I'm no connoisseur of advertising, but there's something to be said for the insight one can gain about an era by looking at its ads. When was the last time you saw an ad for an album? Depending on your media choices, probably pretty recently and perhaps quite often, too. When was the last time you saw an ad for sheet music? For that matter, have you ever seen an for sheet music? If you're a classical or jazz musician or a music student, you've likely noticed sheet music advertised as one of many goods sold, for example, by instrument retailers, but when have you seen ads solely for community song books, theme catalogues, or a new series by a contemporary composer?
Examples of all of these are found in our copy of The P.R. Gazette. Most of these ads weren't intended for the general public but were instead aimed at professional musicians (mainly performers, but a couple ads offered instructional materials). Remember that we're still in the 1920s here and working musicians then were employed in strikingly different ways than they are today. Live musicians performed in cafes, restaurants, dance halls, community events, cabarets, and, of course, provided the musical accompaniment for films. The diversity of venues and activities a musician could find themselves accompanying required an equally diverse range of repertoire from which to draw, not only in terms of genre or style, but also instrumentation. The cryptic and non-standardised acronyms beside the price lists in these ads reflect the latter: F.O. = Full Orchestra; S.O. = Small Orchestra; P.C. = Piano Conductor; E.P. = Extra Piano or Extra Part; but traditional ensemble names such as “piano trio” and “string quartet” popped up as well.
These ads bombard us with the titles and composers of “popular love themes” and “famous valses.” Some ads rely on the familiarity of their repertoire, while others point to the functionality of the pieces with utilitarian descriptive titles. The former category has a range of music from classical, public domain pieces (Brahms, Handel, Haydn), newer classical works still under copyright (From the New World Symphony by Dvorak, The Flight of the Bumble Bee by Rimsky-Korsakov), modern “musical comedies” or “musical plays” (The Blue Train, The Vagabond King), specific dance genres (waltzes, one-steps, fox trots; sometimes these were dance arrangements of extant, familiar pieces), and folk or popular tunes from the public domain (“Barbara Allen,” “Auld Lang Syne”).
The latter category of functional, utilitarian pieces is comprised of ads intended for cinema musicians. While this group had a need for familiar classical and popular music, the atmospheric, narrative, and dramatic requirements of film called for music that was more customised to the medium and could also be quickly adapted to fit a variety of different films. So, in the Film Play Music Series and Cinema Incidentals from Bosworth & Co. (see image at top of post), we can quickly match film scenes to music by means of their evocative titles such as “Storm Music,” “Hurry,” and “A Passionate Episode.” J.R. LaFleur & Son go a step further by also providing keywords; “Misterioso, No. 4” is described as “suspense, foreboding, 'spooky'[sic]” while “Destruction” is “ruin, demolition, collapse.” Other ads, finally, stick to an old-fashioned approach by providing a summary of each suite of cinema music. (Higher resolution image here.)
And so do we have here the beginnings of the production music industry? I read an account about the very early days of film music and publishing clerk who invented “cue sheets” as a means to better categorise and describe classical, public domain works, thus greatly assisting the musicians and increasing sales of sheet music (described in greater detail here). But as the repertoire for film music grew beyond classical music and the public domain, it made sense to retain something of this keyword or music description approach, especially since musicians would not be familiar with the content of new works (having never had the opportunity to hear them before). Film composer name recognition might have been involved, too, but I have no idea who, if any, of the sought-after ones might have been at that time – certainly not all of the dozens of contemporary composers named in these ads.
Anyway, I have the impression that there's something of a common belief these days that production/stock/canned music was born with the creation of Muzak (both the company and its products), but this early, pragmatic approach to film music would seem to put something of a hole through that idea. Will it hold up under closer scrutiny? We'll look for more answers in the weeks to come.