Music for silent film in Switzerland – fragments of a history

Music for silent film in Switzerland – fragments of a history

by Bruno Spoerri (2014, revised in 2023)

The still existing building of the Colosseum cinema in Zurich (built in 1912), Welchogasse 6.


There is little documentation on the practice of silent film music in Switzerland (in contrast to Germany, for example, and of course the USA). Hardly anyone has taken the trouble to preserve and evaluate documents about the many musicians involved, about their repertoire and about their working conditions. Little is also known about the close links between this generation of musicians and the musical life of the cities (e. g. in cafés, at dances, but also at the radio stations and at the symphony orchestras of the time). In biographies, such “inferior activities” are usually hardly mentioned – but it is recognized that outstanding personalities of musical life played in cinemas as well as in cafés for afternoon tea and in the evening for dancing.

The disregard for film music persisted: For a long time, involvement in film music projects was considered not very conducive to the good reputation of a serious composer. It was written under a pseudonym or at least not mentioned in the catalogue of works if possible – with exceptions such as Arthur Honegger or Robert Blum. Even more disreputable was the writing of music for advertising and PR films; this was accepted at best as a one-off aberration or occasional gimmick, since one could – oh horror – earn good money with it.

Today’s research is no longer field research, but source research, since most of those involved have died in the meantime. But even the contemporary sources are not very informative; the film critics of the time, for example, only rarely reported on the music. In several years of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, for example, we hardly ever find a mention of the orchestra. [1] Cinema advertisements also rarely mention the musicians. Only at the festive opening of new cinemas the music was occasionally noted. [2] (Parallels to today’s situation in film criticism are unmistakable – film critics appear not always to have an ear for music…).

The best collection of material to date on music in European silent film is compiled by Fritz Güttinger, it contains a few references that refer to Switzerland. [3]

I have tried to gather some initial information in the hope of providing an impetus for further research. The documents found relate primarily to Zurich and the surrounding area and to the period from about 1915–1930. The history of the Schein and Rewinzon families is largely based on the records of my mother, Mrs. Lore Spoerri-Schein.

Musical life at the beginning of the 20th century

Abraham Schein with his family orchestra, which also played in the cinema. 1920s.

How did musicians live in the first decades of the 20th century? The range from starving composer to celebrated soloist was certainly wide. What is certain is that musicians were far removed from the social security offered today by employment in a subsidised orchestra. Most symphony orchestras could not offer year-round contracts; in the summer months, employment had to be sought in holiday resorts, cafés, etc. [4] On the other hand, “winter migrants”, i. e. musicians who had no fixed and secure employment, then had opportunities to earn money in the orchestra during the concert season (e. g. in the Tonhalle Zurich). [5] The transitional period in spring was often difficult, when the theatres closed at the end of March but the holiday resort orchestras did not begin their activities until June. [6]

Until the end of the twenties, only a vanishingly small proportion of music in public spaces was consumed from “preserves”, i. e. records. Every self-respecting café and hotel had its own band, which played for tea in the afternoon and for dance enthusiasts in the evening. In the afternoon, the repertoire consisted mainly of light classical music; from typical salon pieces to demanding parts of violin concertos and operas. In the evening, the repertoire suitable for dancing was brought out.

Many musicians were multi-instrumentalists. For the dance evening, for example, the second violinist switched to drums and the cellist to banjo. However, the results of the efforts of these mostly classically trained musicians creating contemporary dance music were often less than uplifting. The emerging jazz was often misunderstood as an opportunity to make a racket; the main thing was the presence of the drums, which were perceived primarily as an instrument that makes a noise.

The range of the repertoire of good ensembles bands was wide: the repertoire of the “Russian Artist Salon Orchestra Revinsohn”, for example, comprised 1064 titles, including 73 overtures, 189 character pieces and various salon pieces, 181 waltzes, 140 marches and 29 gypsy romances. The collection of the Bernese I Salonisti (to a large extent the former repertoire of the Zurich Kapellmeister Abraham Schein) includes composer names such as Bach, Berlioz, Bizet, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, but also ragtimes by Abe Holzman and hits by Jerome Kern, Paolo Tosti and many others.

In 1917, the Vinzenz Kranebitter, Aversano and Cattaneo bands played in Zurich, to pick out just a few examples. [7] The Grand Café Metropol (Bahnhofstrasse/Börsenstrasse) announced an “Italian opera evening with the artist orchestra Aversano” on 2 March, with excerpts from Rossini’s William Tell and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, similarly, the Grand Café Astoria advertised a “Wagner–Puccini evening with violin solo interludes by the soloist orchestra Cattaneo–Gilardelli conducted by the violin virtuoso Prof. Elio Gilardelli”.

During the First World War, many musicians, especially from Germany and France, fled to Switzerland in search of work. The pianist José Iturbi and the violinist Mischa Elzon played at the Grand Café des Banques at Bahnhofstrasse 70 in Zurich. The musicians Alexander Schaichet and Joachim Stutschewsky, who came from Russia and played at the Grand Hotel Kurhaus Brünig in 1914, were surprised there by the outbreak of the World War. They then looked for work in Zurich. [8]

For the local musicians, these people were unwelcome competition. “Well–meaning” admonished a contributor in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung in 1917:

“We do not think we are wrong when we estimate the number of musicians settled in Zurich, who practise their art or their dilettantism directly or indirectly for the purpose of earning a living, at not less than three hundred, not taking into account the structuring elements of the entertainment establishments, Korso, Wintergarten, etc.” “In terms of origin, it is mostly foreigners who have settled here as musicians. The native Swiss and native Zurichers make up by far the smaller part. However, as we have heard, there are repeated enquiries from foreigners who hope to be employed as singers, conductors, music teachers, organists, etc. in Zurich now, but certainly after the end of the war, even though there is no shortage of suitable personnel, and in fact there is an abundance of them in certain subjects. Those who come to Zurich at random, expecting to find a job soon, are in a bad way. They also increase the precarious situation of those guild members who are already struggling with the hardships of life. We can only urgently warn against such more than daring experiments.” [9]

The versatile musician Curt Paul Janz [10] describes the situation in Basel:

“The orchestra had to be kept busy, especially in the summer. A kind of spa concert was held in the summer casino (behind the St. Jakob monument) under the direction of the then first clarinettist and Kapellmeister Hermann Wetzel. The wind players fulfilled the tasks of a town whistle now and then. But we also had other musicians. There were large ‘Viennese cafés’ that kept their house orchestras of up to 18 men. In addition, establishments such as the Storchen, the Kunsthalle and the Casino cultivated a high level of entertainment. On certain afternoons, musicians could play classical trios and sonatas here.” [11]

Zurich cinemas of the silent film era

There is scant information about the early cinemas in Zurich. They are just listed (incompletely) in the address book from 1925 onwards; other publications provide partly contradictory information on the opening and closing dates. The names of the owners and managers are difficult to find; since ownership changed frequently. Only a study of the cinema advertisements gives a reasonably clear picture.

Six cinemas that opened before 1910 closed only a few years later. In 1910, Zurich had 10 cinemas with a total of 1540 seats and an attendance of 35,000 per month. [12] In 1915, there were 13 cinemas in Zurich, including four large ones (Central, Corso, Orient, Palace). Only one cinema was added by 1920, and three more by 1925. In the following five years, a further nine cinemas were daringly opened, including three large ones (Apollo, Forum, Scala). Around 1928, the upward trend was halted, a certain cinema fatigue and signs of the coming crisis made themselves felt.

During this period, ownership of cinemas began to be concentrated in larger companies. These attempted to survive through forward strategy as well as savings through concentration. This is probably why most cinemas survived the expensive transition to sound film technology.

Music in the cinema: orchestras and pianists

The Forum Cinema Orchestra Zurich in the 1920s.

In the cinema of the silent film era, musical accompaniment was important – in the early days also to drown out the projector noise. Soon, however, the projection booth was well insulated for safety reasons. [13]

“The film flickering silently across the screen soon creates a depressed, oppressive mood in the viewer in the dark room, which he tries to get rid of by often noticeably embarrassed exclamations or otherwise. The naïve viewer searches for a means to help enliven the shadowy image, to loosen the tongue, so to speak, of the mute language. The film makers soon found out that music could do this complementary and supportive work.” [14]

In addition, the realisation that music can increase the emotional impact of a film enormously led to a continuous musical accompaniment.

