Photoplay music refers to music created specifically for the purpose of accompanying silent films. Motion pictures were registered as “moving photograghs”, hence during the silent era they were referred to as photoplays. The earliest films of the silent era (pre-1910’s) were mostly exhibited without musical accompaniment. During this time, people attended nickelodeons, vaudeville theaters, and even converted store fronts when going to motion pictures. Conditions under which these early films were shown varied. If music was presented at all, it often took the form of illustrated songs or piano solos featured separately between films to entertain the audience – not as film accompaniment. Eventually, in the years leading up to the early teens, pianists had begun to accompany films. And as the art of film storytelling became more sophisticated, so the role of musical accompaniment in films began to gain more importance.
Thus by the early teens there had emerged a demand for music to be composed specifically for accompanying motion pictures. Music publishers such as Joseph Remick, Sam Fox Music and Academic Music began to issue their own folios of photoplay music as an aid to pianists and organists playing for motion pictures. These folios, or books of music, contained a variety of descriptive musical moods, with titles such as “Mysterioso”, “Love Theme”, “Furioso”, “Comic Hurry”, “Storm Music” “Andante Dramatico”, and “Agitato”. These were essentially stock musical cues which could be used to underscore various scenes in a motion picture. The new medium would also attract a number of gifted and prolific composers, such as Mayhew Lake, Gaston Borch, J.S. Zamecnik and Otto Langey.