique that Steiner took to heart) wherever possible, and the original material seems a bit generic and non-descript in many stretches. But as an artifact of an era when American movies began to expand their reach and their grasp, and tell stories that were (or seemed) important, the music will prove an interesting if dated conversation piece to all but the most hardcore devotees of the field and the genre.

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