The CLE Silent Film Festival will celebrate the music of JS Zamecnik

Cleveland’s First-Ever Silent Film Festival and Symposium: The Music That Once Filled the Silence will be this month, celebrate the emergence of music paired with movies in theaters across northeast Ohio.

The festival begins on Sunday February 13 and ends on Sunday February 20. The week-long festival is presented by the Cleveland Arts Prize, the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque, Cleveland Institute of Music, Case Western Reserve University, and Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and features films and their associated concerts, talks, and workshop.

A silent film festival has been a nurturing dream since Emily Laurance, visiting associate professor of music history at the Oberlin Conservatory and chief organizer of the festival.

I’ve long wanted to build something like this in Cleveland, a city whose history was shaped by the same era that produced these movie classics,” she says. “He gives [music students and working musicians] opportunities to engage with the art of the past in ways that bring out their own creativity, and to reflect on the power and potential scope of meaning in purely instrumental music.

At the center of the Silent Film Festival is a long-forgotten name.

American composer, conductor, and Clevelander native John Stepan Zamecnik (1872–1953) was a pioneer in composing music to accompany then-silent films. He deserves to be remembered – and celebrated – as one of the most important figures of the silent film era and a pioneer in the evolution of film soundtracks.

Zamecnik (pronounced ZAM-ish-nick) went on to score some 40 films, including the 1927 film “Wings,” the first film to receive a Best Picture Oscar.

If you haven’t seen this classic, you’ll want to see it when it screens Friday, February 18 at the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque in a gloriously restored version that not only preserves the original hue, but also the Zamecnik original. . sheet music.

Cinematheque director John Ewing likes to describe “Wings” as the story of “two American flyboys who love the same woman, each other, and planes (not necessarily in that order). The thrilling aerial sequences and battle scenes are both authentic and spectacular.

The Cinematheque is one of five area institutions that will participate in this weeklong celebration of one of Cleveland’s many forgotten old masters whose rediscovery – and celebration – was identified last fall by the Cleveland Arts Prize. like a profound rediscovery.

The festival begins Sunday, February 13 at 3 p.m. at the Hermit Club, where Zamecnik once wrote music and conducted a small orchestra in a series of zany musical revues so popular they had to be held across the street at the Euclid Avenue Opera. Accommodation.

The February 13 performance will feature members of the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Isabel Trautwein, performing chamber music Zamecnik wrote while studying with the great Czech composer. Antonin Dvorak in Prague.

The program will include a masterpiece of DvorakZamecnik’s brief stay in America that gave us his majestic New World Symphony, as well as colorful examples of the music Zamecnik wrote to accompany specific types of scenes in silent films. Tickets cost between $15 and $100 and can be purchased in advance.

It was the rapid rise in the 1910s of the new rage – silent films – that was to open up a whole new career path for Zamecnik – one of its famous teachers. Dvorak, who died in 1904 – could never have foreseen.

Zamecnik gave his compositions such titles as “The Awakening”, “The Furious Mob”, “The Evil Plotter”, and “Remorse”. Word spread, and soon movie theaters across the United States were writing to its publisher, Cleveland-based Sam Fox Publishing, begging for this music.

Audiences from New York to Los Angeles, seated in the dark, were riveted to the on-screen action as Zamecnik’s imaginative and richly written music set the tone. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood came knocking on his door.

Zamecnik’s music breathed life and color into every film he appeared in, from the naval battles between the U.S. Navy and Barbary Pirates in the 1926 silent 11-reel epic “Old Ironsides,” to the poignantly humorous from 1928’s “Abie’s Irish Rose,” a highly anticipated adaptation of the longest running play in American stage history about a marriage between a Catholic and a Jew.

Zamecnik was to prove just as adept at tackling more serious subjects in films as landmark as 1929’s “Betrayal.” the last silent appearance of the great German actor Emil Jannings. Zamecnik also scored the 1933 Spencer Tracy film The Power and the Glory.

Zamecnik’s music was played in thousands of movie theaters virtually every night for 15 years. The opening theme of a popular circus march he composed for the 1935 film “World Events” would begin and end on the 20and Movietone news distributed nationally by Century Fox for decades.

And if the music that many Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies characters sped to sound eerily familiar, that’s because it was often Zamecnik’s recycled silent movie lines.

Zamecnik remained true to his craft until his retirement in 1938, continuing to provide music for Combat Marines, Rin Tin Jr. and Charlie Chan’s Adventures in Egypt. But his heart, he admitted to his sons, would always belong to the silent era.

Charles Rogers (left), Clara Bow and Richard Arlen in Finally, hearing Garbo speak had been expensive: low-fidelity recorded music that struggled to be heard above the now endless dialogue and sound effects. In the era of silencers, the glorious sounds of rich orchestral music played live by musicians seated a few feet away had given audiences an almost visceral thrill, enriching and deepening what unfolded on screen: the sweetness of first love, the haste of bravery, the sting of betrayal, the rediscovery of hope.

For a week in February, Clevelanders will once again be able to experience what Jazz Age audiences experienced when the lights went out and the camera’s eye opened to another world.

Four of the films for which Zamecnik has produced full scores will screen at the Cleveland Silent Film Festival, three of which will be accompanied live by the acclaimed Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, which has won national acclaim for its mastery of the art of performing. this music.

The restored 1913 Apollo Theater in Oberlin will present “Steamboat Bill, Jr.”, directed by and starring the great comic book physical genius Buster Keaton. While awaiting a visit from a son he hasn’t seen in years, a beleaguered tour boat owner waits for a burly junkyard like himself. Jr., played by Keaton, shows up with a thin mustache and a beret, strumming a ukulele.

The Cinémathèque will present Eric von Stroheim’s lavish 1928 silent melodrama “The Wedding March” on Saturday, February 19 at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, February 20 at 3:30 p.m. The Cinémathèque will close the Cleveland Silent Film Festival with a screening of the 1927 film “Sunrise.” – the deeply touching story of love lost and found, considered by many to be the greatest film of the silent era.

Under the direction of Mount Alto Orchestra director Rodney Sauer, students from the Oberlin Conservatory will accompany short silent films with music from historic photoplay. The show will take place on Tuesday, February 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the college’s Birenbaum Innovation and Performance Space and will be free and open to the public.

“Cleveland is the perfect place to host a music-focused silent film festival,” says Laurence of Oberlin. “Not just because it was an early film music publishing center, but because of the number of exceptionally good music students in the area.”

Case Western Reserve University will host Sauer on Friday, February 18 for a free symposium on the art of silent film music. “This is an emerging field of employment for professional musicians,” Sauer says.

Laurence adds: “It has been humbling and satisfying to see the enthusiasm generated by this project, and how it has enabled so many artistic and educational institutions in the region to work together towards a common vision and to find new audiences to share it with, especially in a time when we all need something to bring people together and create something positive.

Darcy J. Skinner