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 Joseph Carl Breil

Joseph Carl Breil

Birth
Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA
Death 23 Jan 1926 (aged 55)
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Burial Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Plot Cathedral Mausoleum, Alcove of Reverence, T-10, N-7
Memorial ID 9360479 · View Source
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Composer. He was America's first important creator of movie music. His pioneering collaborations with director D. W. Griffith, particularly "The Birth of a Nation" (1915), proved that music could serve a more vital function in silent films than mere accompaniment and helped give the cinema prestige it had never enjoyed before. Breil was born in Pittsburgh. Largely self-taught as a composer, he had his first opera, "Orlando of Milan", performed when he was 18. Moving to New York City, he made a living writing sentimental salon pieces and such operettas as "Love Laughs at Locksmiths" (1910), "Prof. Tattle" (1913), and "The Seventh Chord" (1913). The high point of his "serious" career was the one-act drama "The Legend", premiered by the Metropolitan Opera in 1919. Breil's initial work in films, dating from 1909, was compiling cue sheets of existing music for Griffith's Biograph shorts, and he made history arranging the first feature-length score for the American release of "Queen Elizabeth" (1912), a British production starring Sarah Bernhardt. "The Birth of a Nation" posed his toughest challenge. For this three-hour epic Breil drew on a vast range of material, from Schubert and Wagner ("The Ride of the Valkyries") to Stephen Foster, often altering the originals to better suit the mood of the images. This was done at Griffith's insistence and caused frequent arguments between composer and director. "If I ever kill anyone, it won't be an actor but a musician", Griffith grumbled. He also wrote some original material for "Birth" and one cue, a love theme entitled "The Perfect Song", became the first hit tune taken from a film score. Years later it was used as the theme for the "Amos 'n Andy" radio show. Breil went on to score Griffith's "Intolerance" (1916), "The White Rose" (1923), and "America" (1924); his films for other directors include "Martyrs of the Alamo" (1915), "The Wood Nymph" (1916), "The White Sister" (1923), and "The Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln" (1924). He died of a heart attack at 55, two months after his last opera, "Der Asra", failed in Los Angeles. Although he was a man of modest talent, Breil is unjustly forgotten today. His groundbreaking attempts at underscoring were soon developed by others, while his use of classical music served Hollywood composers well into the 1940s and would later be revived by such filmakers as Stanley Kubrick. In the 1990s Breil's score for "The Birth of a Nation" was newly recorded for a restored video reissue of that controversial classic, and is now available on DVD and CD.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: TLS
  • Added: 24 Aug 2004
  • Find A Grave Memorial 9360479
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Joseph Carl Breil (29 Jun 1870–23 Jan 1926), Find A Grave Memorial no. 9360479, citing Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .