Music to accompany silent films made by Cecil Hepworth at Walton on Thames
Surrey Brass spent several years commissioning and performing music for the silent films of Cecil Hepworth was a pioneering film maker who lived and worked in Walton on Thames at the turn of the 20th Century. At the time the Hepworth Studios were highly influential, being one of the largest in Britain, and flourished in the years before Hollywood became established.
The concept arose from the tradition of accompanying silent films with music, using it to increase the dramatic tension of the pictures. In the early days, the music was supplied by a hard-working pianist who was obliged to improvise music on the spot. In the larger and better-off cinemas, a small band was used to provide the music, and this gave us the idea of creating entirely new music for our own ensemble. "Loud Music for Silent Films" was born! Little did we realise just how difficult it was to write music that was so tightly linked to the timings of a fast-moving series of silent film scenes, and to actually perform it live, in sync, before an audience!
At one concert in 2004, reactions in the hall proved that the five films dating from 1899 to 1915 were just as fresh and entertaining today as they were with the original audience, but this time accompanied by wonderful brand new scores composed by local composer John Hughes and premiered by Surrey Brass, who were directed by Tom Hammond. This "innovative and entertaining brass ensemble" perfectly captured both the spirit and whimsicality of "The Dog Outwits the Kidnappers" and the moody magnificence of "Burnham Beeches". The movies featured either Hepworth himself (as the dastardly villain seizing his young daughter Elizabeth only to be outwitted by the family dog, Blair - who undoubtedly stole the show!) or renowned actresses of the silent movie era Chrissie White and Alma Taylor, both of whom lived in or around Walton. Many of the scenes were shot in the locality and places such as Church Square, Shepperton were still recognisable today, adding to the considerable local interest. The pre-concert talk by Simon Brown, the eminent early film expert from the British Film Institute, gave a fascinating insight into the life and times of Cecil Hepworth and his film company. The show was particularly appreciated by VIP guest Valerie Williamson, Hepworth's daughter, who had not seen any the films before and particularly liked "Burnham Beeches".
Surrey Brass gratefully acknowledges the support of the RC Sherriff Trust on this project.
- "How it feels to be run over" (1899) (Music by John Hughes)
- "The Dog Outwits the Kidnappers" (1908) (Music by John Hughes)
- "Tilly the Tomboy visits the Poor" (1910) (Music by John Hughes)
- "Burnham Beeches" (1909) (Music by John Hughes)
- "Wife the Weaker Vessel" (1915) (Music by John Hughes)
- Oh'Phelia (1919) (Music by Rob Davies) - Watch the film
You can learn more about Hepworth and his films here.
Surrey Brass has often performed live music accompanying Hepworth films at the Walton Playhouse. The Playhouse is the last surviving building from Cecil Hepworth's film studios which flourished in Walton on Thames between 1986 and 1924. Formerly the Hepworth studio electricity generating house, using diesel generators taken from captured German WW1 submarines, it was bought and turned into the home for the local amateur dramatic society and is now operated by Elmbridge Council.
Surrey Brass would like to encourage more performances of these wonderful films and their accompanying music. Sheet music for some of the commissions is available from our Shop.
"Oh'Phelia" by Rob Davies
Music for a Silent Film...