1. While there are numerous very early spirit films, such as those by Méliès and the Lumieres from the late 19th century, there is little or no reliable evidence of what music was played for those, although we might make educated guesses that accompanists drew from the soundscapes of both séances and phantasmagoria shows as well as relying on well-known operatic and orchestral works like Camille Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre and similar pieces. But by the mid-teens, when musical suggestions for films became more popular and as studios and independent companies began to issue cue sheets, information about accompaniment creates much more of a paper trail, offering scholars a glimpse of how musicians were treating spirit films. Here I provide case studies for four films involving spirits: two films in which the spirits are intended to be quite real, and two in which it’s made clear that they are not. For all of these films, there is at least one extant document about the music for the film.


2. The first case studies involve music recommendations for two films in which there are actual ghosts, as opposed to burglars or others posing as ghosts. In the first of these, I focus on music for The Ghost of the Jungle (1916), in which in one version, a woman’s spirit rises from her body and then returns to it, and in another version, the ghost of the same woman leads her lover to his death. In the second, I examine music used for Earthbound (1920), a highly acclaimed movie in which the ghost of a murdered man becomes involved in improving the lives of those he hurt in life. The second set of case studies encompass music recommendations for two films in which the “ghosts” prove to be living people: the 1911 film The Ghost of the Vaults (1911) and The Ghost of Rosy Taylor (1918). Music columnists Max Winkler, George Beynon, and Clarence Sinn all wrote columns for their respective trade magazines discussing music for or offering recommendations for accompanying these films. These recommendations, some in the form of cue sheets without musical incipits, demonstrate how Winkler, Beynon, and Sinn were influenced by the sounds of spiritualism and draw from the established conventions of music for spirits in séances and elsewhere on the stage and in the cinema. The cues for these films also show how cinema musicians might display sympathy for and belief in spiritualism or their disdain for the movement. In addition, the cues allow accompanists to both capitalize on and satirize the popularity of spiritualism and spirit entertainments in the early twentieth century.

3. The two-reel Ghost of the Jungle has a fascinating history that illustrates some of the difficulties in doing research on early film and early film music. Made by Bison/Universal and released in 1916, the original version of the film featured a plot in which Anna, a young woman, is seduced away from her family’s African farm by Egbert, a man who has stolen from her family; when she takes ill in the jungle, he leaves her, and she dies. Some time later, Egbert gets lost in the jungle, and is guided by Anna’s avenging spirit down a river and into a deadly waterfall. Early announcements of the film focused on this aspect of the picture: the “supernatural and life after death enter in a large measure into the” film, wrote Moving Picture World. (“Stars” 1916, 2245) However, censorship caused the plot to be changed before the film could be exhibited in some cities. In the revised version of the film, Anna, instead of dying, is shown being nursed back to health in the jungle by a black woman (in the racist “mammy” mold popular in white movies of the time); when Egbert encounters her several years later, her father’s leopard kills him. A synopsis in Moving Picture World describes the original film:

A great deal of double exposure work was done in the picture and some of the “supernatural effects” have been admiringly commented upon. In one scene the heroine does of fever in the African jungle and her spirit is seen leaving her body when death comes. Her spirit again plats an important part in the development of the plot when it leads the man who left her alone to die to his own doom. She is seen leading the way down a raging torrent which ends in a waterfall and over this waterfall the man who has deserter her finally plunges to his death in a frail canoe. (“The Ghost” 1916, 2266)

Motography’s synopsis is even more blunt about the vengeful role of the ghost: “Egbert induces the daughter of a South African miner to rob her father and elope with him. After the elopement Anna is taken with fever and Egbert leaves her to die. Years later justice overtakes the unmanly deserter when Anna’s spirit form leads him to his death.” (“Brief Stories” 1916, 1465)

4. The film was not censored in all locations. For example, the Pennsylvania State Board of Censors of Motion Pictures approved the film in late 1915 for showing in its original form. (“List of Films” 1918, 148) But when the movie opened in Baltimore six months later, exhibitors showed the revised version, described here in the Baltimore Sun:

Charles Egbert, a handsome young prospector, makes love to Anna, daughter of Alhert DeWitt, a South African miner. Egbert persuades Anna to disclose the place where her father has his store of diamonds hidden and induces the girl to run away with him. The old man sets out on the long search for his daughter and his gems. Egbert and the girl are lost in the jungle. When she seems to be dying of fever Egbert deserts her. She is eventually nursed back to health by a kindly black woman. A year passes. One day while riding along the road Drake, a hunter, and Egbert see a wild man poised on the edge of the cliff, raising a huge rock to burl down upon him: but the ground upon which he is standing gives way and he is pitched forward and falls to the bottom of the cliff. Though unconscious the man still lives, so Drake picks him up and carts him away to his cabin.

The fall has restored the old man’s memory, which for the past few years had been an utter blank. He tells his story to Drake and his partner. Egbert is horrified to find that it is DeWitt, father of the girl he had ruined and deserted. Egbert determines to take the bag of diamonds and escape. A baby leopard, which has been his pet, has followed DeWitt to the cabin. As Egbert starts to run out Anna rushes into the hut. Terror-stricken he stares at the girl. Her father takes her in his arms. As the deserter and thief breaks & the door the leopard springs upon him. (“Ghost” 1916, 39)

Even in this revised version, the scene in which Anna’s soul appears to leave her body is retained, although the changes eliminate the scenes showing the spirit’s agency in killing Egbert. In this version, she is a benevolent—and temporary—spirit, rather than a frightening or grotesque one.