Georges Hipleh-Walt, who was the first to show films on a large scale from 1898 in his “Biographe Suisse”, already had a tent with room for 2500 spectators. Among his 20 employees, 12 musicians are listed. [15] In Basel, the Jesuit priest Abbé Joye was the forerunner of audiovisual pedagogy. He used a student orchestra in his film shows. [16]

It should not be forgotten that early cinema was set in the vaudeville environment (European Variété is roughly equivalent to American Vaudeville): Film screenings were framed by performances on stage. This naturally included independent musical performances. As permanent cinemas increasingly replaced vaudeville theatres, the tradition of programmes consisting of films and live performances continued. Larger cinemas were usually also variety theatres and equipped accordingly (e. g. Corso, which initially only showed films on the side, Capitol, Apollo, Forum, Kosmos, Speck). Hypnotists such as the Suggestor Sabrenno performed, the xylophone virtuosos of the Balogh Trio, the Kempinski Troupe (living sculptures), a Creole ballet, the “original American Jazz singers 4 Blue Boys”, the male quartet Moskva with balalaika orchestra etc. It is particularly worth mentioning that in February 1929 a demonstration of the “ether wave instrument” Theremin took place in the Capitol. In May, Josephine Baker performed at the Scala with the Enoch Light orchestra.

A remarkable performance took place in 1929 at the ball of the renowned Lesezirkel Hottingen in the Dolder Hotel: A short film Hallo, Switzerland, which showed the arrival of a Charlie Chaplin double (Werner Hinz) in Zurich, was followed by a surprise follow–up appearance of the main character live in the hall. The comedian Emil Hegetschweiler as Tämperli caused such a laughing success that the film continued to be shown in a cinema afterwards. [17]

In addition, there were actual concert evenings: In 1924 we find an advertisement for the Bellevue cinema: Piano Concerto in E–flat major by Beethoven, soloist Luigi Zanetta. Also in the Bellevue in 1925: For the film Beau Brummel oder Ein ungekrönter König (director: Harry Beaumont, 1924) with John Barrymore there was a rich side programme with works by Haydn, Strauss, Schubert, Beethoven and Brahms and others. [18] An advertisement of 3 November 1926 announced gala performances combined with a concert of Russian music with an amplified orchestra, with works by Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Glazunov, as well as Schubert, Artaud, Massenet, Grieg and Brahms. [19]

Until the 1960s, some cinemas were still equipped to serve as stages for musical and theatrical performances. Cinemas were used time and again as venues for jazz concerts: for example, Zurich’s Albis cinema in 1952 for the “1st Zurich June Jazz Week”, an undertaking that was not well received by the public and was therefore not repeated. The Palace cinema in Basel was used in January 1953 for a concert by the New Orleans Buddies from Neuchâtel. The most successful was the Amateur Jazz Festival, which took place at the Urban cinema for many years and continued in the neighbouring Corso after the Urban was converted into a department store. Until about 1958, a film was also shown at the end of these evenings – probably because of contractual obligations.

In the USA, full symphony orchestras were common in the big cinemas, in Europe (outside the big cities such as Berlin and Paris) mostly so-called salon orchestras provided the accompaniment. In Switzerland, we find quite well-staffed orchestras in larger cinemas, in some cases of up to over 20 members, but more often we see quartets, trios and even lone solo pianists.

The work was exhausting: Many cinemas played from early afternoon until ten in the evening. Breaks were short and staying in the darkened auditorium was not very pleasant. On the other hand, it was possible to sign longer-term contracts, even year-long contracts, which was a great relief for musicians who wanted to settle down instead of constantly changing places of work.

Curt Paul Janz explains the situation in Basel at the end of the 1920s:

“In the cinemas, the silent film required cuddly music. An immense repertoire and films that changed weekly made music–making an exciting and creative experiment. In addition, the fees were at least twice as high as in the city orchestras, which in part lured the good musicians there. The cinema Capitol, for example, kept a highest–paid orchestra of 24 musicians. […] The Küchlintheater had its permanent orchestra with a house bandmaster. […] In the beginning, the profession of cinema musician was still considered a health-damaging, even suicidal existence, but soon substitute ensembles, who were ordered from theatre to theatre, relieved their colleagues who were overburdened by the long hours of presence and at least made it possible for them to have the weekday off. […] While the best Swiss symphony and theatre orchestras paid a maximum of Fr. 450 per month for soloists, the large theatres offered up to Fr. 900 per month. […] It was therefore not surprising if many good instrumentalists preferred working in front of the screen to an engagement in the municipal orchestra.” [20]

The quality of the musicians employed in the cinemas varied greatly. In addition to the highly qualified musicians of the larger ensembles, smaller cinemas often employed music students – but also many occasional musicians. For example, the daughters of the Leuzinger family in Rapperswil often performed in the cinemas. [21] Martha (1908–2000) played the piano, Mathilde (1899–1980) the violin. Apparently other musicians were also engaged: In an expenditure book from 1925 there are the entries “piano player 40 Fr., violin player 10 Fr.” One of the first engagements of the young Jack Trommer, later pianist with Teddy Stauffer and successful composer of film music, was at the Eden cinema. [22]

In the advertisements of the cinemas, the music was only mentioned if the name of the orchestra was expected to have a special advertising effect. Thus, in 1929, we find the names of the bandmasters Geza Schäffer at the Orient, Camillo Bogliani at the Capitol, Fausto Magnani and Alexander Federscher at the Scala. [23] In 1930, a quartet under the pianist Schwank played at the Palace.

Music was not always perceived as pleasant. The Swiss poet and Nobel Prize winner Carl Spitteler (1845–1924) made a written commitment to cinema in 1916, in the Luzerner Tagblatt and in the Basler National-Zeitung, but he was very negative about the music:

“There is one thing I have against cinema: the music. It has often made me flee in a hurry. I don’t know why all cities have the prejudice that the cinema has to be an intrusive, blatant showpiece. It’s true that where there is mechanical music, we are saved, at least we are safe from excesses. On the other hand, the tiny orchestras, the violinists, the piano players! They may be tolerated by pity and frugality for my sake, agreed, even sighing. But when the piano-player begins to ‘fantasise’, oh horror! Torments of hell.” [24]

The opening of a new cinema or the premiere of an important film was celebrated in a big way, for example on 1 February 1924, when the film Marie Antoinette (Jean Kemm: L’enfant-roi, 1923) was shown in a kind of inauguration of the Kosmos-Lichtspiele for invited guests and the press. “The programme was artistically enriched by the musical presentations of the youthful trio of the Schein sisters with violin, cello and piano performances – the magnificently played cello concerto by Goltermann, the ballet scene by Beriot and the Czardas by Monti for violin and piano – which revealed the rare talent of these three girls.” [25] The Speck cinema reported in February 1924 a “premiere day on which the composer Hans Ailbout personally conducted the orchestra…” [26]

A detailed description of the musical infrastructure can be found in the commemorative publication for the opening of the Forum cinema in 1928: [27]

“Mary Lou (directed by Friedrich Zelnick, with Lya Maria and Louis Lerch) was the film shown, the supporting film Im Winter auf den Grossglockner. The music programme: Jubel-Ouverture by C. M. von Weber (Forum Orchestra), Prologue, Organ Fantasy (J. J. Nater).
The orchestra room was very spacious, first-class and equipped in the most modern way and has room for a very large orchestra. A novel light-signalling system enables the conductor to give four different optical signals to each musician, imperceptible to the audience. New practical music stands with new music stand lamps are made according to our own designs and are considered exemplary in professional circles. […]
The large orchestral harmonium with expression and percussion was made by the Kotigiewicz harmonium factory in Vienna […] The large concert grand piano was made by the world-famous Feurich piano factory in Leipzig. Both instruments […] were supplied by Pianohaus Jecklin Zurich.”

The Festschrift lists the entire “Forum Künstler- und Solisten-Orchester”: Kapellmeister and conductor Hans Holenia from Graz, concertmaster Hermann Neppach, additional violinists Vinzenz Tusa and E. Raimondi, cello Lucien Cavey, bass G. Fasolis, piano Leopold Rabitsch, harmonium “with percussion and expression” Hermann Korn, flute Hugo Hafner, clarinet Rudolf Wölflick, piston virtuoso Georges Widmer, timpani Guido Keller, plus Johann Jakob Nater, organist at St. Jakob’s Church in Zurich.

A special and apparently quite difficult performance by Richard Strauss is also recorded, in which he conducted the film music for Der Rosenkavalier himself in 1929 at the Zurich Stadttheater: [28] “All kinds of technical pitfalls contributed to the fact that this film premiere at the Stadttheater could not be recorded as a glorious success. The projection suffered from poor lighting, and immediately after the start the film had to be spooled back because of a disturbed signal connection between the stage and the conductor’s desk. – Strauss himself conducted the orchestra, whose sound was not quite perfect, with matter-of-fact calm.” [29]

Cinema organs and automats

The Apollo cinema, built in 1928, had a large organ.

