William Perry (b. 1930)
Music for Great Films of the Silent Era – Part 2
William Perry has led an unusually varied creative life as a composer, producer, director and lyricist. Among his productions are six definitive films based on the major works of Mark Twain, which won the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award. (His music for these films is available on Naxos 8.570200.) The Broadway musical, Wind in the Willows, starring Nathan Lane, for which he wrote the music and co-authored the lyrics, was nominated for three Tony Awards. There is an Emmy amidst the many other awards for his more than seventy programs produced for American Public Television, and his concertos and other orchestral pieces are frequently heard.
William Perry has composed more than one hundred film scores. Probably none are more significant than those he wrote for films of the silent era, and he is widely credited with playing a prominent role in the revival of interest in silent films that took place in the 1960s and thereafter. For twelve years he was Music Director of the Film Department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York serving as both composer and silent film accompanist. His television series, The Silent Years, hosted by Orson Welles and Lillian Gish, introduced thousands of viewers throughout the world to the beauty and excitement of classic silent films for the first time. His orchestral recording for Naxos, Music for Great Films of the Silent Era (8.572567) captures many of the outstanding musical moments from that series.
Now, in this second volume of Music for Great Films of the Silent Era, Perry presents further orchestral selections from his silent film scores. The Song-Suite, Silent Film Heroines, performed by Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, offers portraits of eight leading actresses in some of their best known films. The solo flute of the Summer Nocturne and a unique 19th century brass instrument, the ophicleide, are featured in pieces that reflect the musical moods of the silent period; and a reworking of Perry’s score for D.W. Griffith’s legendary war film, Hearts of the World, becomes a deeply-felt commemoration honoring the centenary of World War One.
Silent Film Heroines: A Song-Suite for Mezzo Soprano and Orchestra
Over many years of composing scores and playing accompaniments for silent films, William Perry came to know intimately the screen personalities of the great actresses of the silent era. In some instances he was fortunate enough to meet the actresses themselves. He determined that one day he would characterize in song these remarkable performers, using music he had written for their films. Joined by lyricists Ronn Carroll (Lillian, Pearl, Janet) and William S. Wheeling (Greta), he has written this Song-Suite celebrating eight of his favorite heroines. (Complete lyrics can be accessed at trobriandmusic.com/sfh)
 Lillian Gish • Orphans of the Storm (1921) 4:51
Lillian Gish is often considered silent film’s greatest dramatic actress, and her acting career spanned 85 years. One of her best-loved films is Orphans of the Storm where she plays a young woman from the country who brings her blind sister to Paris for medical help. (Her real sister, Dorothy, was the co-star.) The French Revolution breaks out and she and her sister are separated and subjected to danger on all sides before rescue by the famous Danton. Incidentally, director D. W. Griffith built his monumental 18th Century Paris in Westchester County, NY.
 Mary Pickford • Pollyanna (1920) 3:33
Lillian Gish’s best friend was the actress Mary Pickford, known as America’s Sweetheart, even though she came from Canada. When she married Douglas Fairbanks, they became the most famous film couple in history—even more than Brad and Angelina. Mary was just a smidge over five feet tall, so she was able to play children’s roles well into her thirties. One of these is a little girl named Pollyanna, who is eternally optimistic and believes that things will always turn out happily … especially when Spring is in the air!
 Greta Garbo • A Woman of Affairs (1928) 3:56
Greta Garbo was sometimes called “The Swedish Sphinx” for her combination of beauty and reticence. A major star in silent films, she moved effortlessly into talking pictures, when audiences heard her speak for the first time, uttering “Gimme a whisky, ginger ale on the side, and don’t be stingy, baby.” She retired at the age of 35 and spent the last 49 years of her life privately living out the Garbo Mystique. Her character in A Woman of Affairs, co-starring John Gilbert, undertakes a reckless life when she is denied the love she seeks.
 Gloria Swanson • Fine Manners (1926) 4:56
Gloria Swanson was a major silent film star who is best remembered for portraying a major silent film star, Norma Desmond, in the 1950 classic, Sunset Boulevard. Swanson’s roles were usually dramatic, but she was also a gifted comedienne. In Fine Manners, she plays a chorus girl in a burlesque show. A wealthy socialite falls in love with her, and she determines to learn about manners and culture so she can fit into his world. This song describes the learning process which, alas, is to no avail, since, it turns out, her beau prefers her as a chorus girl. Just like a man!