5. As a result of the censorship, it is not always apparent what music was used for what version of the film. Max Winkler made musical recommendations for Ghost of the Jungle in Moving Pictures Weekly in June 1916, when both versions of the film were in circulation. (See Fig 3.1.) Winkler refers to intertitles in his cues, but because of the versioning issue, it’s unclear whether these intertitles were the same in both versions or whether they were changed for the revision. (Winkler 1916, 40.) Winkler’s selections seem suggest that he had the revised version of the film in mind when writing, as he refers to “The fight” as a cue that comes late in the film and which I take to mean the leopard’s attack.

Fig. 3.1. Winkler’s suggestions for The Ghost of the Jungle

If he is writing about the revision of the film in which Anna lives, Winkler appears to be proposing that the accompanist for the picture use “Rosemary” for the part of the film including her apparent death. “Rosemary” is appropriate and in keeping with cinema musicians’ musical preferences for spirits. Winkler doesn’t list a composer for “Rosemary,” but it’s likely that he’s referring to Edward Elgar’s “Rosemary,” the English composer’s 1915 revision of his 1882 Douce Pensée for piano trio. “Rosemary” was also published in 1915 for use in the theater in several arrangements by film composer and arranger Albert Ketelbey, so it would have been known and widely available to cinema musicians. Elgar’s piece is subtitled “That’s for Remembrance,” quoting English flower lore and Ophelia’s mad scene in Hamlet, and is certainly a work that could be used to indicate death and the presence of a spirit. Of the two possible pieces for representing Anna’s spirit leaving her body—the other is Theodore Bendix’s “Sweet Jasmine”—“Rosemary” seems most likely, both in terms of the title’s significance and the music itself. Although Elgar had composed it early in his career, he returned to it to revise it during the First World War, when many of his works addressed the losses of the conflict. Marked “Andante,” Elgar’s short piece opens with a four-measure introduction that consists of a repeated descending dotted-eighth and sixteenth-note gesture that appears again briefly in the middle of the piece and at the very end. It then settles into a through-form series of a statement of a primary theme followed by the theme taken up an octave, the metrical displacement of the theme, a con passione section in which there is a change of texture in the left hand, and a final iteration of the theme. Elgar calls for rolled chords, which mimic the glissando of a harp and are, as noted earlier, a frequent signifier of death and afterlife in music for silent film, and almost constant sostenuto, which contributes to a languid, serene, floating character. The piece’s sectional and non-developmental form would allow accompanists to stop the piece at several points and add on their own cadences for closure to a scene.

6. “Rosemary” is exactly the kind of salon music Meyer-Frazier describes as an essential part of a woman’s repertoire during this period (See Chapter Two), and much of the music Winkler recommends for accompanying the film would have been easy to source from a woman’s personal music library. He suggests a generic “Intermezzo” for the beginning, a piece-type frequently gendered as women’s music for its brevity, lightness, and lack of technical demands; he also suggests Theodore Bendix’s “Sweet Jasmine,” which was originally published in 1906 and was republished several times thereafter. It was a popular piece: it appears in several archives of music from silent cinemas, and Winkler recommends it for accompanying numerous other films. In addition to suggesting it for Ghost of the Jungle, Winkler also recommended “Sweet Jasmine” in his columns for Moving Pictures Weekly that it be used for the themes for the 1917 films The Forbidden Game (Winkler 1917a, 40), Man of the Hour (Winkler 1917b, 40), and Flame of Youth (Winkler 1917c, 40); and others. These many uses of “Sweet Jasmine” document its availability and playability for cinema musicians. Similarly, “To a Star: Romance,” which Winkler intends for the end of the film after the leopard attack, was originally composed as a salon piece by H. Léonard, but was adapted for theater musicians by film composer and arranger Richard E. Hildreth and published in Jacobs’ Orchestra Monthly in 1912; it may have been republished in piano albums of character pieces in 1914 and 1914 edited by Nicolo S. Calamara. “To a Star” was advertised as “movie music” for love scenes in Jacobs’ Band Monthly in November, 1919. (Jacobs’ 1919, 19) Carl Kerssen’s “Hurry” is from the composer’s pieces for the operetta stage, while Bendix’s “Meeting” is a generic piece written specifically for the cinema.

7. The Ghost of the Jungle appears to be a lost film, in both its original form and in the revised version created after it ran afoul of the censorship boards, and while a single photograph of the set circulated in some publications, there also seem to be no extant documents showing the double exposure effects of Anna’s spirit leaving her body or guiding Egbert to his death. However, Winkler’s cues survive and provide a glimpse of how this early spirit film would have been accompanied, and that accompaniment is very much in keeping with the strategies developed for musically indicating the presence of spirits in the séance and other theatrical traditions, as well as the practice of drawing from the salon repertoire so often targeted at women. The use of “Rosemary”—and its genre—as a typical signifier of spirit presence is further confirmed and reified in the musical recommended and used for Earthbound.

8. Directed by T. Hayes Hunter for Goldwyn Pictures in 1920, Earthbound is one of the best examples of a feature-length spirit film. It cannily tapped into the interest in spiritualism without satirizing or mocking it, as many of the fake-ghost films do. Writing of the film’s popularity, Motion Picture Magazine noted, “this production comes at an opportune time, too, when people everywhere are extremely interested in this phase of living—or dying.” (“Across” 1920, 76) Motion Picture News agreed, writing, “Press and public, despite difference of opinion as to the meaning, the aim and varied qualities combined in the production of Earthbound, agree that it is a milestone. In film circles it is one of the most prevalent subjects of conversation, argument and general discussion. It has supplied food for thought,” later reaffirming its place as, “The picture for the hour dealing with subject all are interested in.” (“Hayes Hunter” 1920, 1911; “What the Big Houses Say,” 1920, 2979) The plot, based on a novel of the same title by Basil King, is simple: Jim Rittenshaw discovers that his wife Daisy is having an affair with Jim’s friend Richard Desborough. Enraged, Jim murders Richard, but Richard soon learns that he cannot go straight to an eternal reward, but must first make amends by positively influencing the lives of those he has hurt during his life. Double-exposures were used to create images of Richard’s ghost. (See Fig. 3.2.)

Fig. 3.2.Richard’s spirit in Earthbound.

9. Earthbound premiered simultaneously in New York at the Astor, one of many theaters run by Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel in the city, and at Chicago’s Playhouse theater in August 1920. It was an enormous success. Goldwyn Pictures heavily promoted the spiritualist angle of the film, writing that

The public, the critics, the producers and the exhibitors are agreed that it is the big success which the advance notices of the photodrama of life after death predicted it  would be. Never has picture called forth such words of praise as have been accorded to Earthbound. Its theme, life after death, or the continuity of consciousness as the psychologists phrase it has a universal appeal. (“Earthbound is Approved” 1920, 1696)

The film was held over for multiple weeks in New York and Chicago, and was given special screening nights for American and foreign dignitaries in those cities. (“Extend” 1920, 1891) In Oregon, when the film opened two days before its originally scheduled screenings, the theater hired a woman to call “a thousand patrons, clergymen, Christian Science practitioners, spiritualists and others especially interested in stories of this type,” resulting in full houses. (“Stunts,” 1920, 59) Interest in the picture caused Mayflower Photoplay Corporation president Benjamin A. Prager to write an op-ed declaring that while in the past filmmakers shied away from religiously themed movies, films like Earthbound and others made the same year, such as The Miracle Man, these films proved that audiences would support “skillfully handled ‘religious pictures,’” in which they were neither preached to nor subject to the “dramatization of a sectarian creed.” (Prager 1920, 90)

10. To achieve this kind of success with the film in other locations, exhibitors were told, theater managers needed to take advantage “of all of the unusual and unique angles for exploitation which Earthbound enables.” Goldwyn Pictures published a “campaign book” of ideas and tactics to bring audiences to the film. (“Feature”1920, 2074) Theaters used “unique effects, lighting, draperies, fixtures, etc.,” in keeping with the film and its themes to advertise the picture. (“Earthbound Opens” 1920, 2433) Miller’s Theater in Los Angeles closed for four days before it screened Earthbound for the first time in order to make “special arrangements for the presentation, arranging the stage, lights, music, etc.” (“Earthbound is Booked” 1920, 2436) When the Capitol—one of Rothafel’s New York cinemas—scheduled its first screening, between 16-18,000 people saw the film on its first day. (“The sale of tickets,” 1920, 2651)

11. Rothafel, whose publicity, marketing, and “stunting” of films—what we might call gimmick or viral advertising today—was unsurpassed, created not just one unchanging musical accompaniment for the film but a mix of pieces that he changed, added to, or subtracted from based on external factors. He initially developed a score that was based on three themes: the harvest song from Verdi’s Forzza del Destino; the popular song “Oh Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms,” which was a staple of cinema accompanists for a wide swath of sentimental scenes; and “Kamennoi-Ostrow (Rocky Islands),” a piano piece by Anton Rubenstein that uses several devices associated with the benevolent supernatural: tremolo; a minor key with occasional forays into the relative major; high, oscillating pitches that accompany the melody; and a dramatic, rhythm-driven, lower-pitched section that eventually rises to resolution in a higher tessitura. (“Earthbound is Approved”) Only a few weeks after the film’s premiere, however, Goldwyn changed the score slightly to try to appeal to an even wider audience than those already targeted.

L. Rothafel has arranged a special musical setting for the picture, which includes numbers presented last week, a Festival Chorus is offered in appreciation of Yom Kippur. The Andante and Allegro Marziale from Tschaikowsky’s “Symphonie Pathetique” is another of the orchestral overtures and there is also a ballet solo by  Mlle Gambarelli.” (Advertisement 1920, 2520)

In including the festival chorus—which is unidentified but may well be Max Bruch’s well-known and popular Kol Nidre, a piece often identified with Jewish life in the cinemaRothafel was covering all his bases with the musical program leading up to the start of the film and the music that accompanied it. And while the film was most often praised for its moral message from a Christian point of view, acknowledging Yom Kippur was a canny way of suggesting that the film might appeal to more religiously diverse audiences. Rothafel continued to make adjustments to the accompaniment as the film continued to play to sell-out audiences. Rothafel’s success clearly inspired theater managers and musical directors in other cities. Miller’s Theater in Los Angeles gave the film “an atmospheric presentation patterned on the one at the Astor theater,” including vocal solos by Melba French Barr, a California-based soprano who often performed for Hollywood events. (“With First Run Theaters” 1920, 2975)