Some large cinemas that employed orchestras were also equipped with an organ. In 1927, the Capitol cinema, according to its own advertising “the most visited cinema theatre in Zurich”, advertised with an organ and an orchestra of “20 men” (I wonder if there were also women?). The metal walls to the right and left of the cinema portal concealed the pipes of a cinema organ made by Welte Orgelbau. The instrument had 2800 pipes, 48 stops and 25 effect and cinema stops. [30] The Apollo, which opened in 1928, also had a Welte organ facing the stage and orchestra pit. [31] Other organs were in the Scala, Orient, Bellevue and Forum cinemas. [32]

The commemorative publication for the opening of the Forum cinema in 1928 describes the new organ as follows:

“The large organ, installed as a novelty in the orchestra room under the stage, comes from the workshops of the master organ builders Zimmermann & Schäfer in Basel. The work has 18 sounding stops and 5 transmissions with a total of 1246 pipes; this is the largest cinema organ ever made in Switzerland […] The ingenious organist replaces the harp, xylophone, orchestra bells, church bells etc. with these voices […]. The percussion instruments necessary to illustrate the film, timpani, cymbals, snare drum, etc., are mounted in the console as foot push buttons and are easily operated by the organist.” [33]

With a one-time investment in a cinema organ, an entire orchestra could become superfluous. If it was also equipped with sound effects, a musician could also replace the drummer/noisemaker. The Forum cinema organ could even accompany the films with an automaton, without an organist: “In order to equip the work with all modern aids, all stops and cinema effects were connected to a self-playing apparatus, which means that the organ can also perform its service without an organist.” [34]

In the cinema in Baden, there was a “monster of automatic music machines, into which cheerful or gloomy toothed music rolls were incorporated, and so the well-intentioned cinema-goer could imagine that the film was being embellished by a whole orchestra. In this respect, it was not mere imagination when real violins were played. It was a really rare instrument.” [35]

Some of these organs were still being played in the 1940s, long after the silent film era, for example by the composer Artur Beul:

“In those years I also played the largest Swiss cinema organ at the Apollo cinema in Zurich every day before the film and during the interval. At that time, there were three cinema organs in the city: the Scala, the Capitol and the Apollo. In those years, I entertained people on all three before the film and during the interval. My fee was 20 francs a day. Depending on the film, I chose the music, very often we had Italian films and also film star guests, like Gina Lollobrigida. […] Later, because of the wide screen, they tore out all the cinema organs and buried an era that will never be brought back. Many people have already written to me about this, people who, as they told me, have often watched a film several times, and this only because of my organ playing. Of course, I played many of my own songs on the organ, which were very popular and were always thanked with special applause by the cinema-goers.” [36]

Cinemas that could not or did not want to afford musicians made do with gramophone music. In 1931, for example, Martha Leuzinger from Rapperswil had her big tour with the film Ben Hur (directed by Charles Brabin and Fred Niblo, 1925/1931) – 422 performances in 110 locations – with a portable gramophone.

What music was played?

Music library of a silent film orchestra in the W. Piasio collection of the Nouveau Musée Bienne.

Today it is taken for granted that film music must adapt to the film in terms of theme and mood. In the silent film era, this was not taken for granted and was discussed again and again. “Because today every film has its own music, it is believed that this should at least have been the case with silent film, if it was not,” writes Fritz Güttinger, and continues: “Again and again it is emphasised that the music does not need to coincide with the visual events. For example, the Viennese pharmacist and writer Theodor Heinrich Mayer, 1912: ‘It has been quite correctly recognised that the music does not need to musically illustrate the picture, it merely serves to fill the ear so that it does not feel the lack of natural sound, but not to stimulate the listener or even to demand his attention. It doesn’t even have to be real ‘accompanying music’; what is played is secondary, only a not too inharmonious sounding sum of tones must be heard.’” This is also what Victor Klemperer said in his great essay on film (1912), [37] but the point of view was still held in the 1920s. Béla Balàsz, certainly a trustworthy source, was even of the opinion that illustrative background music was disturbing, as Güttinger quotes: “It is striking that we only immediately notice the absence of music, we do not notice its presence at all. Any music will seem suitable to any scene. Only when it is really meant to be present we take notice, and it usually touches us comically or embarrassingly.” Güttinger consequently names this essay “Vom Teppichcharakter der Stummfilmmusik” (On the Carpet like Character of Silent Film Music). [38]

Fritz Daussig provided the following drastic description from Zurich:

“In Zurich, which is otherwise so musically cultivated, in a small cinema, twenty steps from the metropolitan Bahnhofstrasse, I experienced cat music as an accompaniment to a foreign monumental film, which sent me fleeing long before the end […] In front, in a corner, a piano with half-dimmed light. A skinny, pale woman of about forty plays the minuet from Mozart’s Symphony in E flat major. In the sense, it doesn’t really fit the scene I’m bursting into: A young farmer has been captured by thugs with lassos and tied to a tree trunk. Incidentally, Mozart’s minuet changes its face every four bars in the performance of this unfortunate player, and often changes its rhythm as well. She misses the mark so often that I break out in a cold sweat. […] And after Mozart is done, she plays Schumann’s Kinderszenen (which are not exactly in any deeper context with the wild boxing of the Wild West cowboys on the screen and with the dust-raising equestrian flight across the prairie).” [39]

I suspect that the bandmasters paid little attention to theoretical considerations in their daily work, which was characterised above all by a lack of time: When previewing the film, they chose those titles from their repertoire that came first to their mind and seemed reasonably well suited for their ensemble. Routine and the ability to make quick decisions may have been more important than profound considerations. It should also be remembered that films were often arbitrarily recut and shortened and that, in addition, the screening speed in the cinemas was in the hands of the operator. [40] So what was needed above all was the ability to improvise or at least to adapt quickly to unexpected situations. It is true that more and more often detailed lists of the music to be played or occasionally even complete scores were included with the films. But here, too: It was a question of whether the bandmasters followed them. Fritz Daussig once again:

“The accompanying music requested by the many producers and compiled by experts – in special cases supplied by specially commissioned composers – is only written for a small percentage of the rental business. The score material is expensive, the running time of a film is relatively short, and in every orchestra the instrumentation at the bandmaster’s disposal is different from that provided for in the original instrumentation. In addition, the running times of the individual acts or scenes are different here and there, because local concerns cause cuts to be made from the filmstrips. If the music is to really accompany the content of the film, this is only possible through skilful improvisation, which of course requires a whole number of robes. But ask the many musicians whether they can be assembled for longer than a short briefing. A serious rehearsal requires time, and time is money, and money can hardly be extracted from the tenant of the Lichtspielhaus for artistic work.
The locally prepared piano score of a film piece will in most cases be a kind of potpourri. The bandmaster cuts out what he thinks are the right bits and pieces from the existing score, they are glued together by fermatas, tremolos, piano passages, by modulations to the new key. It is a kind of mercy from heaven when the death of the beautiful heroine on the screen happens to coincide with the final chords of Puccini’s Butterfly or Bohème.” [41]

The only repertoire of music that can be proven to have been used exclusively in the cinema is in Biel. It comes from the holdings of the Schrimpf family’s Tivoli cinema. [42] The sheet music archive of the former Reto Parolari Orchestra in Winterthur contains more than 1000 titles published by film publishers. It is fully catalogued with the corresponding descriptions. [43] The repertoire of the Zurich Kapellmeister Abraham Schein is in the archive of I Salonisti in Köniz near Bern; however, these scores were only partially used for film accompaniment.

What was important above all was well-rehearsed communication between the conductor and the orchestra: For synchronisation with the film, a signal was enough with an experienced orchestra, and they jumped into the next piece, occasionally with a small improvised intermezzo from the piano or percussion. However, this procedure was not without its pitfalls: The Busoni student Irma Löwinger (later Schaichet) experienced this.

