Edna Purviance's bio

Currently working on Edna Purviance's family biography. Draft is done. Photo: Leading Ladies © used by ednapurviance.org

Monday, April 06, 2009

Charlie Chaplin Music buying and collecting

Charlie Chaplin Film Music
Information for collectors
by Linda Wada for ednapurviance.org

Are you a Chaplin music collector? Are you confused about all the different CDs available? Well, don't feel bad. It is confusing, especially anyone new to Chaplin's Music.

There are some basic background facts that may help you with collecting Chaplin's music.

Original soundtrack recordings.

To start with, we need to separate the silent films from the sound films. Then you need to separate Chaplin's copyrighted films from the ones he didn't own the copyright.

All films created before 1918, which included the Mutual, Essanay and Keystone Films, Charles Chaplin did not own the copyright.

These films fell into many different hands and are not the ones mentioned in this article. (But so you know, those films have a variety of music scores, depending on the collection you buy. From professionally written compositions to pre-recorded music off records.)

When fans speak of Chaplin's film music, in general, they are speaking of the films made between 1918 to 1967. All these films Chaplin owned the copyright (and still does) through Roy Export.

Now we need to break these down into silent and sound films.

The Silent Films
All of Chaplin's copyrighted films made between 1918 and 1928 were silent films (no soundtracks). These were:

• A Dog's Life (1918)
• Shoulder Arms (1918)
• Sunnyside (1919)
• A Day's Pleasure (1919)
• The Kid (1921)
• The Idle Class (1921)
• Pay Day (1922)
• The Pilgrim (1923)
• A Woman of Paris (1923)
• The Gold Rush (1925)
• The Circus (1928)

All of these films above were re-edited with original music scores created for each during the years between 1942 and 1977.

The first film Chaplin re-edited was The Gold Rush in 1942. Chaplin re-edited the film and created an original film score. He also added his own voice to replace the inter-titles. His voice recording is only on the film, not the music recordings.

While The Gold Rush was re-edited in America, the rest was re-edited in Europe and England, while Chaplin lived in Switzerland between 1952, until his death in 1977.

The next set of films that were re-edited was a collection that became known as The Chaplin Revue.

Released in 1959, this collection of three First National films included:
• A Dog's Life (1918)
• Shoulder Arms (1918)
• The Pilgrim (1923)

Chaplin included some extra footage of himself, his crew and the players at his studio, as he narrated the introduction and start of each film.

The music from the Chaplin Revue is among the least known of Chaplin's music and only a few of the music pieces can be found on CDs.

One of the best known songs from this set of films is from The Pilgrim called Bound for Texas. A special song written by Chaplin, it was sang by Matt Monro, a popular English singer from the 1960s. Monro became well-known in the 60s for his recording of Born Free.

During the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Chaplin continued re-editing and scoring the rest of his silent film collection.
These were:

Sunnyside (1919)
• A Day's Pleasure (1919)
• The Kid (1921)
• The Idle Class (1921)
• Pay Day (1922)
• A Woman of Paris (1923)
• The Circus (1928)

Out of these films the music from The Kid and The Circus is the best known.

For The Circus, Chaplin actually wrote and sang Swing Little Girl, at the beginning of the film. This replaced his original 1928 opening of the film.

In 1976, A Woman of Paris was the last film to receive an original score and re-edited. It was felt to be his weakest score, due to the fact his health was failing at that time.

Since that time, the score has been re-constructed using Chaplin's own music and notes, and a bit of imagination on what the composer thought Chaplin would like. This updated score premiered at a live music showing of A Woman in Paris in Italy in 2005. To date, this new score has not been recorded.


The Sound Films
Now it's time to go back to the sound film recordings Chaplin made between 1931 to 1967.

Beginning with City Lights in 1931, Chaplin created film scores for all his following films. These films were:

• Modern Times (1936)
• The Great Dictator (1940)
• Monsieur Verdoux (1937)
• Limelight (1952)
• A King in New York (1957)
• A Countess From Hong Kong (1967)

City Lights is a favorite score of many fans. It was Chaplin's first chance to record a score for his film. It was also his answer to the sound film age, which just taken over the silent film era in full force starting in 1928. Chaplin held out until 1936 with doing silent films, but always loved the idea of creating music for his films. Now he could.

Chaplin gathered the best musicians and recording equipment available, but in the end, was not pleased with the limits of recordings at that time. It is written, he made fun of the sound era in City Lights, by doing the distorted voice versions of the speeches given at the beginning of his film in his own voice.

He used a few sound effects in City Lights, but the most remembered theme was used for the blind girl. Called the Violet Seller, this music was created from difference themes, with the main part of it from a famous 1920s song sung by Raquel Meller.

While the score of City Lights is a favorite, the most popular theme would come from his next film, but it would take over 20 years before the world would know it.

His second film score was for Modern Times.

My LP from United Artists of the Modern Times soundtrack.

Modern Times is noted for a theme Chaplin created and most remembered at the end of the film. It didn't have it's current name or any words in 1936, but would become a musical standard, thanks to a couple of song writers.