12. Other theaters sought to introduce and accompany the film with different musical fare: in Chicago it was accompanied at Barber’s Theater by an orchestral performance of the overture to von Suppe’s The Poet and the Peasant and von Nikolai’s Merry Wives of Windsor overture on the organ. (“Chicago,” Motion Picture News, October 2, 1920, 2596) The New Theater in Baltimore was also reported as having “shown [Earthbound] with a special musical presentation.” (“Baltimore,” 1920, 1648) In Salt Lake City, there was extensive religious and musical staging for the film:

It was opened by dimming up blue footlights in an absolutely dark house. Then a harpist played “For All Eternity” very softly, swelling in volume to the chorus, which was picked up by the orchestra, with harp and orchestra continuing until the end. The entire song was repeated by a quartette back stage, with full musical accompaniment from the orchestra pit. As the quartette started the song, the front curtain rose very slowly, disclosing a cross on the left of the stage. As the curtain rose, the blue border lights were dimmed up. At the conclusion of the song, a halo appeared at stage right. [….] Then all lights out amid the rumble of thunder and the flash of lightning which continue until the first title is thrown on the screen, when the orchestra comes in with a heavy selection from Forza del Destino on the last thunder crash. (“Fine Earthbound Prologue” 1921, 1628)

The creators of this musical accompaniment were canny, catering to those who believed in spiritualism and those who did not. In this instance, the unseen vocalists function as the originators of spirit voices, just as a medium’s voice might in a séance. The vocalists—like the originators of sound in the séance—are disembodied (much like cinema organists) and it is only through sound that the audience would have known of their presence. That the singers remain unseen while the orchestra accompanies them from the pit suggests that their presence could well be entirely spiritual, for they remain invisible all while the orchestra recognizes their presence through the accompaniment.

13. The version “For All Eternity” used in this presentation was most likely an English translation and publication of “Eternamente,” (1891) by Italian composer Angelo Mascheroni (1855-1905). “For All Eternity” and been made popular by famous opera singers Adelina Patti and Enrico Caruso, who recorded the song in 1902 or 1903. The song was available in multiple keys; with and without violin obbligato, for piano solo, duet, cornet and orchestra, and military band; and appears in a number of American sheet music collections. The English lyrics of the song, written by S. A. Herbert, reference spells, magic, spirits, and an afterlife in which the dead can communicate and control a living person, all parts of spiritualist belief. For the (non-spiritualist) Christians in the audience, the harp connotes the heaven of the Christian afterlife. The music itself contains common signifiers of the supernatural: sustained chords with arpeggiated or scalar melodic lines floating above; sudden dynamic and textural changes to mark works like “shadows;” an intense middle section propelled by unceasing eighth note triplets for passages explicitly about death; and, after some minor key excursions, an end in the major key. Like Rothafel’s incorporation of the Kol Nidre as a way to appeal to Jewish patrons, the use of “For All Eternity” allowed the Salt Lake City theater to cater to both spiritualist and Christian audiences, including its leading local demographic, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

14. Similarly, the Isis theater in Lynchberg, Virginia, used a presentation developed by the theater’s manager and a Goldwyn Pictures “exploiter,” or marketing employee.

Colored light effects were used, red and blue alternately, on the hangings until the scene in which the wronged husband shoots his closest friend. At that point the entire house was plunged into darkness and from the pipe organ a human voice was released. A tenor with a beautiful lyric voice was placed in the organ chamber at the rear of the screen. The sounding of his voice in the auditorium of the theater was controlled by the organist by means of the shutter pedals. The tenor san Massenet’s beautiful “Elegie.” The organist used the Vox Humana stop, playing in unison with the singer, so that the audience was unable to tell which was singer and which was organ. It gave an unusually eerie effect to the singing of the “Elegie.” (“Barrett” 1921, 2930)

This entire scenario is borrowed from the séance, including the use of a piece associated with death, disembodied voices, the voice-like organ effect, and the enveloping darkness.

15. Max Winkler published a set of cues for Earthbound in the October 16, 1920 issue of Motion Picture News (3067) along with cues for another Goldwyn film, Prisoners of Love, and two other features. Winkler, like many music columnists for the film trade publications, was certainly not beneath promoting his own generic works and pieces by his colleagues for the movie, and so his cue sheet lists several pieces by prolific film composers Maurice Baron, Sol Levy, Sol Levy’s alter-ego/pen name Paul Vely, Gaston Borch, and himself. Winkler recommends as the main theme “Romusical Thought” by Titlebaum. This unusual title is likely the result a typographical error: Titlebaum copyrighted a piano piece called “A Musical Thought: Reverie” in 1917, and this is probably what Winkler intends as the theme for Earthbound. The other recommendations are as follows (“T” indicates an intertitle):

1— Theme (1 minute and 10 seconds); until — S: At screening.  