“Busoni became a saviour from financial hardship when he heard about the modest cash position of his Hungarian private pupil, who was to have returned temporarily to the conservatoire in Budapest. Without further ado, he got her the opportunity to substitute for one of his students in a rather lucrative position. However, the classically trained artist had to put up with a radical change of scenery to do so. Under the direction of a bandmaster named Maicone, she had to play incidental music to silent films in a small ensemble in the ‘Orient’ cinema. At that time – in the midst of the First World War and at the time of the Dadaists – this was a well-rewarded everyday affair for otherwise breadless performers. The only sign of communication that regulated the flow of the accompanying music, which consisted of marches, salon pieces and dances, was a kiss-like sound agreed upon by the conductor. The musicians were playing Tekla Badarczewska’s Prayer of a Maiden, dripping with sentimentality, to a languorous love scene when a couple in love began to exchange original kisses among the audience. Our pianist misinterpreted this deceptive signal and immediately intoned the following march. So, the supposed ‘kiss of the muses’ cut short the career of the accompanist recommended by Busoni, which had lasted barely a month.” [44]

With manifold technical means, attempts were made to improve the synchronisation of the musicians with the film, not always with success. The notofilm system of the inventor Ludwig Czerny was presented in 1925 at the Cinema-Variété Speck (Walchebrücke) with the film Das Mädel von Pontecuculi “in presence of the leading actress Ada Svedin and the director and inventor of the notofilm system Ludwig Czerny“. [45] Ludwig Czerny (1887–1941) was a German actor, film director and film producer and is considered the inventor of the silent film operetta. According to a mode he co-developed (the so-called Czerny-Springefeld process), a sheet of music was copied into the film negative to serve as a model for the bandmaster and his orchestra present in the cinema hall. During the filmic musical passages, the bandmaster could thus conduct the melody from the sheet of music running at the bottom of the screen; singers in the hall tried to perform their arias synchronously with the lip movements of the actors on the screen. Despite the considerable effort, these films proved to be technically unsophisticated and, moreover, rather unsuccessful. After the audience and critic flop of Das Mädel von Pontecuculi (film critic Robert Volz described the work, which premiered in November 1924, as a “freak of this film operetta”) at the beginning of 1925, the pioneer of this film genre withdrew completely from the directing. [46]

Curt Paul Janz was still playing in cinemas in Basel towards the end of the silent film era: [47]

“When I played in the cinema in Basel, many cinemas had already switched to sound film. Big cinemas had cinema organs instead of orchestras. In the afternoon, a pianist played alone in the smaller cinemas – he improvised to the film in much the same way as bar pianists do today, ‘out of a hat’, as they say. In the evenings there were bands of 5–7 men, depending on the size of the cinema. Occasionally, by all accounts, the music was often supplied, but usually a textbook, a description came with the film, the bandmaster watched the film and then looked for the right numbers from his repertoire box – there were thousands of so-called intermezzi, character pieces. Publishers were prepared for this at that time: the playing time was written on all the notes, then the piece could be adapted to the length of the scene. Back then, film was more or less filmed theatre, with closed scenes that had a certain duration – not like today, where the image changes every 5 seconds, which I can’t stand – that’s why I don’t go to the cinema any more and can’t watch television because of it – I want to be able to immerse myself in an image.
There were lights on the consoles when the scene changed before the piece would have ended. If the bandmaster pressed a key, then you got a light signal, immediately made a stop and turned the page, the pianist made a transition and you went into the next piece. You had to be quick.
Occasionally there were films in which a conductor was superimposed at the bottom of the picture for the orchestra […] but that didn’t work out.
I played in a cinema near Claraplatz, on the street towards Kleinhüningen, on the right hand side, it had a puffy name, not exactly Palace – on Untere Rebgasse. And the film was about abortion, a sensitive subject at the time. [48] So that was right at the end, at the end of the silent film. Of course, there was the Palace in Steinenvorstadt, which had 24 men. With us it was four, five or six.
People earned very differently – so the BOG salary (Basler Orchestergesellschaft, which ran the symphony orchestra) was 450 francs a month, minus 20 francs pension fund. Over the course of 17 years, there were age bonuses. In the cinema, there were some, for top musicians, almost double that. The municipal orchestras were not that prestigious among the top musicians. And the Swiss orchestras, all of them, including the Suisse Romande, were distinctly German provincial orchestras.
At the Palace they held matinées with the orchestra, famous virtuoso violinists were there as soloists. That all came to an end suddenly, and an enormous number of good musicians were on the street, and accordingly there was huge competition in auditions for municipal orchestras. In Bern, they had 72 applications for a non-permanent position in the 2nd violin.”

Composers of silent film music

Music composed especially for a silent film is the exception. Limbacher’s compilation lists only 16 film scores composed up to 1915, followed by 42 by 1920 and a further 55 by 1925. [49] From 1926 to 1931, the number rises to an average of 30 per year – still quite a small proportion of the films produced. In Germany, too, compositions for film were rare:

“Despite the permanent use of music, musical scores, so-called author’s illustrations, were composed for only 44 feature films between 1913 and 1927. Since the scores had to be acquired separately by the cinema owners, it can be assumed for several reasons that this incidental music was only played in a few large palaces.” [50]

As to date, music composed for Swiss silent films by Swiss composers has not been found – unless one claims the works of Arthur Honegger for Abel Gance for Switzerland (La roue, 1922 and Napoléon, 1926–27), and perhaps some cinematic arrangements and concert works of Gustave Doret. The Genevan Georges Pileur did compile lists of record music for silent films by Jean Brocher around 1933, but apparently did not compose original music for them. For some early Swiss silent films, the composers Giuseppe Becce and Peter Kreuder were brought in from abroad.

The end of the silent film era: the sound film

Victory of the sound film. The Kino Modern in Zurich in the 1930s.

The first attempts at sound films took place quite early – well before the film The Jazz Singer (1927) with Al Jolson, which is considered the “first sound film in feature film quality” [51] . In fact, this film is still silent for long stretches and also has the intertitles typical of silent films; it does, however, contain some longer speech sequences and songs. The film was released in European cinemas two years after its premiere in the USA and its commercial success triggered the turn to sound films here as well.

However, experiments with sounding film began much earlier, also in Switzerland. As early as 1901, a “Phono-Cinéma-Théatre” was presented in Geneva; in 1902, the showman Louis Preiss experimented with a self-built sound system: he synchronised a sound recording of an art whistler with a film recording of a Geneva comedian and thus created an amazing illusion. He later repeated the trick with opera arias, but then gave up on further attempts. [52]

In 1927, we find the following reminiscence in the NZZ: “20 years ago, casually, I sat in the cinema box on Rennweg in front of the first ‘sound film’ on the screen, a singer with the corresponding jaw movements, behind him a gramophone with the corresponding singing record; it worked badly and fairly. Quite well, actually, considering the ‘technology’ of the time.” [53]

On 15 February 1914, Edison’s Kinetophon, a coupling of projection and gramophone, was demonstrated at the Corso Theatre in Zurich. Further demonstrations took place in Basel in the same year. They aroused little more than fleeting interest. [54]

In 1923, a Zurich financial group led by Arthur Curti acquired the Tri-Ergon system developed in Germany. On 18 November 1923, the first public screening took place in Zurich’s Bellevue cinema. After two weeks, the programme was stopped because the audience stayed away. [55] The audience obviously did not want to experience a new technology, but to see films with attractive content.

In 1927, the Swiss Sound Film Company produced a sound film with some local colour using the process of the Danes Petersen and Poulsen. The NZZ reports:

“On one occasion she has the Zurich Boys’ Music parade on the Bahnhofsplatz and perform a small square concert, on another she goes up to Appenzell and films-dubs the dulcimer, the hand organ, the alphorn, the yodel and the Ländler music; finally she offers an instrumental cabaret programme, and the individual numbers are linked by the likeable Pröckl (screen loudspeaker, of course) through conférence.” [56]

The film in question is Nanu, wer spricht denn da?, which was shown at the Orient Cinema on 6 April 1927. Hervé Dumont says: “The result […] is rather pitiful. Nothing but a few regional topicalities, plus endless marching music defilees and yodelling marches, commented by Ernst Pröckl, a member of the Schauspielhaus. All in all, hardly more than a curiosity.” [57]

In 1927, sound quality was also an obstacle to the acceptance of sound film:

“The talking film – for the time being more has been spoken of it than it has spoken itself – is now gradually moving out of the stage of laboratory experiments and guest screenings behind closed doors towards its goal: to become a fully entitled component of running cinema programmes. […] All respect to the film people: the problem of capturing not only the image but also the sound on their celluloid strip and reproducing it exactly at the same time, sending it to the loudspeaker as an electrical oscillation on a wire line, while the light strips tremble through the auditorium to the screen, they have solved brilliantly. Only their partners in the field of loudspeaker technology (which radio listener would be surprised!) have lagged behind, and the whole gamut of shortcomings that ‘mechanical music’ still exhibits today as soon as it has to exceed a certain volume limit – to listen to this whole gamut is (sometimes agonisingly) an opportunity. […] If the loudspeaker can cope with more massive musical exercises (brass music, hand organ, alphorn, etc.), it will learn to hiss properly (it still does not know the s sound, and how helpless it is in the face of the majestic steam locomotive of the Flying Scotchman!)” [58]

Even two years later, concerns remained:

“The sound apparatus gives what it can, but it remains ventriloquism that is difficult to understand. […] Voice is sound, sound film voice is noise. Yes, where it is real noise, there is mood, tension and tragedy. The rush of water, the singing of the aerial, the howls of panicked screaming crowds are real and stirring. But ten such sound films – and our ears are sick. So back to the silent film or forward to the purified talking film? But the latter depends not on the prowess of a capable writer, a capable director, but on technical perfection, which it is doubtful will ever be possible.” [59]

In 1929, the sound film began to pose serious competition to the silent film in Switzerland. Particularly in the Apollo and Orient cinemas, individual sound films were shown again and again. (March 1929: “First sound film screening in Switzerland in this, its present perfection.”). However, the sceptical voices were still strong, [60] although the Al–Jolson film attracted over 83,000 people that year. [61]

Despite all the criticism, the success with audiences made the production studios and cinema operators rethink their wait-and-see position. More and more cinemas in Switzerland were equipped with the Tri-Ergon system. However, in 1930 a sound film apparatus cost about 100,000 Swiss francs, and the rental fees for films increased five to six times. [62] This was beyond the means of many small cinema owners and led to a shift in ownership to larger corporations.

