The 1927 Longwood Sketches of Firmin Swinnen: Replica of a Scenic Film Score

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Pamela Meys Kane (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
John Salmon

Abstract: In his Longwood Sketches: Suite for Organ in Four Parts (Theodore Presser, 1927), Belgian-American organist Firmin Swinnen provides the vicarious traveler with an aural travelogue of gunpowder magnate Pierre S. du Pont's Longwood Gardens outside Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Swinnen relays his impressions of landscapes, waterscapes, and the Lenni Lenape Indian provenance of the estate in a composition that stylistically resembles music that accompanied silent travel films of the early 1900's known as Scenics. As organist at Broadway's Rialto and Rivoli Theatres between 1916 and 1921 and Philadelphia's Aldine Theatre in 1922, Swinnen accompanied Scenics with titles like Tropical Nights (Robert C. Bruce, 1920), Lake Tahoe, Land of the Sky (Essanay, 1916), Geysers of the Yellowstone (Paramount, 1917), and Trails that Lure (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1920). These films have been archived and preserved to allow for viewing by modern-day audiences. Absent from the films, however, is the sound of musical accompaniment which, during the silent era, was provided either by an orchestra or organist who through-played one or two composed orchestral compositions or by an organist who improvised an accompaniment that was informed by changing scenery on the screen. By referring to period film music columns like Montville Morris Hansford's "Preparing Music for Photoplay Accompaniments" (New York Dramatic Mirror) and George W. Beynon's "Music for the Picture" (Moving Picture World), where documentation can be found that indicates which orchestral selections were paired with given Scenics, it is possible for contemporary musicians to replicate authentic orchestral accompaniments. However, the organ improvisations that accompanied Scenics have been lost to time, making it impossible to recreate the exact aural experience for the 20th-century movie-goer. Longwood Sketches is an important connection to the unwritten practices of the silent film period and can provide contemporary organists with authentic material with which to design Scenic scores. The purpose of this paper is to show that, with its illustrative nature titles, program notes that show Swinnen's intent to portray specific Scenic subjects, and musical language that depicts these subjects using tropes common to cinema, Longwood Sketches replicates a Scenic film score. In the first chapter, sacred, pastoral, avian, and atmospheric subjects are identified in Longwood Sketches and a comparison is made between Swinnen's representations of these topics in the composition to his representations of comparable topics in his 1926 recording of a "Storm" improvisation. The second chapter contains a comparison between Swinnen's representations of Native American, water, faunal and floral topics in the composition and music recommended for use by organists when accompanying scenes with comparable topics in cinema as found in period anthologies like Ernö Rapée's Motion Picture Moods for Pianists and Organists (1924) and Sam Fox Moving Picture Music (1913-1914). The third chapter shows that Swinnen uses compositional devices such as motif, rhetorical pause and characteristic key associations in a like manner to the recommendations made in authoritative manuals such as Edith Lang and George West's Musical Accompaniment of Moving Pictures (1920) and George Beynon's Musical Presentation of Motion Pictures (1921). The paper ends with an examination of audience and critical reception of Longwood Sketches to determine if those in attendance at the initial performances of the work, who were movie-goers accustomed to receiving visual codes in moving pictures to guide narrative, were able to identify Swinnen's intended themes by aural cues alone.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
Organ music, Silent cinema
Swinnen, Firmin $t Longwood sketches
Silent film music
Organ music $x Analysis, appreciation

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