Charlie Chaplin was one of the greatest comedians especially of silent era. Chaplin was not only a creative comedian but also writer, editor and director. But many may not know that Chaplin was also a great composer.
Another interesting fact is that Chaplin won a competitive Oscar only for his original music score for the film Limelight and not for his acting or writing or direction though he won two honorary academy awards.
Chaplin played violin with his left hand with strings reversed. In his own words,
“On this tour I carried my violin and cello. Since the age of sixteen I had practiced from four to six hours a day in my bedroom. Each week I took lessons from the theatre conductor or from someone he recommended. As I played left handed, my violin was strung left handed with the bass bar and sounding post reversed. I had great ambitions to be a concert artist, or, failing that, to use it in a vaudeville act, but as time went on I realised that I could never achieve excellence, so I gave it up.”
Chaplin was an aesthetic composer who considered the music should not compete with the comedy character the famous Tramp and in contrast the music should be elegant to the character to give an emotional dimension. In his own words Chaplin says,
“One happy thing about sound was that I could control the music, so I composed my own. I tried to compose elegant and romantic music to frame my comedies in contrast to the tramp character, for elegant music gave my comedies an emotional dimension. Musical arrangers rarely understood this. They wanted the music to be funny. But I would explain that I wanted no competition, I wanted the music to be a counterpoint of grave and charm, to express sentiment, without which, as Hazlitt says, a work of art is incomplete”.
Chaplin did not read and write music but had arrangers. But Chaplin himself conducted the score sometimes. Timothy Brock who conducted many of Chaplin scores says,
“Although untrained in traditional western musical notation, Chaplin was nevertheless a gifted musician with an innate sense of musical construction. Though he engaged different arrangers and orchestrators to notate his thematic material, his gift for melody and harmony, and his ability to accompany action perfectly, remain a germinal voice identifiable throughout his films. Like his famous character, his scores employ a perfect balance of comedy, pathos and skill.”
Enjoy the videos of Chaplin conducting his score and playing violin in the film Limelight.
Chaplin’s few famous theme songs are Smile (Modern Times – Michael Jackson’s favourite song) and This is my song.
Answer for Last week’s Quiz: Kadayanallur Venkatraman, a disciple of Semmangudi Srinivisa Iyer is the tunesmith of Kurai Ondrum Illai.
Quiz for this week: Who scored the music for the Anthem of Germany?
‘Bale’ Sampat, a Chartered Accountant and a Carnatic Musician, lives in Chennai and teaches Piano.
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