Showings of silent films almost always featured live music, starting with the pianist at the first public projection of movies by the Lumière Brothers on December 28, 1895 in Paris. From the beginning, music was recognized as essential, contributing to the atmosphere and giving the audience vital emotional cues. Small town and neighborhood movie theatres usually had a pianist. Beginning in the mid-1910s, large city theaters tended to have organists or ensembles of musicians.
See also: French slapstick
Film scores for early silent films were either improvised or compiled of classical or theatrical repertory music. Once full features became commonplace, however, music was compiled from photoplay music by the pianist, organist, orchestra conductor or the movie studio itself, which included a cue sheet with the film. These sheets were often lengthy, with detailed notes about effects and moods to watch for. Starting with the mostly original score composed by Joseph Carl Breil for D. W. Griffith's groundbreaking epic The Birth of a Nation (USA, 1915) it became relatively common for the biggest- budgeted films to arrive at the exhibiting theater with original, specially composed scores
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