When most people think about Charlie Chaplin, the first image that comes to mind is the little tramp, with his raggedy unkempt clothes, proverbial black cane, slightly crooked hat, and Hitleresque mustache. Chaplin was the master at presenting the human social and political condition disguised cleverly with humor tinged with sadness. His filmography includes Modern Times, The Great Dictator, and Gold Rush. While modern audiences may not be familiar with Chaplin’s works, film historians and critics agree that Charlie Chaplin’s films are some of the best that the silver screen has to offer.
Chaplin’s musical talents as a composer are not as well-known. Charlie Chaplin’s later films, black and white and silent, were almost always accompanied by Chaplin’s own music. His musical scores not only accompanied the films, but intertwined with the hope, sadness, joy, and pain of Chaplin’s memorable characters. His music covered a gamut of styles, from sweet themes of love and youth and innocence to more pugilistic rhythmic music to popular dance numbers.
Chaplin grew up in a family of performers. According to CharlieChaplin.com , both of Chaplin’s parents were singers and actors. Growing up in a performing family gave Chaplin the strong creative background he needed to succeed later on in life with his films. Chaplin himself was an amateur musician and played the violin, among other instruments.
Chaplin’s ability to tug at the heart strings through film is also exhibited in his musical output. Whether one listens to the ostensibly romantic theme, Smile, or the excitable, almost toreador sounding theme for City Lights Boxing, one can hear the masterful Chaplin at work creating a sonic world as poignant as his screenplays. Without even knowing the movie plot, a single listening to Circus Swing Little Girl betrays the naive idealism and hopefulness of the circus girl, despite a less than ideal situation. For film and music lovers who want to bask in the sorrows and triumphs of an era long gone by, watching Charlie Chaplin’s films and listening to his touching music will quickly transport the audience into a black and white world where the little guy always manages to get the girl. Chaplin’s music reflects this endearing hopefulness in its most tender and most triumphant musical moments.
Throughout his career, Chaplin always insisted that the music, “must be never more than the voice of that camera”.(Official Charlie Chaplin Website, 2010). However, after his death Chaplin’s family archived all of his music, and many orchestras have taken the music outside of the theater and into the concert hall despite their creator’s insistence that the music, being film music, should not exist without the films. Other professional orchestras have heeded the filmmaker’s wish, presenting both the film and the music simultaneously.
Official Website of Charlie Chaplin, “Chaplin and Music.” http://www.charliechaplin.com/