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Paul Sommerfeld, Ph.D., Senior Music Reference Specialist, Music Division
Created: April 17, 2023
Last Updated: May 4, 2023
The Library of Congress Music Division holds one of the largest collections in the world of music for silent film. Included are scores for over 300 specific films, over 1,500 cue sheets, and over 4,000 items of photoplay music (that is, stock music written specifically for silent film accompaniment). Several of the films these scores accompanied are now lost; the scores provide one of the few means of studying what the films might have been when they premiered. Also included are thousands of arrangements for salon orchestra that were frequently used in silent film accompaniment. The Music Division likewise holds contemporary instruction books on accompanying silent films and special collections with silent film scores, correspondence, and other contextualizing documents.
This research guide provides an overview of how to use and navigate the Library's extensive collections of material relevant to researching music for silent films. Although the primary focus is given to the Music Division's collections, this guide provides information on locating newspapers and periodicals in the Library's collections as well as some relevant materials accessed in the Recorded Sound and Moving Image Research Centers, Prints and Photographs Division, and Manuscript Division.
Contact the Moving Image Research Center directly for information on viewing silent films.
The Music Division has a digital collection that includes many - but not all - of the Library's silent film scores and instructional books on silent film accompaniment.
The Performing Arts Reading Room is the access point for the collections in the custody of the Music Division at the Library of Congress. Numbering approximately 20.5 million items and spanning more than 1000 years of Western music history and practice, these holdings include the classified music and book collections, music and literary manuscripts, iconography, microforms, periodicals, musical instruments, published and unpublished copyright deposits, and close to 500 special collections in music, theater, and dance.