The "silent movies" were rarely silent. When screened, they were accompanied by live music -- anything from a small orchestra to a single organist. But if we now too often associate silent-film accompaniment with a rinky-dink piano, Hesperus, a musical ensemble based in the Washington, D.C., area, has a movie it wants you to see -- and hear -- as they reckon it should be.
Noting that many silent films had historical themes, Hesperus co-founder Tina Chancey devised live accompaniment for popular silents with songs and instrumentation appropriate to their settings. So when Allan Dwan's swashbuckling 1922 adventure Robin Hood, starring Douglas Fairbanks, screens this Sat., Feb. 11, at the Byham Theater, the hall will resound with Renaissance and medieval melodies carefully chosen to match the film's action. For example, jaunty, celebratory reels accompany festive scenes depicting the opening of a tournament.
The live score features instruments one doesn't often hear, including early woodwinds such as the shawm and Rauschpfeiffe, and stringed instruments such as the vielle, lute and viola de gamba. Hesperus members also sing.
For arts enthusiasts, the evening offers rare opportunities: one of the greatest action films of the 1920s on the big screen; a unique live musical performance; and the sublime intersection of the two, as Robin Hood bounds across Sherwood Forest aloft on a warble of a recorder, such as he might have played himself, with nary a tinkling piano to be heard.