Perhaps interesting is Stefano Mordasini’s observation that it was mainly the recently opened cinemas that first switched to the new technology. [63] A few dates are known: Zurich’s Capitol showed its first sound film (albeit only partially soundtracked), Showboat (directed by Harry A. Pollard, 1929) on 13 August 1929, followed on 19 August by the Palace Kino with Fox Movietone Follies (David Butler, 1929). [64] The Cinema Leuzinger in Rapperswil changed over at the beginning of January 1931, and the Kosmos cinema in Zurich dismissed its musicians the following June. [65]

In 1931, the first sound film was made by the Zurich-based Praesens Film AG. The production history of Feind im Blut (Walter Ruttmann, 1931) is described in detail by Jeannette Egli. [66] However, what is relevant to our topic is the technique of double synchronisation used: “First, the music and background noises were recorded on ‘Melo’ records. During the actual filming, this record was played; over it the actors or the narrator spoke the dialogue. The resulting ‘mix’ of background sound and dialogue was recorded with a microphone and exposed as light sound on the negative.” This “acoustic playback process” was of course very susceptible to interference and apparently also delayed the filming considerably.

The sound film made the cinema musicians unemployed, and this at the worst possible time, as there was also a crisis in the symphony orchestras: The AMG orchestra in Basel was dissolved in 1928, as were the orchestras in Davos, Montreux, Lausanne and Geneva. [67] “The great mute has begun to speak and is throwing the musicians in heaps, like litter, onto the pavement.” [68] The bandmasters, who had continually invested in new sheet music, were sitting on mountains of useless paper.

Unfortunately, no statistical data on the number of musicians made redundant in Switzerland could be found so far. The unemployment statistics only list one category, “liberal professions”. In 1928, 176 unemployed people were counted in this category; in 1934, this number increased twofold, in 1933 sixfold and reached a maximum of 1680 in 1936 – an increase that was proportionally about the same as in other professions. In 1940, 429 unemployed people are still recorded in this category. [69]

Many musicians tried to find work in dance orchestras, but often with little success: they encountered competition from foreign musicians who had better adapted the new dance music styles. The cinema musicians were spoiled by their high fees; many were also not proficient enough in the fashionable side instruments such as saxophone, banjo or drums. The concert hall owners complained:

“We don’t refuse to take in qualified musicians, but they have to be suitable people; we can’t use bad ones. It is precisely the musicians who are being dismissed from the cinemas because of the talkies that people want to saddle the landlords with, and these are precisely mostly less qualified musicians who also don’t want to adapt.” [70]

On top of all this, dancings and cafés began to use records and radio broadcasts more and more often. Nevertheless, good ensembles were still able to maintain themselves until the 1950s in some hotels in the health resorts and in some cafés in the larger towns – for example in the Casino Basel, in Schuls-Tarasp, Flims, etc. [71]

A special commission of the Swiss Musicians’ Association dealt with the problems caused by mechanical music:

“At the moment when the crisis caused by the development of mechanical music is beginning to be felt throughout the world and the surrounding countries are beginning to close themselves off to foreign musicians, it would be very desirable if Switzerland, too, were at last to show a little more sympathy for the native musicians than has unfortunately been the case up to now. It is also the task of a healthy social policy to ensure that artists born or established in Switzerland have a reasonably secure livelihood before work permits are granted over and over again to entire foreign bands.” [72]

Two musical families in Zurich: Schein and Rewinzon

The Trio Johnny, Josy and Grischa Rewinzon around 1920.

At the end of 1905 – among many others – some members of the Russian–Jewish Schein family emigrated to Switzerland from Ekaterinoslav in Ukraine at the same time as members of the Rewinzon family, who were related by marriage. Leiser Wulf Schein (1854–1918) was a watchmaker and hoped for a chance in Switzerland. He had three sons and two daughters. The eldest, Abraham (1880–1949), was trained as a musician in addition to being a watchmaker. He attended the grammar school in his hometown, after which he trained as a violinist at the Imperial Music School in Ekaterinoslav. At the end of 1905, while still in Ekaterinoslav, he married Chana Rewinzon. He came to Zurich via Vienna and registered here at the beginning of 1906. He set up a small, not very successful watchmaker’s shop on Müllerstrasse. When he had the opportunity to play in a salon orchestra at the Hotel Baur en ville on the side (as a second, so-called obligato violinist), he gradually gave up the business and concentrated on music. In his naturalisation files of 1911 it says: “In the summer months he is concertmaster of the house orchestra of the Hotel Baur am See, in winter he is a member of the orchestra Muth & Leonhardt,he also gives private lessons […] Schein may thus find a decent income, but his circumstances are nevertheless modest and not very secure, since because of his somewhat primitive artistic training a rise of the man is not very likely. Schein, however, is a good, unassuming little man who certainly does his utmost.” [73] Abraham played the violin and guitar, and later often the drums.

His wife’s family, Rewinzon, had been a musical family for generations. Jakob (Jona) Rewinzon (probably around 1830–1890) is said to have been a good violinist. Two of his three sons: Moses (1858–1935) and Simon (called Sjoma, 1870–1945) also became musicians. Moses played the cimbalom and double bass and worked part–time as a watchmaker, Simon played the oboe and bass. Moses’ three sons also became musicians: Hirsch (Grischa, 1885–1961) played the violin, Josef (Giuseppe, 1893–1972) the cello and the youngest, Jonas (Johnny, 1897–1979) the piano, violin and occasionally the saxophone. All worked regularly in theatre, symphony and spa orchestras in Switzerland and also helped out in the cinema when the opportunity arose. Their CVs are less than spectacular; they were respected as reliable and competent musicians and invested their savings sparingly and skilfully.

Abraham Schein’s career was more exciting: around 1916, he began compiling film music for various cinemas. In the next few years, he became a recognised specialist for this work. The repertoire of music he compiled during these years contained over 4500 titles, which he kept in specially made music cabinets.

Soon he was joined by his three daughters. Henriette (1906–1998) played the piano, Regina (1908–1999) the cello and Lore (1910–2000) the violin. Before the youngest daughter Lore started school, she was always allowed to accompany her father when he had to watch films at the Central (now Capitol), Palace or Orient cinemas and take notes for the musical accompaniment. Fausto Magnani, a cellist, also played in his orchestra and later worked as an independent conductor.

Lore Schein recalled: “Papa had his first cinema job at the Central Kino (now Capitol). He had a great talent for choosing the appropriate music for the silent film. His orchestra consisted of 4 musicians: bandmaster, 2nd violin, cello and piano, excellent musicians who had fled to neutral Switzerland during the war and earned well there.” [74] Regina Schein wrote: “When we left school, already after the second secondary class, we didn’t even finish the third secondary class, we already played in the cinema and were, so to speak, co-earners,” [75] In other words, the girls began their careers as full-time working musicians at the age of 14.

