Film Music from the Orchestra Pit

During film’s early years in the days of travelling cinema music was used only sporadically. One exception was the films shown during the variety programmes put on by variety theatres.
These theatres (such as Carré in Amsterdam) had their own orchestras. Besides providing accompaniment for performers, the orchestras also played music for films.

When cinemas started to emerge around 1910, they adopted this tradition and contracted their own musicians. Major cinemas such as the Rembrandt Theater and Tuschinski even had sunken orchestra pits that kept the musicians out of the audience’s sightlines.

Musical accompaniment

The star of the cinema orchestra was the bandmaster, who both conducted the orchestra and composed the musical accompaniment. For this, he drew on a wide range of sources including symphonies, operas, operettas, jazz compositions, singalongs, and ‘scene music’ that was composed especially for cinema orchestras. All sorts of music were tried out and adapted for film. Musicians such as Boris Lensky, Hugo de Groot, Max Tak and Ido Eyl became true celebrities in this area.

Curtain falls for silent era

With the emergence of the sound film around 1930, the era of the silent film came to an end. On 6 May of that year, a group of demonstrators from the Nederlandse Toonkunstenaarsbond trekked to the Rembrandtplein in Amsterdam. They were protesting the rise of the sound film, which posed a direct threat to the hundreds of musicians who provided music for silent films on a daily basis.

Their protests were in vain, and the long queues of people waiting in front of the doors at Amsterdam’s Tuschinski Theatre clearly illustrated that those days were gone. 


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