City Lights/Chaplin

January 8, 2013

city lights

Did you know that Jean Harlow appeared as an extra in the restaurant scene in CITY LIGHTS? Did you know that Alfred Newman conducted the premiere? When you read good liner notes there are little bits of trivia that you’ll pick up. David Robinson did a fine job at providing pre-film through the process when Carl Davis decided to re-record the original Chaplin material and after reading I really felt like I had learned something.

Having spent a great deal of time reviewing, evaluating, and listening to THE ARTIST (2011) I got quite excited when the distributor Naxos sent me the Carl Davis re-issue (CDC 015) of his original re-recording Circumstances were very similar for both films, a silent picture in the early era of sound. Chaplin made a statement to the press and anyone else who would listen that “sound films were a fad that would pass in a year or two.” Whether or not he believed what he said is another story.

Composed by Charlie Chaplin for a 35 piece orchestra it was arranged to be the counterpoint of what you saw on the screen. There was to be no competition for the tramp. Composing took place by Chaplin humming the melodies to his chief orchestrator Arthur Johnston who would then orchestrate in the way that Chaplin dictated. When Davis took on this project it seemed to be relatively easy as material was all written down. There was a conductor’s score to make the task even easier. The problem came when the written score was compared with the original recording (there were lost notations) making it extremely difficult to synchronize the re-recording to the film itself.

The music as a standalone listen is a very pleasant one offering different melodies on most of the tracks. My favorite track is the final cue “Reunited” which unfolds into the operatic track “La Violetera” without singing. It is filled with love in the air music with counterpoint from the piano. It is delicate and elegant like the tramp. Other tracks of interest include the “Overture/Unveiling the Statue” which features a mocking clarinet, raucous arranging, trumpet fanfares, and racing strings. “The Nightclub Dance Suite” features some nice sax work, an urgent waltz, and some sweet band period music.

I found that this recording benefitted from speakers instead of headphones which I usually use in the evaluation process. As an example the trumpet fanfares were different from each channel and speakers revealed the distinct differences. The sound is exceptionally clear with no shrill from the upper registers. The sax, bassoon, and clarinet sounded like I was in the studio while they were recording.

If you’re looking to expand your soundtrack material from the early days of scores this would be a welcome addition to the collection. I had the opportunity to briefly speak to Carl Davis about this recording and I don’t know who was more excited about this him or me! I guess we’ll call it a tossup.

Track listing


Overture/Unveiling the Statue (04:14)


The Flower Girl (La Violetera) (03:03)


Evening/Meeting the Millionaire (05:42)


At the Millionaire’s Home (03:55)


The Nightclub – Dance Suite (05:08)


The Limousine (02:24)


The Sober Dawn (03:02)


The Party and the Morning After (02:37)


Eviction/The Road Sweeper/At the Girl’s Home (07:43)


The Boxing Match (04:49)


The Burglars (03:12)


Reunited (07:33)

Total Duration: 00:53:22


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