In 1922, the NZZ mentions an appearance of the Kapelle Schein at the Orient-Cinema as an accompanying orchestra to the film Auf der Alm, da gibt’s ka Sünd (1915) with Henny Porten: “To make the Tyrolean sphere complete, the Kapelle Schein lets a rich treasure of Älplerweisen emerge from the orchestral recesses”. [76]

Lore Schein also reports:

“After a few years of Orient Cinema, Dad was commissioned to hire an orchestra for the Palace Cinema. The director of the cinema, Mr. Singer and his wife, a childless couple, became our good friends. They pampered us proficiently. Even during my secondary school years, I played at the Palace cinema from time to time. Of course, no one was allowed to see me, it would have been punishable. My older sisters also played and of course Dad. I played second violin. The orchestra room was tiny. Dad had a high platform so he could see the screen comfortably. When the scene changed, he would signal and we would play another piece. Nothing was ever written down in the notes, we knew by heart where and what to play after a one–time agreement. Of course, I couldn’t help looking at the screen and it wasn’t unusual for my bow to remain still on the strings when the film was all too exciting.
But already after a few months it happened that dad took a free evening while I climbed the platform and took over his function. Of course, I was indescribably proud of his confidence.
Papa had a wonderful, astonishingly large repertoire of sheet music, certainly the largest and most interesting in Switzerland, 4500 pièces, all new releases, operas, operettas which had been arranged for salon orchestra. Italian, French, Russian and German ballet suites were among them. Later Strauss (Elektra, Salome), L’après-midi d’un Faune, Pelléas et Mélisande were added. Wind and singing parts were printed in small print and we read off the page, which was important for playing. That was our school for sight-reading. The music had to be adapted to the film, of course. For quick changes, pages were stapled together with paper clips. Every week there was a programme change and we all played from sight. Sometimes we also played parts of symphonies.”

In the years 1924–1928 the orchestra was very successful; it played at the Café du Lac (near Bellevue), at the Baur au Lac (broadcast live by Radio Zurich each afternoon for a few months in 1926), at the Café Metropol, at balls, in the summer season in Hilterfingen at the hotel, etc. A short film with the ensemble was made at the Café du Lac (probably in 1926). (The search for a copy of the film is still going on.) In addition, there were regular engagements in the cinema.

In 1928, Schein was found to be cheating on his wife. The three daughters turned away from him and also held him responsible for their mother’s sudden death. They also suspected that he was embezzling parts of their fee. All three marred very soon, and the orchestra disintegrated. Henriette continued to play as a pianist in the Eden cinema for a while and then went to Geneva, Regina pursued a career abroad. Lore was the only one to stay in Zurich and had several more engagements of her own in cinema orchestras until 1931:

“In 1928 I played for a few months in the newly opened Apollo cinema. In the morning 3 hours rehearsal, in the afternoon 3 hours performance and in the evening 3 hours. 600 Fr fee. Uncle Josy (Rewinzon) had put together an orchestra of 18 musicians. The conductor was the violinist Vittorio Brero. His younger brother Ettore, also a violinist, was the concertmaster and I sat with him on the first desk. Uncle Sjoma played bass, Uncle Josy cello. For the opening performance, Brero rehearsed Dvorak’s Symphony From the New World with us. When we played this piece at the premiere, the audience started to get restless after a few minutes and finally a whistle concert sounded, so that we had to stop our so beautifully rehearsed piece so that the film could begin. Vittorio Brero was an excellent violinist but had a terrible temper. If something didn’t suit him, he would start swearing in Italian so loudly that you could hear it all the way to the back row. One evening it happened to me that during a thunderstorm piece, when I turned the pages, the whole packet of notes slipped onto the floor. I was paralysed with horror and unable to pick up the notes. I just played my storm music by heart like crazy and had the feeling that Brero was going to kill me at any moment. Luckily, Uncle Josy was sitting to my left. He bent down and picked up my sheet music, arranged it and put it on our desk in time before the new piece came on. Brero was later appointed to the music school in Berlin. Only now do I realise that he was probably a fascist. After World War 2, I saw him again at the Lucerne Festival in the Festival Orchestra. He was famished, at our orchestra invitation we all pushed our half–eaten plates towards him and he greedily devoured the leftovers. He died a few years later.
Later at the Apollo cinema, (my sister) Regina and I played parts of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony to a film (Woman in the Fire) [77] with Olga Chekhova. The music and plot were so sad (à la Karenina) that we were in tears every time. There were 18 of us.
When I married Albert Spoerri in 1929, I took a job at the Palace Kino 4 days after the wedding. The bandmaster was a Mr. Schwank, a pianist. The owner, Mr. Singer, was an old friend of Papa’s. Papa had played there for years. His wife played the harmonium and his brother was a cellist.”

Her employer’s reference dated 30 June 1930 reads:

“Mrs. Spoerri’s performance was to my complete satisfaction, as she was always very conscientious and very interested in her work. She proved to be an efficient musician, a talented, thoroughly experienced violinist and a tolerant, correct colleague. Her resignation is due to the introduction of the sound film.” [78]

In 1931, she found another job at the Kino Kosmos for a few months – then the changeover definitely took place.

Abraham Schein married again and had another two children. With the introduction of the talkies, he lost a large part of his income. In 1931 he still worked at the Corso Theatre in Bern, but was then dismissed. “He had great difficulty finding work. Only saxophone and singing were in demand.” Even after his return to Zurich in 1935, he hardly found any more engagements and had to be supported by the municipal welfare until his death in 1949. The music material from his estate has been preserved. [79]

The two older Rewinzon brothers switched from musicianship to entrepreneurship in good time.

“With the end of silent films, orchestras became superfluous. Our uncles (Grischa and Josy) had enough savings to buy small cinemas, they said adieu to the music. Uncle Grischa had a cinema in Oerlikon, Josy the Uto cinema – they even had three cinemas at times. Their wives Edith and Clelia were at the box office. The business flourished, after a few years they bought houses, they were doing very well.” [80]

Only the youngest brother, Johnny, remained a musician and made a poor living, mainly in hotel and spa orchestras. After his death in Locarno, his savings were found: to the great astonishment of his heirs, over 100,000 Swiss francs.



  • Interviews by Bruno Spoerri with Curt Paul Janz on 24.7. 2003, 20.3. 2004 and 15.2. 2007.
  • Documents from the Fritz Güttinger estate at the Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen Berlin.
  • Memories and letters by Lore Schein and Regina Gillinson, private archive Bruno Spoerri, Zurich.
  • Documents on the cinemas of the Leuzinger family, Rapperswil, private property.
  • Articles and advertisements from: Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), Züricher Post [daily newspaper in Zurich 1879–1936], National–Zeitung [daily newspaper in Basel 1842–1977].

