Silent films are never really silent.
They speak through literal communication, as when frames of dialogue or plot detail pop up on the screen, and, of course, through even the slightest changes on an actor's face. They also speak through music, a key ingredient since the glory days of silent movies in the early 20th century.
Scores were composed to complement each scene, underline each emotion. Back in the day, these scores were performed live — by orchestras in the grandest movie palaces, more commonly by an organist or pianist — as the films were shown.
Some scores were fashioned on the spot by the performer, using snippets of classical repertoire, and improvising the...