Before Hans Zimmer, before John Williams, before Miklos Rozsa, there was Camille Saint-SaÃ«ns. Yes, the composer of Carnival of the Animals and Danse Macabre is generally thought of as the first famous composer to write a complete film score. Today is the 100th anniversary of the release of that film, L'Assassinat du Duc de Guise. It's important not only for the score, but because it is an early example of a filmed narrative. Less than 20 minutes long, based on a stage play about a 16th century political murder, and using a playwright, director, and actors from the ComÃ©die franÃ§aise, the picture was a hit in France. (When it was released in America, it was trimmed down and not marketed very well because it was thought too "cultured" for stateside audiences, proving that even in the beginning of the film industry there was a vast difference between American film-making and that of other countries.) In keeping with the high theatrical standards, Saint-SaÃ«ns was asked to write music for the film. If you're going to make a film with popular actors, why not get a popular composer to write something for it also? The 73-year-old was a hugely famous composer at the time, and movie house musicians often used melodies from his music on the job. Saint-SaÃ«ns made notes as he viewed each scene, then wrote out his score for a small ensemble that included both piano and harmonium, but he wasn't able to conduct the premiere himself. The dramatic music follows the action closely and effectively, helping to tell the story without words. Modern scores written to accompany old silent films still do the same thing. Grab some popcorn and celebrate this tidbit of movie-making history!
Ensemble Musique Oblique - L'Assassinat du Duc de Guise