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Film Music: History

Interviews, resources, recordings, advice, and links about movie soundtracks and composing music for film

History of Film Music

This page features highlights from the history of film music.

Max Steiner (1888-1971)

photograph of Max Steiner

Ennio Morricone (1928- )

photograph of Ennio Morricone

Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979)

photograph of Dimitr Tiomkin

Highlights from Film Music History

film of horse in motion1878 - The Horse in Motion is the first motion picture ever made, using 16 different photos and stringing them together.


employeess leaving the factory1895 - Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory is the first movie shown to paying customers (you can watch it here).


1900 - Soldiers of the Cross is considered the first feature-length motion picture ever made.


cover art for Photo-Drama of Creation1914 - Photo-Drama of Creation is the first movie to synchronize sound with the film (no talking yet). It was 8 hours long, made up of four 2-hour parts.



cover art for Birth of a Nation

1915 - The Birth of a Nation (Joseph Carl Breil) is the first movie to have a complete musical score written for it. The music was performed live, not as part of the physical film, but this movie is seen as the birth of modern American cinema.


cover art for The Jazz Singer1927 - The Jazz Singer is the first feature-length movie to include synchronized dialog (a "talkie").



cover art for King Kong1933 - King Kong (Max Steiner) becomes the first movie to use a fully symphonic thematic music score and to rely on sound effects.



cover art for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs1937 - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Leigh Harline and Paul Smith) is the first movie to release a soundtrack album for sale to the public.



cover art for Fantasia1940 - Fantasia is the first movie to have stereophonic sound. Multiple microphones were use to record different sections of the orchestra.



cover art for The Day the Earth Stood Still1951 - The Day the Earth Stood Still (Bernard Herrmann) is the first movie to have a music score recorded entirely with electric instruments.



cover art for The Man with the Golden Arm1955 - The Man with the Golden Arm (Elmer Bernstein) becomes the first Hollywood movie to have an all-jazz musical score.



cover art for The Birds1963 - The Birds (Bernard Hermann) did not have a conventional music soundtrack. Herrmann served as a "sound consultant" and a Trautonium was used to create some of the sound effects of birds.


cover art for Pat Garret & Billy the Kid1973 - Pat Garret & Billy the Kid (Bob Dylan) is the first movie to have an entire soundtrack written for the movie by a popular artist. 



 cover art for Koyaanisqatsi1982 - Koyaanisqatsi (Philip Glass) included no dialog or sound effects. The only sounds came from the musical soundtrack by Philip Glass, which was almost as long as the film itself.


cover art for Stop Making Sense

1984 - Stop Making Sense is the first movie to have an all-digital soundtrack.

Multimedia Librarian

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For research assistance, visit the Reference Desk on the main floor of the library or call 330.941.3686.