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Silent Movies, Golden Hits

April 14, 2015

Following the critical and popular success of Music for Great Films of the Silent Era, Vol. 1, Naxos has now released a second volume of the works of William Perry that were inspired by the history of silent film. With the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra (Ireland) under the baton of Paul Phillips, it features a distinguished group of soloists that includes Wallis Giunta (mezzo-soprano), John Brancy (baritone), Timothy Hutchins (flute), Nick Byrne (ophicleide) and Michael Chertock (piano, organ).

The composer gives us an overview of the project.

William Perry

“I became an admirer of silent films early in my career. A background that includes providing live accompaniments for silent films is a great training ground for a composer. You must develop a sense of period and style, have a keen ability to improvise and, as a pianist, have the stamina to play without pause for sometimes as long as three hours or more.

A major work on this new release is Silent Film Heroines: A Song-Suite for Mezzo-Soprano and Orchestra with the Metropolitan Opera’s Wallis Giunta as soloist. This is the world première recording of the piece. I wrote eight songs to celebrate the leading actresses of the silent era, with music drawn from my scores for their well-known films:

  • Lillian Gish: Orphans of the Storm (1921)
  • Mary Pickford: Pollyanna (1920)
  • Greta Garbo: A Woman of Affairs (1928)
  • Gloria Swanson: Fine Manners (1926)
  • Vilma Bânky: The Night of Love (1927)
  • Betty Bronson: Peter Pan (1924)
  • Pearl White: The Perils of Pauline (1914)
  • Janet Gaynor: Seventh Heaven (1927)

Summer Nocturne is a piece I wrote for flute and orchestra that features soloist Timothy Hutchins, principal flute of the l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. Tim previously gave the concert première. The melodic material is derived from my score for King Vidor’s 1923 film, Three Wise Fools.

As silent films were beginning to blossom in the early 1900’s, an instrument called the ophicleide, once popular with Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Verdi and Wagner, was falling into obsolescence. A brass instrument with saxophone keys, the ophicleide may have lingered on in early silent film orchestras, especially in Latin America. With that in mind, and discovering that there was a present-day virtuoso, Nick Byrne of the Sydney Symphony, I was prompted to compose this unique concerto, which also receives its world première on this new release.

The final piece on the CD is Hearts of the World, music for the legendary film shot during World War One by D.W. Griffith.  With soloists Wallis Giunta, John Brancy and Michael Chertock, and as a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the war that was to have ended all wars, I gave Hearts of the World a full symphonic treatment.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I have found it a most rewarding experience to be able to continue the tradition of music’s role in the silent film era. Camille Saint-Saëns was the first major composer to undertake a silent film score, in 1908. In his early days, Shostakovich played live piano film accompaniments. Others who came down the same path include the fine Broadway composer Frederick Loewe; and Eugene Ormandy learned his craft conducting for silent films at the Capitol Theatre in New York. It’s well worth aspiring to follow in their footsteps.”

The recording sessions were held on 11–13 June, 2014 at the National Concert Hall in Dublin with Tim Handley as producer and engineer. The Naxos catalogue number for the CD is 8.573105.

Naxos has previously released four recordings of William Perry’s music: The Innocents Abroad and other Mark Twain films, 1980–1985 (8.570200), Jamestown Concerto (8.559344), The Romance of the Silver Screen (8.578005–06), and the first volume of Music for Great Films of the Silent Era (8.572567).

For further information regarding the publication and distribution of William Perry’s musical works, visit

William Perry Biography & Discography


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