2— Continue to action (3 minutes and 30 seconds), until — T: “In Jim Rittenshaw’s office.”   3 — Theme (3 minutes and 25 seconds), until — T: “At the Rittenshaw home.”  

4 — “Queen of My Heart” (Sentimental ballad), by Baron (2 minutes and 45 seconds), until — T: “The De Windt home where.”  

5 — Theme (6 minutes and 5 seconds), until — T: “The love call.”  

6 — “Dramatic Suspense,” by Winkler (2 minutes and 50 seconds), until — T: “And dearie, if people.”

7 — “Cavatine” (Dramatic), by Bohm (4 minutes and 40 seconds), until — T: “No man has secrets from.”  

8— “Dramatic Recitative No. 2,” by Levy (3 minutes and 15 seconds), until — T: “When Caroline misused love.”  

9 — “Tragic Theme,” by Vely (4 minutes and 5 seconds), until — T: “When Daisy used love wantonly.”  

10 — “Andante Dramatico” (For dramatic emotion), by Borch (3 minutes), until — T: “When Jim’s love turned.”  

11 — “Andante Doloroso” (Depicting pathetic emotion), by Borch (4 minutes), until — S: Dick falls downstairs.  

12 — Theme (4 minutes and 10 seconds), until — T: “An earthbound presence.”  

13 — “Dramatic Tension” (Moderato agitato, descriptive), by Borch (6 minutes and 35 seconds), until — T: “Spirit moves with the.”  

14 — Organ solo improvise, “Nearer My God to Thee” (2 minutes and 25 seconds), until — T: “Seeking the way of the.”  

15 — “Dreams of Devotion” (Sacred dramatic), by Langey (2 minutes and 50 seconds), until — T: “The impulse of the evil.”  

16 — “Omnipotence” (Sacred dramatic), by Schubert (5 minutes and 25 seconds), until — S: Flashback to interior of cathedral.  

17 — Theme (2 minutes), until — T: “Your struggles with conscience.”  

18 – “Twilight Reverie,” by Berge (5 minutes and 10 seconds), until — T: “We know, fellows, we can.”  

19 — “Poeme Symphonique” (And quasi adagio), by Borch (4 minutes and 50 seconds), until — T: “Within an hour I should have.”  

20 — Theme ff (3 minutes and 20 seconds), until — T: “Take me home, Harvey.”

16. Titlebaum’s piece, published in a variety of arrangements in the 1920s, appears in the 1922 Belwin Folio of Melodic Gems, Vol. 1, alongside Cecil Kappey’s “Indian Reverie;” Maurice Baron’s “Song of Zion: Hebrew Lament” and “Lamento;” “Baby Dreams, Petite Reverie” by S. Boyaner; and Al Morton’s “Golden Morning, Reverie.” All of the works in this collection, while categorized by the publisher as “melodic,” are also connected through their self-declared melancholy and dream-like or liminal moods. Titlebaum’s “Musical Thought” in particular is appropriate for associating with a spirit film. In E minor, it begins with a dirge-like introductory motif that rises melodically and then falls, with the fall accompanied by syncopation, which here destabilizes the regularity of the first three measures. (See Fig. 3.3.)

Fig. 3.3. Mm 1-4 of “Musical Thought” by Titlebaum.

The syncopation moves to an inner voice and is repressed by the outer lines, which move in steady, on-beat progressions, all while the melody continues to replicate the funereal motif of a dotter quarter followed by an eighth note, ghosting famous funeral marches from the concert repertoire. A B section offers some slightly different textures, but no real development: the harmony moves along the cycle of fifths, and the piece remains focused on the funeral march motif. Rising staccato eighths lead to the return of E minor and the repeat of the A material; a short cadenza for a solo violinist outlines the dominant before the coda returns to an ornamented version of the A section and the end of the piece. “A Musical Thought” is ideal for cinema use: it is brief, contains numerous repetitions, moves in a harmonically predictable way, lacks significant development and correlating technical difficulty, and was available in several arrangements appropriate for cinema ensembles. The piece’s inclusion of stingers, phrases that increase in tension and are resolved quickly, and staccato gestures are all representative of Lang and West’s recommendations for supernatural films. If the performer leaves out the syncopations in the A section and modifies the harmony slightly, the result is a hymn-like excerpt that could signify the final departure of the film’s spirit.

17. Although “Queen of My Heart” is only listed once in Winkler’s cue sheet once, it’s likely that accompanists used it or a short excerpt of it at other places during the film to represent the women of the film. With both words and music written by film composer Maurice Baron, “Queen of My Heart” is remarkably like many spiritualist songs of the period, referencing the wonders of existence and the permanence of true love, even beyond death. Lines about magic and power and those like “I have chanted the joys of my dreamboat a-sailing/Out beyond the blue mists/Where the sea meets the sky” suggest afterlives and reunion in an afterlife. And like contemporary songs that signified life after death, Baron’s contains languid melodic lines, chords to be rolled like the strumming of a harp, and near-continuous sostenuto. Baron includes some moderate text painting and creates a musical atmosphere suitable for a spiritualist service and perfectly apt for accompanying the mourning wives of Earthbound.

