The Allgemeines Handbuch der Film-Musik was published by Hans Erdmann, Ludwig Brav, and Giuseppe Becce in 1927 by the Berlin-based publisher Schlesinger. It represents the most comprehensive and undoubtedly most significant document pertaining to the practice of “silent”-film accompaniment during the 1920s in Germany. The four hundred-page work is divided into two volumes: The first one delivers an elaborate aesthetic and theoretical debate about the prevalent and ideal methods of film accompaniment, and the second volume contains a cinema music catalog, the so-called Thematisches Skalenregister (Thematic Music Index), with over three thousand musical incipits. While the Handbuch was firmly grounded in the musical practice of cinema musicians, the two parts were not solely intended as a manual to facilitate the fast-paced working routine of practitioners, like the numerous cinema music catalogs that were published in Germany in the wake of Becce’s Kinotheken (1919-1929). In these catalogs, music pieces of various origins were organized according to certain parameters in order to satisfy the musi-co-dramatic demands of day-to-day “silent”-film accompaniment. The pieces were interpreted for their extramusical associations and labeled under specific semantic categories in order to be used for specific and recurrent types of film scenes. This labeling of music was based on the tradition of “musical hermeneutics,” and it inspired the conception of the Handbuch’s second volume, the Thematic Music Index, which is a complex and multilayered classification system for cinema music. Thus, in addition to providing a precise method for film accompaniment, the Handbuch contains a theory and an aesthetics that applies the music-hermeneutical ideas of German musicologist Hermann Kretzschmar to the practice of film accompaniment. Kretzschmar (1848-1924) located the core problem of musical hermeneutics—a discipline of music analysis that essentially studies musical meaning and interpretation—in the nomenclature of musical expression, which formed the basis of the musical accompaniment method in “silent” cinema. This essay focuses on the influence of Kretzschmar’s theory of musical hermeneutics on the indexing system of the Handbuch as well as on the author’s intentions to ground their work in academic theory.

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