 Vilma Bânky • The Night of Love (1927) 3:28
Vilma Banky was discovered in her native Hungary by Samuel Goldwyn, who brought her to Hollywood. Stunningly beautiful, she was immediately hailed as “The Hungarian Rhapsody,” which explains the musical quote from Franz Liszt in the middle of this song. She was often a co-star with Rudolph Valentino, and in The Night of Love, a story about gypsies and, well, nocturnal passion, her leading man was Ronald Colman. Soprano arias with violin obbligato are not uncommon, but this song features a violin solo with a soprano obbligato.
 Betty Bronson • Peter Pan (1924) 3:37
In 1924 there was exciting news in Hollywood. For the first-time ever there would be a film made of Sir James M. Barrie’s famous stage play, Peter Pan. The leading role was sought by superstars Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson, even Lillian Gish. But a virtually unknown but determined teenager from New Jersey named Betty Bronson, who had studied briefly with the Ballet Russes, was personally selected by the author, who admired her lightness and grace. As she had always dreamed, her name went up in lights and Bronson-mania swept the country.
 Pearl White • The Perils of Pauline (1914) 2:31
Pearl White in The Perils of Pauline popularized the idea of serial films. Running some twenty minutes in length, these serials would put Pearl and other heroines in dangerous situations that involved planes, trains, automobiles and much else. As the audiences prayed for a rescue, the screen would sometimes flash a title saying “To be continued.” The Perils of Pauline was filmed around Fort Lee, New Jersey, and the nearby cliffs overlooking the Hudson River, the Palisades, were an ideal setting for dangerous stunts which Pearl did herself. Little surprise that the genre invented the word “cliffhanger.”
 Janet Gaynor • Seventh Heaven (1927) 5:58
Janet Gaynor was the first actress to win an Academy Award. In a two-year period she starred in three remarkable films: Seventh Heaven, Sunrise, and Street Angel. A romance set in Paris in World War One, Seventh Heaven tells the story of a homeless waif who is taken in by a poor street-cleaner. He goes off to war, and she is led to believe that he has been killed in action. Still she waits in their tiny flat in Montmartre and hopes that one day she will hear him climbing the seven flights of stairs that lead to that treasured space, their Seventh Heaven.
 Summer Nocturne For Flute And Orchestra 12:05
In 1972, The Museum of Modern Art in New York presented a retrospective of the work of director King Vidor. Included was his silent film Three Wise Fools from 1923, for which William Perry composed a new score. The film was only shown twice and the score was never recorded, but Perry was fond of the major theme and looked for an opportunity to use it again. This came in 1988 when he composed his Summer Nocturne for Flute and Orchestra.
The piece, which requires both substantial virtuosity and sustained lyricism from the player, is programmatic and is prefaced by a quote from Lord Byron:
It is the hour when from the boughs
The nightingale’s high note is heard;
It is the hour—when lovers’ vows
Seem sweet in every whisper’d word.
The flute portrays a nightingale coming into a city park at twilight, and from a tree branch he observes an old couple on a bench, a poet passing by, children playing, lovers walking hand in hand, a fountain and a carousel. As the twilight fades, he flies to the top of the highest tree. Here is the love music.
Brass from the Past: Concerto for Ophicleide and Orchestra
William Perry has written concertos for a number of popular instruments including cello, piano, violin plus piano, flute, and trumpet; but his new Concerto for Ophicleide and Orchestra is unique in being the first fully-orchestrated modern concerto ever written for the ophicleide, a once-popular 19th century low brass instrument that slipped into obsolescence at the dawn of the 20th century. The source for Perry’s interest in this rare musical character arose from his hearing a brilliant recital CD called Back from Oblivion, featuring Nick Byrne, an Australian trombonist who had become an ophicleide virtuoso. The composer says, “I knew that Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Wagner and Verdi had written for ophicleide but then given it up when the modern tuba was born. But I never realized that there was a musician of today who had mastered the instrument so completely that a concerto was certainly called for. I immediately wanted to do this before all the world started writing ophicleide concertos! And given its unique sound, there might well be some future use in film scoring.”
The ophicleide (See picture on inside back cover) dates from 1817 when it was invented by a French instrument maker named Jean Hilaire Aste, better known as Halari. Derived from an older instrument called a serpent, the ophicleide was made of brass and had a trombone-like mouthpiece but finger keys like a woodwind. Its name means “Serpent with keys.” The instrument is technically challenging, but its sound is capable of great beauty, especially in its upper range.