18. “Nearer, My God, to Thee” was a popular and well-known hymn in 1920, and was included in both Methodist hymnals, whence it had originated, and in the Spiritualist Hymnal published in 1911 by the National Spiritualist Association. It would have been very familiar to the film-going public: it was played at the funeral of President William McKinley in 1901 and then achieved even more fame as supposedly having been played by the ship band while the RMS Titanic sank in 1912. Edison released a recording of the hymn in 1913 to capitalize on this story, which remains apocryphal, and multiple composers created new arrangements and even entirely new settings of the text around the same time. It became a popular piece for improvising musicians to use in concerts, particularly among organists.

19. Aside from the art song by Franz Schubert composed in 1825, the other pieces Winkler recommends are newer works written specifically for the cinema. These do what the titles indicate: provide suspense, tension, or a sense of tragedy. Like Titlebaum’s “Musical Thought,” they are sectional, tonal, and easily understood as representative of on-screen emotions and actions. Borch’s “Andante Doloroso,” which accompanies Richard’s death, mimics the action of his fall down the stairs with a descending, rhythmically irregular melody line accompanied by descending eighth notes, and Berge’s “Twilight Reverie” incorporates tremolo, quickening eighth notes mimicking a racing heartbeat, and pitches in a high tessitura at the end, typical of music representing spirits.

20. The various musical selections recommended and used for Earthbound indicate that the public was aware of the music and sounds of spiritualism to the point that these pieces, techniques, and effects could be used to accompany spirit films without the need for explanation. The pieces referenced by the press on Rothafel’s accompaniments, those listed in Winkler’s column, and the others mentioned in trade magazines and papers all suggest that scoring for spirits developed from the sounds and songs of the séance, from the recommendations of accompaniment textbooks like Lang and West’s, and from selected musical tropes also shared by early horror films—tropes that also overlap with melodrama (Leonard 2018).

Not Ghosts

21. The Ghost of the Vaults is one of the earliest films involving the idea of ghosts for which we have musical recommendations from a published magazine. The first mention of the music for it comes in a column by Clarence Sinn, and the same column addresses the then-still-ongoing debate about whether “silent dramas” should be accompanied at all and provides general advice to cinema musicians about accompaniment practices. (Sinn 1911, 32)

22. Made in Denmark, The Ghost of the Vaults was released in the United States in June 1911, where a reviewer for Moving Picture World remarked that “The whole film is ghostly but perhaps will be more popular for that,” suggesting that the demand for anything with spirits in it, real or not, was high. (“The Ghost of the Vaults” 1911, 1587) The film’s plot focuses on a love triangle. A young woman wishes to marry a blacksmith, but her father wants her to marry her cousin. The cousin discovers that the father keeps his gold in a vault beneath his house and follows him to steal it. As the cousin begins to dig out the gold, the woman appears, walking in her sleep, and the cousin takes her for a ghost. Surprised, the cousin falls into and is trapped in the vault; the blacksmith and father then appear, and the cousin is denounced.

23. Writing about the music that was played for the film at Sitner’s Theater in New York City, Sinn praised the music director’s choices of using the “Pilgrim’s Chorus” and “Song of the Evening Star” from Wagner’s Tannhauser; a Chopin waltz; generic agitato music; and what Sinn called “Beethoven’s Funeral March (“On the Death of A Hero”)” for the scene in the vault where a ghostly presence is suggested. Sinn wrote of the Beethoven that it was “handled beautifully” by the theater musicians, continuing

First it was given as a funeral march fitting the ghostly character of the scene; then a mysterious character was given to the number, running through the sleep-walking scene and changing at the last to a decided agitato effect (this last occurring principally in the second strain of the march—the three sharps strain). The finish of this scene was a melodramatic “hurry.” The manner of adapting the funeral march to several different phases of dramatic situation exemplifies what I have often contended, viz: that the manner in which your music is played is quite as important as the kind of music you play. [emphasis in original] (Sinn 1911)

All of the music Sinn cites here is in keeping with the music used for séances and spirit films, including those in which the spirits are real, as documented in Earthbound. While Chopin’s “Funeral March” was recommended or cited more often than that from Beethoven’s third symphony as appropriate for use in accompanying silent films, Beethoven’s was used extensively to provide a soundscape for death, dying, and funerals in early film. It was also, along with Chopin’s march, frequently recorded in the early years of recording technology, and was sold as appropriate for use in the cinema for death scenes and burials. Ernst Luz, writing for Moving Picture News in 1912, states he always categorizes funeral marches as “plaintive,” and should be used for “great misery, processionals to execution, funerals and burials.” (Luz 1912, 16) Funeral marches as a genre were also recommended for kidding films and for use in black comedies. In 1910, Sinn recommended the use of a funeral march in the comedy A Live Corpse, writing, “a dirge or other lugubrious tune makes a comedy duel all the funnier.” (Sinn 1910, 1285) Thus the march recommended by Sinn was doubly appropriate for The Ghost of the Vaults.

24. The Ghost of Rosy Taylor, a five-reel film starring Mary Miles Minter and based on a short story by Josephine Daskam Bacon published in the Saturday Evening Post, opened in July 1918, and its musical aesthetics recommended for it, too, are exemplary for both real ghosts and for kidding comedic scenes. (See Fig. 3.4.)  The plot was summed up by Motography the month the film came out:

Rhonda Eldridge Sayles was a little American girl living in Paris. When her father died, leaving her almost penniless, she returned to the land of her birth. Convent-trained, she was an excellent little housekeeper, and when by chance a note intended for Rosy Taylor ordered someone to put Mrs. Du Vivier’s big house in order, Rhonda took the job. Mrs. Du Vivier was absent. When she returned she was delighted with the work of Rosy Taylor, until she learned that the real Rosy Taylor had died several months before. Then the mystery began. (“Mutual” 1918, 85)

Fig. 3.4. Mary Miles Minter in The Ghost of Rosy Taylor.