Secondary literature

  • Aeppli, Felix, Werner Wider: Der Schweizer Film 1929–1964, 2 vols, Zurich: Limmat 1981.
  • Altenloh, Emilie: Zur Soziologie des Kino. Die Kino-Unternehmung und die sozialen Schichten ihrer Besucher, Jena: Eugen Diederichs 1914.
  • Bächlin, Peter: Der Film als Ware, Basel: Burg–Verlag 1945.
  • Bär, Ulrich, Monique R. Siegel (eds.): Geschichte der Juden im Kanton Zürich, Zurich: Orell Füssli 2005.
  • Baumann, Walter: Zürcher Schlagzeilen, Zurich: Orell Füssli 1981.
  • Baumann, Walter: Das Rennweg–Quartier. Geschichte der minderen Stadt, Zurich: Rennweg–Quartier–Verein 1988.
  • Baumgartner, Heinrich: Jazz in den zwanziger Jahren in Zürich, Zurich: Hug & Co, Neujahrsblatt der Allg. Musikgesellschaft 1989.
  • Bersinger, Fritz: 50 Jahre ASCO 1934–1984, Zurich: Association of Management Consultants Switzerland (ASCO) [no date].
  • Beul, Artur: Nach Regen scheint Sonne. Erinnerungen und Begegnungen mit Künstlern. Winterthur: Swiss Music 1994.
  • Bignens, Christoph: Kinos. Architektur als Marketing, Zurich: Hans Rohr 1988.
  • Birett, Herbert: Lichtspiele. Der Kino in Deutschland bis 1914, Munich: Q–Verlag 1994.
  • Bovier, François: « Du ‹Film direct› au ‹Son animé›. L’utopie d’une écriture intransitive », in: Dissonanz/ Dissonance Jg. 1994, June 2006, pp. 10–13.
  • Cosandey, Roland: Des murs autour d’une toile. Biblio-filmographie des salles de cinéma en Suisse, Bern: Art et Architecture en Suisse, no. 3, 1996, pp. 313–225.
  • Dettke, Karl Heinz: Kinoorgeln und Kinomusik in Deutschland. Stuttgart: Metzler 1995.
  • Dettke, Karl Heinz: Kino– und Theaterorgeln. Eine internationale Übersicht. Marburg: Tectum 2001.
  • Dumont, Hervé: Geschichte des Schweizer Films, Lausanne: Schweizer Filmarchiv 1987.
  • Flückiger, Barbara: Sound Design. Die virtuelle Klangwelt des Films, Marburg: Schüren 2001.
  • Früh, Kurt: Rückblenden, Zurich: Pendo 1975.
  • Gauss, Stefan: Nadel, Rille, Trichter. Kulturgeschichte des Phonographen und des Grammophons in Deutschland (1900–1940), Cologne: Böhlau 2009.
  • Güttinger, Fritz: «Bleibtreus Zürcher Filmchronik», In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 1980, No. 84.
  • Güttinger, Fritz: «Vom Teppichcharakter der Stummfilmmusik», In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung 23.10.1981, No. 246.
  • Güttinger, Fritz: Kein Tag ohne Kino, Frankfurt/M: Deutsches Filmmuseum 1984.
  • Güttinger, Fritz: Der Stummfilm im Zitat der Zeit, Frankfurt/M: Deutsches Filmmuseum 1984.
  • Güttinger, Fritz: Köpfen Sie mal ein Ei in Zeitlupe! Streifzüge durch die Welt des Stummfilms, Zurich: Verlag Neue Zürcher Zeitung 1992.
  • Guido, Laurent: L’Âge du rythme. Cinéma, musicalité et culture du corps dans les théories françaises des années 1910–1930, Lausanne: Payot 2007.
  • Hediger, Vinenz, Jan Sahli, Alexandra Schneider, Margrit Tröhler (eds.): Home stories. Neue Studien zu Film und Kino in der Schweiz, Marburg: Schüren 2001.
  • Hippenmeyer, (Jean–)Roland: Jazz sur films ou 55 ans de rapports jazz–cinéma vus à travers plus de 800 films tournés entre 1917 et 1972, Yverdon: Ed. de la Thièle 1973
  • Janz, Curt Paul: «100 Jahre Musikerorganisation Basel», in: Schweizer Musiker Blatt, Basel, February 1977.
  • Kraut, Peter: Bilderklänge, Klangbilder. Eine kleine Geschichte der Verbindung zwischen Hören und Sehen, in: Dissonanz/ Dissonance Jg. 94, June 2006, pp. 14–17.
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  • Limbacher, James L.: Film Music, Metuchen NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1974.
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  • Meyer, Thomas: Augenblicke für das Ohr. Musik im alten Schweizer Film, Neujahrsblatt der AMG Zürich, Zurich: Hug & Co. 1999.
  • Mühl–Benninghaus, Wolfgang: «Die Tonfilmumstellung im Kontext medialer Veränderungen», in: Spektakel der Moderne, ed. Joachim Fiebach, Wolfgang Mühl–Benninghaus, Berlin: Vistas 1996.
  • Müller, Corinna: Vom Stummfilm zum Tonfilm, Munich: Wilhelm Fink 2003.
  • Müller, Hans: Der Film und sein Publikum in der Schweiz, Zurich: Europa 1957.
  • Naegele, Verena et. al: Irma und Alexander Schaichet, Zurich: Orell Füssli 1995.
  • Ottenheym, Konrad: Film und Musik bis zur Einführung des Tonfilms. Beiträge zu einer Geschichte der Filmmusik, Berlin 1944, new edition planned by Markus A. Castor with the collaboration of Sarah Salomon. (I thank Markus A. Castor for access to the unpublished documents.)
  • Pauli, Hansjörg: Filmmusik: Stummfilm, Stuttgart: Klett–Cotta 1981.
  • Piasio, William: Les pionniers biennois du cinéma. Petit historique des principaux cinémas biennois 1897–1930, Bienne: Annales biennoises, 1991, pp. 20–32.
  • Rapée, Ernö: Encyclopedia of Music for Movie Pictures, New York: Arno Press, Reprint 1970 (first 1925).
  • Rapée, Ernö: Motion Pictures Moods for Pianists and Organists, New York: Arno Press Reprint 1970 (first 1924).
  • Ritzmann–Blickenstorfer, Heiner (ed.): Historische Statistik der Schweiz, Zurich: Chronos 1996.
  • Schröder, Heribert: Tanz– und Unterhaltungsmusik in Deutschland 1918–1933. Bonn: Verlag für systematische Musikwissenschaft 1990.
  • Seidler, Walter (ed.): Stummfilmmusik gestern und heute, Berlin: Volker Spiess 1979.
  • Spahn, Paul Emil: Die Filmtheater in der Schweiz, Immensee: Calendaria 1942.
  • Spoerri, Bruno (ed.): Jazz in der Schweiz. Geschichte und Geschichten, Zurich: Chronos 2005.
  • Spohr, Mathias: Die theatralischen Wurzeln der Hollywood–Filmmusik, In: Dissonanz/Dissonance 42, Nov. 1994, pp. 11–15.
  • Spohr, Mathias: Geschichte der Kurmusik. Marktplatz der Musiker und Musikstile, in: Das Orchester, January 2010, pp. 14f.
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  • Willner, Hans: Vom Kino in Zürich. 50 Jahre Zürcher Lichtspieltheater–Verband, Zürcher Lichtspieltheater–Verband, 1974.
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(Author: Bruno Spoerri. The first version of this text appeared in German in: Mathias Spohr (ed.): Swiss Film Music. Anthology 1923–2012, pp. 33–65. ISBN 978-3-03401-265-2) plzm.259b154d-181b-4269-9391-50fa2ba0b918?.gif

