Series of silent films sheds light on cinematic history, Cleveland composer JS Zamecnik


CLEVELAND, Ohio – Fasten your seatbelts, movie buffs and music lovers. You are about to travel back in time nearly 100 years.

Come and attend some or all of “The Music That Once Filled the Silence,” a festival and symposium celebrating Cleveland-born film composer John Stepan Zamecnik, and you’ll come away with a pretty solid idea of ​​what movies look and sound like. Movies in the 1920s.

“I’m thrilled,” said John Ewing, director of the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque, one of many local partners in the project launched by the Cleveland Arts Prize. “Nobody else has ever done anything like this, and we are precisely the ones to do it.”

Cleveland is the right place for several reasons. Not only was Zamecnik born here in 1872, he also regularly conducted shows at Cleveland’s Hermit Club and at the old Hippodrome Theatre, once one of the largest such venues in the country.

Beyond that, Cleveland was once a movie capital. A century ago, long before the Cleveland International Film Festival put northeast Ohio back on the map, Cleveland was an industry hub, a major producer of movie posters.

Zamecnik is “from this place,” said Daniel Goldmark, head of popular music studies at Case Western Reserve University and something of a Zamecnik scholar. “He has this connection. I think that’s pretty cool.”

Don’t be embarrassed if you haven’t heard of Zamecnik. Most people didn’t. Ewing, a silent film enthusiast, knew him, but Goldmark said he only met Zamecnik out of his own insatiable curiosity, through his studies of early comic book music, a medium that also dealt with the cartoon and easily told viewers what to think. and feel.

Whatever fame Zamecnik gained, it likely stems from his music for “Wings,” the 1927 film that won the first Best Picture Oscar and serves as the festival’s grand finale. Most film composers of the time, often including Zamecnik, worked anonymously or under pseudonyms, producing pools of music from which performers drew liberally, mixing and matching in similar scenes. Film compositions were simply not respected like high-level symphonies, concertos and operas.

“He’s a classic example of someone whose music you probably know but whose name you don’t know,” Goldmark said, noting that Zamecnik, like his peers, “put music into merchantable pieces, in a format that could be used by anyone”. musicians that we had in this theatre. If the music did the work, no one cared who wrote it. It was not a priority. »

Festival-goers will discover several versions of this chaotic world, in the most realistic way possible in 2022.

The series begins with a standalone concert of music by Dvorak, Zamecnik’s teacher at the Prague Conservatory, and Zamecnik himself, performed by members of the Cleveland Orchestra. This event also grants access to the Hermit Club, the historic venue near Playhouse Square where Zamecnik sometimes performed.

They will also discover silent films as many moviegoers of the 1920s would have experienced them: with live improvisation or without any music. Both versions will take place in Oberlin, with the help of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

“In my experience,” Ewing observed, “watching a silent movie with live music is much more pleasurable and aesthetically satisfying than watching a sound movie with the music playing live… the music can just go up soaring unhindered.”

More elaborate productions await you in the second half of the festival. After a round table on silent cinema, three films then come to the Cinémathèque, all with full musical accompaniment.

“Wings,” a newly restored war movie from Paramount Pictures, comes first, with a newly re-orchestrated and recorded score. Next, the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, conducted by Rodney Sauer, joins the party, contributing live accompaniment to Erich von Stroheim’s “The Wedding March” and its own Zamecnik mix to “Sunrise,” a silent film by FW Murnau.

Ewing said he looked forward to welcoming Mont Alto, the unparalleled experts in the field, back. “I really can’t think of another set that’s been around for so long and has such a reputation,” he said. “They use music from the era and try to interpret it authentically.”

“Authentic,” of course, might sound odd, Goldmark cautioned, more like “light classical” than what we think of as film music. The acting, too, can seem excessive, melodramatic to newcomers. “That part, people still have to get used to it,” he said.

But the effort should be worth it, Ewing said, and not just because “The Music That Once Filled the Silence” will shine a light on an overlooked art form and surprising Cleveland history.

When everything in a silent film with live music works as it should, Ewing said, “You really can’t put the experience into words, just like you can’t put the music to the words. “


3 p.m. Sunday, February 13

Hermit Club (1629 Dodge Ct., Cleveland)

“From the Hermit Club to Hollywood: A Music Concert by JS Zamecnik and Dvorak”

Featuring members of the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by violinist Isabel Trautwein. Rodney Sauer, director of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, will be on piano for the Zamecnik Piano Trio.

Tickets, $40, at

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, February 15

Birenbaum Innovation and Performance Space (10 E. College St., Oberlin)

Silent shorts accompanied live by the students of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music

Free entry.

8 p.m. Wednesday, February 16

Apollo Theater (19 E. College St., Oberlin)

Movie: “Steamboat Bill, Jr.”

Free entry.

4 p.m. on Friday, February 18

Harkness Chapel (11200 Bellflower Road, Cleveland)

“Silent Film Scoring for Working Musicians,” with Rodney Sauer, director of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and Daniel Goldmark, director of the Center for Popular Music Studies at CWRU

Free entry.

7 p.m. Friday, February 18

Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque (11610 Euclid Ave., Cleveland)

Movie: “Wings” (1927)

Tickets, $12, at

7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 19

Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque

Ciné-concert: “The Wedding March” (1929), with live accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

Tickets, $15, at

3:30 p.m. Sunday, February 20

Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque

Ciné-concert: “Sunrise” (1927), with an original score inspired by the music of Zamecnik, performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

Tickets, $15, at


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