In the end, Sayles turns out to be an heiress, and attracts the attention of the homeowner’s bachelor son. As Exhibitors Herald notes, the plot “cannot be said to be highly original,” but the film was deemed to have good entertainment value by the Herald and other trade journals, and was heavily advertised. The trade magazines recommended playing up the ghostly aspect of the film. Wid’s [later Film] Daily counseled exhibitors:

If you are going to play this, I would put all of my emphasis on the ghost idea by having ads with catch lines such as: “Do you believe in ghosts?” “Have you ever seen a ghost?” “What would you do if you saw a ghost?” etc. (Wid’s Daily 1918, 20)

As with many spirit films in which the spirits are revealed to be quite living, there is a certain amount of physical comedy in the film, even while director Henry King was praised for “successfully translating to the screen the atmosphere of mystery and romance” in the story upon which the film is based. (“Miss Minter” 1918, 75)

25. Music is referenced directly in the film at 3:05, where Stephen Foster’s “Old Black Joe” is overlaid on top of images of a door opening and shutting, while Mrs. Du Vivier and her friend seek to “rout the ghost” from the house. The overlay of the song clearly indicates that the two women hear someone singing Foster’s song, which speaks to death, dying, and going to heaven. This is confirmed when one of the women hearing the music identifies the song as “Rosy Taylor’s favorite” in the intertitles and assumes it is her spirit singing. (See Fig. 3.5a-c.) “Old Black Joe” reappears at 41:35, where the film returns to the scenario in which Mrs. Du Vivier and her friend believe Sayles to be the ghost of Rosy Taylor. As before, the melody line and lyrics are laid over the images, which show Sayles polishing a bedframe. It’s highly likely that accompanists played at least a bit of the song at this point in showings, although it goes unremarked-on in reviews. The use of an overlay with the melody line and lyrics is reminiscent of the showing of song slides in cinemas, which showed the music and words for popular songs on a glass slide, usually along with an image. These were for singalongs, which were common in first vaudeville and vaudefilm houses and later in theaters more dedicated to moving pictures. (Morgan-Ellis 2018)

Fig. 3.5a. Song is superimposed on the film, suggesting that the ghost of Rosy Taylor can be heard by the women. Here: “for my head is bending low.”

Fig. 3.5b. Here: “…the voices calling Old Black Joe.”

Fig. 3.5c. Intertitle: “Rosy Taylor’s favorite song.”

26. George W. Beynon made brief musical recommendations for The Ghost of Rosy Taylor. Writing for Moving Picture World, Beynon suggested a generic andante for the film’s theme, and made more specific recommendations of “Extase” by Louis Ganne, “The Herd Girl’s Dream” by August Labitsky [sic], and Ethelbert Nevin’s “Narcisse.” He commented that there needed to be a distinct change of musical atmosphere when the film moves from France to America, and that the film’s overall score should be “very pathetic,” with sorrowful scenes accompanied by “long selections” to maintain continuity. Beynon further noted that a cue sheet could be obtained for the film from the studio, American Film Co., but this appears to have been lost. (Beynon 1918, 677-78)

27. “Extase,” composed by Ganne sometime before or around 1900, appears in numerous editions and for various instrumentations, including a cello, piano, and orchestra version published in France in 1900 and a 1914 version for voice and piano, when it is additionally titled “reverie.” An orchestral score that belonged to the music library of the Haarlem (Netherlands) operetta society shows the piece to be similar to the generic pieces American composers were writing for the cinema. It begins with rolled chords in the harp and a melancholy, singing line in the cello. This introductory material soon gives way to a section in which the melody is transferred to the first violins and the winds play staccato eighth notes, much like the mimetic music for sneaking or tiptoeing or to create suspense. Given the piece’s slight dynamic swells from piano to mezzo-forte, stingers, and tremolo passages, it could easily have been used to accompany the scenes in which Mrs. Du Vivier and her friend sneak into the house and up the stairs, fully believing that Sayles is the ghost of Rosy Taylor. Passages later in the piece could also be easily matched up with parts of the film according to the aesthetic of the period.

28. The other pieces Beynon recommends—“The Herd Girl’s Dream” by Czech composer Labitzky and Pittsburgh-based Nevin’s “Narcisse”—were both composed for salon orchestras and, once made available in the United States, promptly became used by vaudeville and cinema musicians. Both were also recorded for home and cinema use by HMV and Victor. “The Herd Girl’s Dream” is a pastoral waltz, while “Narcisse,” from Nevin’s Water Scenes: Five Pieces for the Pianoforte, op. 13, is one of a set of character pieces of the kind popular with cinema musicians. With a languid A section and a slightly more active B section, it is quiet and tranquil, and Beynon likely intended it to be used for the sadder scenes of the movie.


