The Spirit of ’76 Circa 1905

I usually avoid recognizable music if I can help it, as it’s a distraction to the viewer unless there’s someone playing a record or piece of sheet music shown in a close-up. With this particular 1905 film, I needed to make an exception.

Here’s a film (below) from the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company called Spirit of ’76. It’s a dramatic tableaux version of Archibald Willard’s famous painting of the same name, and was registered for copyright in May 1905. The film with my new score was originally posted on the Library of Congress blog “Now! See! Hear!” on July 3, 2014. The film is from the Library of Congress’s Paper Print Collection.

However, this was a case where not playing the two pieces that pop into everyone’s mind when seeing this image would be a distraction. From old cartoons, to the opening gag in Ernie Kovacs’ 1959 television show Kovacs on Music to today’s TV commercials, the songs “Yankee Doodle” and “The Girl I Left Behind” — heard here — are practically synonymous with the image of these three musicians.

The Spirit of 1776
Archibald Willard’s infamous painting The Spirit of 1776, The Spirit of ’76 (previously known as Yankee Doodle), which was exhibited and widely seen at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia PA in 1876. Info and image sourced from Wikipedia.

Given the fact that the film is basically wall-to-wall music, there’s an explosion in the middle, and the lead drummer drops his sticks in the final chorus, one wonders what people must have thought of this silent motion picture in 1905 while peering through a Mutoscope machine.

And the hardest part of scoring Spirit of ‘76? Staying in synch with the marching. I watched everyone’s right foot landing on the ground like it was a click-track or bouncing ball, and there are places where it speeds up and slows down. You gotta nail it or not bother at all, and since this was a single sustained take, it was worth a shot.

Happy Fourth of July!

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