Charlie Chaplin is probably one of the most iconic and famous figures from cinema. Chaplin was just not well known in front of the camera as an actor but also became just as well known behind them as a director, writer, producer and eventually as a composer of scores for his motion pictures. Because sound was not something that was around in films when Chaplin first began to make a name for himself, many of his scores were composed years after a movies original release date for example, THE GOLD RUSH which was released in 1925 was scored by Chaplin in 1942, THE KID which was released in 1921 received an original score by Chaplin in 1971.
It is something of an oversight by many collectors of film music when they maybe side step the scores that were penned by Chaplin, I have to admit that up until I saw a screening of THE KID with Carl Davis conducting Chaplin’s score live that I too was guilty of not actually taking the time to listen to any of Chaplin’s film music apart from maybe SMILE but not in the context of being actual film music but more as an evergreen song that cropped up every so often on the radio etc, but this changed after having a conversation with Carl Davis and seeing how passionate the composer was about the music, in fact so much so that Davis went onto score a number of Chaplin’s silent and now classic shorts himself, drawing inspiration from Chaplin’s music.
One Chaplin score in particular that I listen to over and over is THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940) the film which was rather controversial when it was released contains a score that in my opinion displays Chaplin’s diversity and talent as a composer who was able to adapt his musical expertise to suit many varied genres and situations and maybe at times Chaplin rivaled the most talented and respected of Hollywood composers from the same period. This double compact disc set was issued in 2006 by Silva Screen the first disc being dedicated to the original music that Chaplin penned for his movies both silent’s and talkies and disc two includes the music written for twelve shorts by Carl Davis.
The first disc CHAPLIN BY CHAPLIN opens with THE REEL CHAPLIN which is described as a symphonic adventure and includes themes and cues from a number of Chaplin’s soundtracks which are woven into an entertaining and vibrantly flowing suite which in effect acts as an overture of sorts to the first disc. Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic conducted by Davis this is a compilation that will please, mesmerize and maybe even make the listener shed a tear or two of joy and also of sadness. Filled with energetic themes, lilting and fragile sounding tone poems and comedic sounding interludes this is a wonderful collection that enables one to experience and savour the musical magic of Chaplin.
The second track on the first disc is from THE KID Chaplin’s lush and heartfelt opening theme being purveyed luxuriously by the string section of the orchestra, with woodwind adding a certain delicate ambiance to the proceedings. Chaplin’s music is presented here in an almost 9 minute suite, which obviously encompasses and includes the works principal themes, it sumptuous central theme leading the way and becoming the backbone of the score. Track number three is from the 1922 movie PAY DAY again the composers music has been arranged into a suite, the music here is rather more robust and upbeat compared with THE KID but after a brief introduction of comedic sounding flourishes from both the brass and strings we are treated to a more subdued and melodic sounding theme that is delicate and at the same time affecting, the opening theme returns and ambles along at a jaunty pace until the slow and plaintive theme returns and is given a more expanded working by the strings and woodwind sections the two styles which are totally opposites to each other compliment each other and create a colourful and highly entertaining sound and atmosphere.
Disc number one includes 14 tracks many of which are suites of music from the respective score, THE GOLD RUSH I think is one of the most outstanding pieces within the compact discs running time, Chaplin’s haunting and melancholy sounding strings creating a sense of sadness and romance throughout. Other films represented are, THE GREAT DICTATOR, CITY LIGHTS, MODERN TIMES, MONSIEUR VERDOUX, A KING IN NEW YORK and A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG.
The latter being one of my own personal favourites with Chaplin weaving an oriental style into his thickly romantic sounding soundtrack, with his gloriously familiar “THIS IS MY SONG” making an appearance which I know will melt the hearts of many. The last cue on the disc is part 2 of THE REEL CHAPLIN, on this occasion the music included is restricted to THE CHAPLIN REVUE, from which we hear the jaunty and foot tapping GREEN LANTERN RAG which comes to an abrupt end and segues into the core theme from MODERN TIMES “SMILE”. Performed by a solitary oboe with underlying strings in the first instant but gradually building into a full string arrangement of the now famous theme which I suppose could be taken as Charlie’s signature tune, and a fitting conclusion to the first disc. The second disc CHAPLIN BY DAVIS includes 13 tracks all composed by Carl Davis and are for short films from 1916 and 1917, which include THE FLOORWALKER, THE FIREMAN, THE VAGABOND, ONE AM, THE COUNT, THE ADVENTURER plus others. Davis manages to create music that sounds very much akin to the style of Chaplin’s own musical style, but at the same time one can hear certain quirks of orchestration and styles of composition that can be associated with Davis. Overall this is a wonderful compilation and has an abundance of musical styles within its running time. Contains informative notes and some interesting photographs of Chaplin on the sound-stage conducting etc. Worth a listen.