The music recommended for or documented as having been used to accompany these four spirit films illustrates a clear influence from the séance and “women’s music”—parlor songs, character pieces, and the like. It also shows the use of genre music for the cinema that was focused on the spirit as opposed to gruesome or body horror. Although some recommendations are for pre-existing classical works with equally pre-existing significations—the funeral marches by Beethoven and Chopin, for example—suggestions for film scores in general shift away from operatic and concert works during this period and instead promote new music for the film, even if those pieces are derivative of existing concert pieces (like Danse Macabre and its many imitations intended for cinematic use). This indicates that cinema musicians found much of the new generic music more suitable or easier to acquire and play (or both) than more traditional repertoire. Pre-existing classical pieces never left the cinema and remain present today, often carrying with them very long-standing meanings, but aspects of generic music were clearly more attractive to film accompanists than those of works for the stage or concert hall. These aspects included very direct musical citations of scene, in which, for music for spirits, well-established and continually reified tropes like glissandi, bell-like music in the upper tessitura of the piano and organ, hymn-like passages, and the long, dreamy melody lines of reveries; non-developmental pieces. Other factors that made generic music popular were their highly sectional forms and lack of very demanding technique. Numerous works were written to fit these preferences, as seen in Chapter Two and in the music used for spirit films analyzed in this chapter. Because of the ease of which performers could play and categorize generic music, cinema libraries acquired more of it than of works adapted from concert pieces for cinema orchestras. Ernst Luz’s color-coded system of creating scores relied on the quick and obvious categorization of generic pieces so that cinema music directors could rapidly arrange a score for films even if they didn’t have all of the pieces recommended by a cue sheet. This and other methods of categorization led to a broad set of signifiers for film music, including music for ghosts. By the end of the silent era, the repertoire deemed appropriate for spirits had become fairly codified into the tropes listed above: glissandi, bells, hymns, and the use of sentimental, pathetic, or plaintive melodies. In humorous spirit films, the exception to these was the use of overly serious or melodramatic music to kid the action. These persist into sound film and contribute to the soundscape of the comedic ghost movie, which I examine in Chapter Four.


“Across the Silversheet.” 1920. Motion Picture Magazine. November.

“Baltimore Uses Novelty Float for Earthbound.” 1920. Motion Picture News. February 16.

“Barrett Works Out Clever Presentation Number.” 1921. Motion Picture News. May 7.

Beynon, George. 1918. “Music for the Picture.” Moving Picture World. August 3.

“Brief Stories of the Week’s Film Releases.” 1916. Motography. June 24.

“Chicago.” 1920. Motion Picture News. October 2.

Earthbound Advertisement. 1920. Motion Picture News. October 2.

Earthbound is Approved.” 1920. Motion Picture News. August 28.

Earthbound is Booked by Miller’s Theater.” 1920. Motion Picture News. September 25.

Earthbound Opens at the Capitol.” 1920. Motion Picture News. September 25.

“Extend Runs of Earthbound.” 1920. Motion Picture News. September 4.

“Feature Runs 8 Weeks.” 1920. Motion Picture News. September 11.

“Fine Earthbound Prologue.” 1921. Motion Picture News. February 26.

Ghost of the Jungle: South African Drama.” 1916. Baltimore Sun. June 25.

The Ghost of the Jungle.” 1916. Moving Picture World. June 24.

The Ghost of the Vaults.” 1911. Moving Picture World. July 8.

“Hayes Hunter, Director of Earthbound.” 1920. Motion Picture News. September 4.

Jacobs’ Band Monthly. 1919. November.

Leonard, Kendra Preston. 2018. “Musical Mimesis in Orphans of the Storm.” Music Theory Online 24, no. 2 (June).

“List of Films, Reels and Views Examined.” 1918. Pennsylvania State Board of Censors of Motion Pictures.

Luz, Ernst. 1912. “Picture Music.” Moving Picture News. November 16.

“Miss Minter Heads Mutual Bill.” 1918. Motography. July 13.

Morgan-Ellis, Esther. 2018. Everybody Sing! Community Singing in the American Picture Palace. University of Georgia Press.

“Mutual.” 1918. Motography. July 13.

Prager, Benjamin A. 1920. “Thinks Religious Prejudice is Passing.” Exhibitors Herald. October 16.

“The sale of tickets.” 1920. Motion Picture News. October 2.

Sinn, Clarence. 1910. “Music for the Picture.” Moving Picture World. December 3.

———. 1911. “Music for the Picture.” Moving Picture World. July 15.

“Stars Shine in Universals for June 19.” 1916. Moving Picture World. June 24.

“Stunts.” 1920. Exhibitors Herald. December 18.

“What the Big Houses Say.” 1920. Motion Picture News. October 16

Wid’s Daily. 1918. July 14.

Winkler, Max. 1916. “Music for the Week of June 19, 1916.” Moving Pictures Weekly. June 10.

———. 1917a. “Music for Love Aflame.” Moving Pictures Weekly. January 27.

———. 1917b. “Music for Man of the Hour.” Moving Pictures Weekly. April 14.

———. 1917c. “Music for The Flame of Youth and the Universal Program.” Moving Pictures Weekly. June 16.

———. 1920. “Earthbound.” Motion Picture News. October 16.

“With First Run Theaters.” 1920. Motion Picture News.

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