Music and cinema extends back before the implementation of recorded dialogue in film with the release of The Jazz Singer (1927). Prior to this, music was performed live at the theatre, accompanying moving picture shows and serving to connect scenes, create moods related to on-screen drama, and even cover up the humming of the projector.
Silent films first became popular in the 1890s. Often times a pianist or organist would improvise or play classical and popular music from memory. Pieces were chosen based on what best fit with the plot. In larger theatres, small orchestras would play music that was written specifically for the film.
Over time, filmmakers began to notice that films with appropriate music had a better audience reaction so, in 1909, they began providing cue sheets for musicians that indicated each scene with suggestions as to what types of music should be played at given moments. Music publishers took advantage of this newfound idea of film music and released anthologies organized by mood and circumstance so that musicians could easily find appropriate music during a performance.
Next time we will look at The General (1926) and how the music certainly does play a significant role in silent film.