9 Sep 2013
That Green-eyed Monster
One of the best known tango tunes in the world is by a Dane! The original one hit wonder, Jacob Thune Hansen Gade, (no relation to the earlier composer Niels Gade, teacher of Grieg and Nielsen) 1879-1963, was a violinist and composer of light orchestral music who remains famous for this piece alone. Jalousie, Tango Tzigane was originally written for the Danish gala premiere of Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925) starring that famous pair Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Astor, and was an almost instant international success.
Music in silent film was always an essential for supplying the mood and emotional cues. Some studios even had musicians playing on set during filming to provide atmosphere. In the US, cinemas were the largest source of employment for instrumentalists; small ones had just a piano but the more grand would boast anything from an organ up to a small band/orchestra. Theatre Organs were developed that could create all sorts of sound effects from thunder to galloping horses.
There were three basic ways music was used: improvisation, use of existing pieces and original scores. Improvisation obviously was not going to work for orchestras so cue sheets evolved. These were organised by the studio and listed titles, composers and publishers of appropriate pieces, when to play them, at what speed and for how long, as well as any miscellaneous other sound effects that might be needed. Many short genre pieces to fill in scenes, known as Photoplay music were written. Entire companies (eg the Cameo Thematic Music Company) evolved to compile and publish cue sheets and photoplay. The theatre bands owned up to 10,000 pieces and musical directors chose from their repertoire or composed new ones to suit. A fully original score was very rare, as time was always at a premium once the film was completed – one of the few examples is Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Musicians usually sight read their parts as there was no time for rehearsal!
When the talkies replaced silent films from 1927-1930, entire libraries of photoplay music sheets were thrown out or used as scrap paper – there must have been serious unemployment among all those musicians too. The best pieces were reused in soundtracks and Jalousie has been estimated to have featured in over 100 other films and numerous TV shows, including Anchors Aweigh, Silent Movie, Death on the Nile, The Man Who Cried.
In its original form the tango featured solo violin and orchestra, but many different arrangements were quickly published, including piano solo and lyrics were added in various languages to create songs.
Gade was soon able to retire from other work on the proceeds and devoted himself solely to composing. (The royalties still fund a foundation for young aspiring musicians.) Arthur Fiedler recorded Jalousie with the Boston Pops Orchestra, earning even more, so Gade visited him especially to thank him and presented him with a symphony he had composed. Unfortunately Fiedler thought it was “one of the worst pieces of music I ever looked at.” Doubtless poor Gade cried all the way to the bank...
Watch a Danish animation (1996) set to the music