 Blue Ophicleide 6:09
 Military Ophicleide 3:33
 Pastoral Ophicleide 4:04
 Latin Ophicleide 7:53
The four movements of the Perry concerto represent different views of the instrument’s history and its musical personality. The first, Blue Ophicleide, portrays the instrument as it occasionally still appeared in dance bands of the early 1900s.
The second movement, Military Ophicleide, is a chain of four marches, depicting the instrument in four imagined settings:
A Habsburg Parade Band c. 1840
A Royal Marines Band, Portsmouth, 1900 (with cornet embellishments)
A Cakewalk Band, New Orleans, 1920
A Modern Symphonic Band (with full strings)
The third movement is the Pastoral Ophicleide, serenely lyric and perhaps a bit influenced by Vaughan Williams.
The final movement is the Latin Ophicleide, built around a rumba and later a beguine, reminding us that before the ophicleide became obsolete, it enjoyed some colorful life in Cuba and Brazil. Here the instrument is challenged by a marimba, and a contest between them occurs just before the end. Guess who wins!
 Hearts of the World 12:04
William Perry has always felt a connection to the history and events of World War One, in part because his father served in the war. When the 100th anniversary of the war’s commencement drew near in 2014, Perry decided to write a commemorative piece, and he visited a score he had written forty years prior for the legendary D.W. Griffith silent film, Hearts of the World, and refashioned it into a musical ode for mezzo soprano, baritone and orchestra, with the baritone also serving as narrator.
Although a number of major silent films were later made about World War One, Griffith’s was unique in that it was shot during the war, and in fact, some of the opening footage was filmed in France just 50 yards away from the German trenches. In writing his original score, Perry recalls: “I had the great luxury of knowing and being able to communicate as necessary with Lillian Gish, who was the major star of the film. She provided some marvelous insights that I could translate into music.”
Perry continues, “Griffith subtitled his film The Story of a Village, and I have followed that idea in presenting the war through the microcosm of a little French village, beginning with its traditional life: children at play, street singers passing through, the feeling of comfort and peace provided by the local church and the bells in its tower. Then there are signs of mobilization, and suddenly, in 1914, the village is engulfed in war as armies sweep through. Not until 1918 is an Armistice declared, and the church bells ring out at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month with the uncertain hope that this might indeed be The War to End All Wars.”
Here are the composer’s notes on the music and lyrics. Words are by William Perry unless otherwise noted.
The epic size of the conflict is first characterized in a theme for full orchestra.
Then the peaceful life of the village is presented by piano, strings and a solo oboe d’amore.
At twilight, two villagers sing of the beauties of youth and the ravages of old age, suggesting those that may have been maimed in war. The poem was written by Charles Kingsley in 1863.
|When all the world is young, lad,
||When all the world is old, lad,
And all the trees are green;
And all the trees are brown;
|And every goose a swan, lad,
||And all the sport is stale, lad,
And every girl a queen;
And all the wheels run down;
|Then hey for boot and horse, lad,
||Creep home and take your place there,
And round the world away;
The spent and maimed among;
|Young blood must have its course, lad,
||God grant you find one face there
And every dog his day.
You loved when all was young.
There is a premonition of war as rumors begin to drift through the village, but on Sunday morning the church bells in the tower and the comforting chords of the organ suggest to some that all is well. Other villagers are not so sure.
|Over the centuries
||While we take comfort from
|The bells in the tower
||The bells in the tower,
|Ring out the blessings
||They sound a warning
|Of a Heavenly Power.
||In an ominous hour.
|Quiet village life is all we know.
||Patriotic passion sweeps the land.
|We watch our children grow,
||Some think war is grand.
|Just like long ago.
||They don’t understand.
War is declared, and the village is invaded. The narrator leads us year by year through the conflict until at last, on November 11, 1918, an Armistice is signed. But as the singers remind us, “In a hundred years, will we forget the past?” It is, in fact:
|Time to remember
||Cry from the hilltops
|Hearts of the World.
||“Peace is declared!”
||Honor the fallen,
|Hearts of the World.
||Welcome the spared!
|Here was a war to end all others,
||And through the years
|Foes to the death could now be brothers.
||Let every future generation
||Love and embrace their
||Hearts of the World.
||Of the World!
Music Notes by Douglas Bruce