  1. Willi Bierbaum (1875–1942) was the local editor of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung from 1903 to 1940. In 1912 he wrote his first film review for the NZZ, and in 1920 he introduced a regular film review, although he was happy to leave the collective reviews to others. In his texts quoted by Güttinger (Güttinger: Kein Tag ohne Kino, 1984, p. 177f.) there is not a word about music. Karl Bleibtreu (1859–1928) regularly reviewed the programmes of all the cinemas in Zurich, where he lived from 1908 onwards, in the weekly Die Ähre from 13 July 1913 to 2 August 1914 and then again from 22 November 1914 to 17 January 1915. Music is not mentioned by him either. (Güttinger: Kein Tag ohne Kino, 1984, p. 207f.)
  2. E.G.: Nowhere in the reviews of Bäckerei Zürrer (1957) is the music by Walter Baumgartner mentioned, see Felix Aeppli: Der Schweizer Film 1929–1964, Zurich: Limmat 1981, vol. 1, pp. 238ff.
  3. Güttinger’s documents lie largely unordered in many boxes in the Deutsche Kinemathek Berlin. They contain a great many documents on Zurich’s film history.
  4. Cf. Mathias Spohr: «Geschichte der Kurmusik. Marktplatz der Musiker und Musikstile», in: Das Orchester, January 2010, p. 14f.
  5. See lists of new residents in the Zurich City Archives.
  6. Heribert Schröder: Tanz- und Unterhaltungsmusik in Deutschland 1918–1933: Bonn: Verlag für systematische Musikwissenschaft 1990, p. 176.
  7. „Vinzenz Kranebitter at the Wintergarten“, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), 12.10. 1917, no. 1909, 13.10.1917, no. 1899, “Aversano at the Metropol”, NZZ 2.3. 1917, no. 370, “Cattaneo at the Astoria”, NZZ 2.3. 1917, 370, 25.9. 1917, no. 1777.
  8. Verena Naegele (ed.): Irma und Alexander Schaichet: ein Leben für die Musik, Zurich: Orell Füssli 1995, p. 15f.
  9. «Zürich als Ziel ausländischer Musiker», in: NZZ 22.9. 1917, No. 1757.
  10. Curt Paul Janz (25.9. 1911–28.8. 2011) was an extremely versatile musician who was mainly employed in the Basler Orchester-Gesellschaft (BOG). He successfully championed the concerns of the musicians’ union, and his scholarly work was primarily devoted to the estate of Friedrich Nietzsche.
  11. Curt Janz: «100 Jahre Musikerorganisation Basel», in: Schweizer Musiker Blatt, February 1977.
  12. Hervé Dumont: Geschichte des Schweizer Films, Lausanne: Schweizer Filmarchiv 1987, p. 25, quoted from Hanspeter Manz: «Zur Frühgeschichte des Kinogewerbes in der Schweiz», in: Film und Filmwirtschaft in der Schweiz. Fünfzig Jahre Allgemeine Kinematographische Aktiengesellschaft, Zurich: Rohr 1968, pp. 43–50.
  13. For reasons of fire protection alone, the projector booths were separated from the auditorium at an early stage. See also Herbert Birett: Lichtspiele. Der Kino in Deutschland bis 1914, Munich: Q–Verlag 1994. p. 20. / Karl Heinz Dettke: Kinoorgeln und Kinomusik in Deutschland, Stuttgart: Metzler 1995.
  14. E.T.: «Der tönende Schatten», NZZ 1.11. 1922.
  15. Hervé Dumont: Geschichte des Schweizer Films, Lausanne: Schweizer Filmarchiv 1987, p. 22.
  16. Dumont 1987, p. 24.
  17. Dumont 1987, p. 116.
  18. NZZ 29.9. 1925, No. 1815: Glück und Ende des englischen Casanova (Beau Brummel), with John Barrymore, producer Warner Brothers NY, played in Germany in April 1925.
  19. Deutsche Kinemathek Berlin, Güttinger Collection.
  20. Curt Janz: «100 Jahre Musikerorganisation Basel», in: Schweizer Musiker Blatt, February 1977.
  21. Documents of the Leuzinger family, Rapperswil, private property.
  22. Martin Schlappner: Obituary of Jack Trommer in the NZZ of 30.8. 1990.
  23. Advertisements in the Züricher Post 1929.
  24. National-Zeitung 1.4.1916 / Güttinger: Kein Tag ohne Kino, 1984, p. 339f.
  25. Züricher Post, 2.2. 1924 / newspaper clipping without source, possibly 6.2. 1924.
  26. Hans Ailbout (1879 Krefeld–1957 Berlin). After studying music, Ailbout taught at the Krefeld Conservatory, later at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin. Around 1907 he founded the Mozart Conservatory in Berlin-Wilmersdorf and was its director from then on. He composed mainly piano pieces and film music. His best-known set of melodies for wind orchestra is the Fantasia Im Rosengarten von Sanssouci (1930), whose sheet music can be found in the holdings of the German National Library in Leipzig, among others.
  27. Deutsche Kinemathek Berlin, Güttinger Collection.
  28. Cf. Mathias Spohr: «Marktmacht eines neuen Mediums. Richard Strauss und die Verfilmung des Rosenkavalier (1926) von Robert Wiene», in: Julia Liebscher (ed.): Richard Strauss und das Musiktheater, Berlin: Henschel 2005, pp. 211–224.
  29. Güttinger: Der Stummfilm im Zitat der Zeit, 1987, p. 160.
  30. Christoph Bignens: Kinos. Architektur als Marketing, Zurich: Hans Rohr 1988, p. 115.
  31. Bignens: Kinos. Architektur als Marketing, 1988, p. 120.
  32. Bignens: Kinos. Architektur als Marketing, 1988, p. 116. / Karl Heinz Dettke: Kino– und Theaterorgeln. Eine internationale Übersicht. Marburg: Tectum, 2001.
  33. Festschrift Kino Forum, Zurich 1928.
  34. Bignens: Kinos. Architektur als Marketing, 1988, p. 120. See also the description of the opening of this cinema above.
  35. Friedrich Witz: Ich wurde gelebt, Zurich: Ex Libris 1969, p. 134.
  36. Artur Beul: Nach Regen scheint Sonne. Erinnerungen und Begegnungen mit Künstlern, Winterthur: Swiss Music 1994, p. 24.
  37. Victor Klemperer: «Das Lichtspiel», in: Velhagen & Klasing’s Monatshefte 26:1912, pp. 613–617.
  38. Güttinger: «Vom Teppichcharakter der Stummfilmmusik», in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung 23.10.1981, No. 246.
  39. Fritz Daussig: «Filmmusik», in: Velhagen & Klassings Monatshefte 1925, Jg. 40, Heft 3, Nov., see also Güttinger: «Vom Teppichcharakter der Stummfilmmusik», NZZ 1981.
  40. See Hansjörg Pauli: Filmmusik: Stummfilm, Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta 1981, p. 20ff.
  41. Fritz Daussig: «Filmmusik», in: Velhagen & Klassings Monatshefte 1925, Jg. 40, Heft 3, Nov. 1925, see also Güttinger: «Vom Teppichcharakter der Stummfilmmusik», NZZ 1981.
  42. Museum Neuhaus, Biel,
  44. Walter Labhart, quoted after: Verena Naegele (ed.): Irma und Alexander Schaichet, Zurich: Orell Füssli 1995, p. 81.
  45. NZZ 23.3.1925, No. 454
  46. Ludwig Czerny, retrieved on 10.3. 2014.
  47. Interview by Bruno Spoerri with Curt Paul Janz on 15.2. 2007 in Muttenz.
  48. Presumably Frauennot – Frauenglück (Director: Sergej Eisenstein, Production: Praesens Film, 1929).
  49. James L. Limbacher: Film Music, Metuchen NJ: Scarecrow Press 1974.
  50. Wolfgang Mühl-Benninghaus: «Die Tonfilmumstellung im Kontext medialer Veränderungen», in: Joachim Fiebach, W. Mühl-Benninghaus (eds.): Spektakel der Moderne, Berlin: Vistas 1996, p. 179.
  51. The Jazz Singer (1927), retrieved on 10 June 2014.
  52. Hervé Dumont: Geschichte des Schweizer Films, Lausanne: Schweizer Filmarchiv 1987, p. 22.
  53. «Ein Tonfilm.», in: NZZ, 9.4.1927.
  54. Dumont 1987, p. 122f.
  55. See also «Die Bilder lernten früher sprechen» in: NZZ 15.4.1983, and Dumont 1987, p. 123.
  56. «Ein Tonfilm», in: NZZ, 9.4.1927.
  57. Dumont 1987, p. 123.
  58. NZZ 9.4. 1927
  59. Zürcher Filmrundschau, NZZ, 8.11. 1929.
  60. “Why will the silent film remain? Because it has an audience […] The sound film is not yet ready and the stagnation in America is already teaching caution.” Heinz Landa: «Möglichkeiten im stummen Film, Interview mit Wilhelm Dieterle», in: Züricher Post, 21.2. 1929, No. 224.
  61. Züricher Post, advertisement of the Capitol cinema on 16.9.1929.
  62. Aeppli, p. 31f., see also Friedrich Witz: Ich wurde gelebt, p. 155f.
  63. Stefano Mordasini: La naissance et le développement de l’exploitation cinématographique dans le Tessin, in: Vinzenz Hediger, Jan Sahli, Alexandra Schneider, Margrit Tröhler (eds.): Home stories. Neue Studien zu Film und Kino in der Schweiz, Marburg: Schüren 2001, pp. 71–82.
  64. Dumont 1987, p. 124.
  65. Certificate of dismissal Lore Spoerri-Schein, June 1931. Private archive Bruno Spoerri, Zurich.
  66. Jeaunette Egli: «Feind im Blut», in: Vinzenz Hediger, Jan Sahli, Alexandra Schneider, Margrit Tröhler (eds.): Home stories. Neue Studien zu Film und Kino in der Schweiz, Marburg: Schüren, 2001. pp. 115–128.
  67. Fritz Bersinger: 50 Jahre ASCO 1934–1984, Zurich: Association of Management Consultants Switzerland (ASCO) [no date], p. 9.
  68. 50 Jahre Schweizer Musiker-Verband (SMV) 1914–1964, p. 23.
  69. Heiner Ritzmann-Blickenstorfer (ed.): Historische Statistik der Schweiz, Zurich: Chronos, 1996., p. 423.
  70. Bersinger, 50 Jahre ASCO 1934–1984, p. 11f.
  71. Performance lists of the orchestra Lore Durant (pseudonym of Lore Schein), private archive Bruno Spoerri.
  72. NZZ, 1.2. 1929.
  73. Report of the City Clerk, Zurich, 6.6. 1911.
  74. These and the following quotations by Lore Spoerri from the estate of Lore Spoerri, private archive Bruno Spoerri, folder LS 1.
  75. Interview with Regina Schein on the occasion of the film Narrative for Sandra (Anne Spoerri, 1988). The texts, edited by Bruno Spoerri, can be found in the Zurich Central Library Sig. DW 17829.
  76. NZZ, 26.2. 1922
  77. Die Frau im Feuer (1924), based on the novel by Georg Hirschfeld, directed by Carl Boese, produced by Bavaria Film Munich, Josefine: Asta Nielsen, see Illustrierter Film-Kurier 101/1924.
  78. Testimony by Emil Schwank-Hirt dated 30.6.1930, private archive Bruno Spoerri, folder LS 1. It played from 1.10.29 to 30.6.1930, until the sound film was introduced.
  79. The six suitcases with Abraham Schein’s sheet music (probably the largest Swiss repertoire of salon music from that time) turned up again in the 1950s at the home of a Mr Fontana, a cement manufacturer in Reigoldswil. Fontana collected violins and cellos, but then sold everything in the eighties. The sheet music went to Bela & Ferenc Szedlak (I Salonisti) for Fr. 2000, together with a collection of sheet music by the Hungarian musician Rudolf Nyari (*1881). They are now kept by Lorenz Hasler in the Zingghaus in Köniz, BE.
  80. Notes Lore Schein, private archive Bruno Spoerri, Zurich.