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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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1917 advertisement. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
MAJESTIC ORCHESTRA. For the first thirty or so years of cinema’s existence, nearly all films were accompanied by musicians.

The first projected films were accompanied by a solo piano player who usually improvised. Eventually, films were distributed with published cue sheets suggesting what the piano player (or possibly an organist) would perform. By the 1920s, a major film released in a large city might be accompanied by a full orchestra, but since orchestras could not improvise, complete scores became a necessity. These were most often a mixture of current hit tunes and classical favorites. (1)

Most film producers rarely commissioned orchestral scares from composers with a reputation outside of solely cinematic circles. There were only a few silent film scores written by major composers. Even less musically sophisticated filmmakers in the silent era were enough aware of the value of musical rhythm and mood in their craft that it was a common practice to have musicians actually play on the set during the shooting to help the actors shape a scene. (2)

Just when these experiments in film and music were really getting under way, the silent film was doomed to extinction. In 1926 Warner Brothers distributed its first feature, "Don Juan", with a recorded soundtrack. So quick and complete was the total abandonment of the silent film, that many important works and scores from the era were simply neglected and then lost. (3)

Jake Rosenthal, the manager of the Majestic, during Thanksgiving week in 1911 advertised that visitors to the Majestic were listening to an orchestra, for ten, twenty, or thirty cents, that cost $150.00 "saying not a word about the salaries of our twenty-one local employees, light, heat, insurance and advertising." (4) Advertisement for the theater regularly credited the quality of the music. (5)



1. Pruitt, John, "Between Theater and Cinema: Silent Film Accompaniment in the 1920s," American Symphony Orchestra, Online: http://americansymphony.org/between-theater-and-cinema-silent-film-

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Advertisement, The Telegraph-Herald, November 26, 1911, p. 28

5. Advertisement, The Telegraph-Herald, November 14, 1911, p. 9

The 1916-1917 White's Dubuque County Directory listed the MAJESTIC THEATRE as the address.