In 1954, words were written for this theme, and the music became known as the song Smile.

This song has been sung by many artists over the years, but first sang by Nat King Cole in 1954. The lyrics were by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons.

That was many years ago, so over time, fans of Chaplin's music have been confused, thinking Chaplin wrote the lyrics and those lyrics were sung in the 1936 film..

That is not correct. Smile was never sung in the film and never had words, or even the name Smile, until 1954.

Also from Modern Times came The Nonsense Song. This was Chaplin as the singing waiter. This song is the first time we hear Chaplin's singing voice on film.

Limelight is another film of note for Chaplin's music. The most famous theme being Eternally. Eternally would become a standard, but would take years to be better known in America.

Due mainly to Chaplin not being allowed back in America in 1952, Limelight was released in London, but it didn't play in Los Angeles until 1972.

Chaplin was warmly welcome back to America, after 20 years, and Limelight finally played in LA, making it available for nomination for an Oscar. The score for Limelight did win the Academy Award for 1972, twenty years after the film's was first released in 1952. (Award given in 1973.)

Chaplin's last song of note is the popular This is My Song, recorded by Petula Clark in 1967. The song was from the film A Countess in Hong Kong, Chaplin's last and only color film.

It is the most remembered part of this film, as it has been the most forgotten of all of Chaplin films still available. It has been left out of all Chaplin's collections, but can be bought as a single film.

On Christmas Day in 1977, Charles Chaplin passed away, but not his music.

In 1989, The Centennial Collection (marking the birth of Charles Chaplin) was released on VHS. This collection included all of Chaplin's final cut films, with Chaplin's created scores. LINK

It was also in 1989, the first re-recording of Chaplin's original film scores occurred in London.

My signed Carl Davis CD that I won from the UK Chaplin Society Crossword contest.

Music conductor, Carl Davis, with The City Lights Orchestra, re-recorded the original film score for City Lights, to re-create the music as Chaplin would have liked to have heard it in 1931. This would be the first film to have a new recording of the original film score re-created by someone other than Chaplin. Others films would follow, including The Kid, The Gold Rush, The Circus, and Modern Times. All recorded and conducted by Davis.

By the 1990s, there were many varied collections of Chaplin's music on LP, CD and tape. These were created from record companies libraries of recordings released from the 1950s onward. Most of the recordings were created in Europe, with each company having slightly different versions of the film music collections. (Each trying to be a bit different, and not wanting to be the same, to have their collections bought.)

Add in the Davis's recordings as well, as other Orchestra recordings, created for studio or live performances, and you have a wide variety to choose from.

For Instance, some fans wish to own the original film soundtracks, while others like to have the best recordings available of Chaplin's music, opting for the Davis's collections.

But it depends on what you want.

Chaplin was in control of the original soundtrack recordings and the other recordings by other conductors do add a bit of their own twist to the music.

Of course, Chaplin's recording due suffered from not having the modern day recording devices.

What are the best ones to collect? That is up to you, actually, but the more important question maybe more, what can you find.

This CD has the original soundtrack scores but incorrectly list Carl Davis as the film music for City Lights.

Many of these soundtrack are becoming harder to find. They can be expensive to very cheap, depending on who is selling and the current market prices.

You could look for LPs at private sells and charity shops, and transfer that to CD for you home listening pleasure, but those are rare to find too.

You can check my Chaplin Music page for ones that have been and currently available. But even after I created this page, some CDs are no longer available, and have to be found used.

To know what you like to collect, one thing you can do is to watch the films, listen for the music you like to have, and try to find that music on CD. It's not quite as easy, as it was a few years ago. You just have to spend sometime, and/or maybe a bit of cash to get them.

Whatever the case, if you like Chaplin's music, but have been a bit confused, I hope this might helped with your collecting of his music.

LINKS - See more on Edna's Chaplin Music page:
Charlie Chaplin Music
Click on images above for more details on each.

3 comments:

Edna's Place said...

Added Note: I have found a CD collection recently that claims to have Carl Davies recordings of City Lights, but actually has the original soundtrack recordings from the 1931 film.

It is collections like that, that add to the confusion.

Paul C. said...

I have the CD of Carl Davis re-recording of the "City Lights" score from 1989 - I can get the label and catalogue number.

My biggest frustration is that the full 1925 version of "The Gold Rush" has not been released on dvd with Chaplin's 1942 score, although Davis has conducted several live shows of this combo.

Edna's Place said...

Hi Paul,
I believe I know which one you are talking about. I plan to place some images along with some of these very soon (maybe today).

I have fans writing in with the same frustration. Some about that, and others wanting more of The Great Dictator.

I wouldn't mind hearing the new A Woman of Paris score again. Only heard it once live in Italy. I don't recall much about it now, and to be fair, really need to hear more to see how I like it.

They said, at that time, it most likely will only be performed live, and not be recorded.

But yes, there are music scores fans would like to hear on CD. But because of all the upfront cost, makes it hard to create.

Linda