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The History of Production Music

latest update on June 16, 2014

The history of Production Music is a fascinating chapter in 20th-century popular culture. What we now call "Production Music" in the U.S. — for providing incidental music for dramatic plays, pageants, radio, TV and films — was originally known in Europe as "Cinema Music", "Atmospheric Music" and then the title for which it is still known in many places — "Mood Music."

In Europe it was also known as "Effects Music" and "Background Music." Here in the US, it has been also known as "Cue music" and "Library Music." But overall "Mood Music" is still the best-known term up until the 1960s when "Production Music" seemed to take its place as a term in the U.S.

Here is a rough outline of the principal events in its history...

The art of "film scoring" began with a few lists assembled by orchestra leaders, theater organists and pianists, of various typical classical pieces to accompany scenes in silent films. So we might say "scoring" was originally a live in-person process that involved some awkward segues or even improvised bridges, as musicians scrambled to turn the pages of their well-worn individual pieces of sheet music;

In Germany original music for silent films began to be composed in the decade following the turn of the century, composed by Guiseppe Becce and Hans May; and during the 1920's Hungarian-born Sandor Totis (known later in the U.S. under his professional name of Alexander Laszlo.) But Laszlo's early experimental film music was for multiple cameras projecting colored shapes on a screen. These were known as "Farblichtmusik" (Color-Light-Music) concerts.

An ever-increasing number of original incidental music composed especially for use with silent films began to appear — released in the U.S. by such publishers as Sam Fox Moving Picture Music. His first popular sets of motion picture music in 1913 contained various characteristic piano pieces composed by Cleveland-born John Stepan Zámečník, who was known as "J.S. Zámečník" (pronounced ZAM-ish-nick.) His family had emmigrated from Bohemia (which is now part of Czechoslovakia.) At the age of 20, he went back to "the old country" and studied at the Prague Conservatory under the famous composer Anton Dvorák. Back in the U.S. he played violin with the Pittsburgh Symphony under Victor Herbert, but returned to his home town to become music director of the Hippodrome Theater in Cleveland, where he wrote incidental music for the theatrical presentations and pageants as well as 6 light operettas.

In 1913 the first volume of music cues he wrote for Sam Fox to accompany the exploding field of "silent movie music" had only 25 piano pieces; He followed it up with several volumes for full orchestra, and during his lifetime was to compose over 1500 published compositions under various pseudonyms. In 1924 Zámečník moved to Hollywood, California to begin writing entire movie scores to be performed by live orchestras at larger theaters.

While European composers had been writing original works for films for two decades, and J.S. Zámečník was dominating the field in the U.S., many smaller theaters could only afford a pianist who struggled to keep up with the projected scenes using whatever classical or popular sources seemed appropriate — sometimes improvised from memory — and sometimes with piles of individual sheet music balanced on the piano.

One example of this collected "anthology" approach — perhaps in response to all the flimsy sheet music that must have fallen from pianos and music stands at times — is a large heavy bound book published in 1924 by the G. Schirmer company in New York with the title "Motion Picture Moods." This huge 675-page collection was assembled by a busy silent film pianist and organist who held several silent film accompanist jobs in New York by the name of Erno Rapée.

Young Mr. Rapée selected not only from what we might now call "the old warhorses" of classical music — familiar compositions from the pens of Grieg, Mendelssohn, Johann Strauss, Schumann, Bizet, Brahms and Tchaikovsky; and a number of "traditional" Folk-songs, Patriotic Airs, National Hymns and National Songs; a few popular ballads of the 19th century whose copyrights had expired; but also a few compositions from lesser-known (and today mostly forgotten) composers who must have been under contract to Schirmer in the 1920's to produce a few examples of "special material" for situations that couldn't be covered by the other tuneful melodies — these latter works included such melodramatic filmic titles that were the predecessors of the underscore or "cue music" that now comprises most film scores:

    "Allegro Misterioso Nottorno" by Gastón Borch, 
    "Agitato Misterioso" by Otto Langley
    "Indian War-dance" by Irénée Berge
    "Valzer Appassionato" by Theodora Dutton
    "Western Allegro" by Edward Falck

Mood Music evolved as an outgrowth of music publishers who began supplying taylor-made light music and dramatic cues using composers who were known for Cinema Music.

Recordings on disc were soon produced. By the 1940s, in the United States, two New York selling agents (Emil Ascher, Inc. and Thomas J. Valentino) began to offer exclusive representation of various European libraries. Music packagers in Hollywood during the 1950s, found ways to re-package B-movie film cues into libraries to score the new medium of television and a few radio shows along the way.

Latter-day companies in the 1960s and 1970s evolved using modern marketing techniques to provide a variety of more contemporary music styles for not only shows and series, but for the increasing market for commercial and promotional jingles. Although such companies may be listed in media directories as sources of Production Music, we omit them from this history since, by and large, their styles do not overlap the Light Music genre, and their composer/arrangers may be a bit less skilled than those composers listed in the Light Music Hall of Fame.

The primary source of early information below on this is "Journal Into Melody", a periodical newsletter from the Robert Farnon Society, a light music society in England. Articles on Mood Music have appeared by David Ades, David Mardon, Alan Heinecke and Nick Farries. We have noted issues and pages from the newsletter as sources wherever appropriate. Other source material came from CD liner notes of Production Music/Mood Music Archival CDs. Later research from a variety of books and sources has revealed the methods of the Hollywood Music packagers.


Thomas Edison films include printed sheets of "suggestions for music", mainly from the classical repertoire. The suggestions would be for sheet music which could be purchased and/or tunes improvised form memory by silent film accompanists. [J.I.M. 12/96, p. 39]


Sam Fox Publishing of Cleveland, Ohio began its long involvement in supplying library music, in the form of sheet music folio books of motion picture music. [J.I.M. 12/96, p. 39] Among the contributors to this book which had compositions named for the type of screen action, are John Stepan Zamecnik. [S.D. Public Library.]

prior to WW I

DeWolfe Publishers in London offer a sheet music library of original compositions to accompany silent films. [J.I.M. 12/96, p. 39]


Guiseppe Becce sets up a sheet music library called "Kinothek" in Berlin, Germany to aid silent film accompanists.Among the composers who write for it are Hans May, who later contributes to the Harmonic Library of recorded music in the 1940s. [J.I.M. 12/96, p. 39] Another contributor was Hungarian-born Sandor Totis (aka: Alexander Laszlo), who started his own production music libraries in the US in the early 1950s. [Laszlo Collection, UWYO]


The Brunswick Record Company in the US begins to produce the first "Mood Accompaniment Library" of 495 discs on 10" and 12" 78rpm singles. Although the discs were of standard classical works and popular tunes of the day, suggestions were made for their use in accompanying films and theatre productions. [J.I.M. 12/96, p. 39]


The Columbia Record Company in London publishes a catalog which includes suggestions for which of its (mainly classical) recordings might be used for various incidental music situations of early films. Subsequent editions are also published in 1931. [J.I.M. 12/96, p. 39]

1936 -37

Two music publishers in England: Bosworth and Boosey & Hawkes begin creating records of compositions from their catalog which more closely reflect the realistic needs of radio drama and film production. These are generally considered to be the first true "Mood Music" libraries. Although they include some classical works, what sets them apart is that they also have original pieces from the publisher's catalog from the pen of those composers who become known later for their "Light Music" talents. [J.I.M. 12/96, p. 39]


The Boosey & Hawkes Recorded Music library was founded in London by publishing partner Ralph Hawkes. Already a respected publisher of serious and light music works by Edward Elgar and Gustav Holst, the Boosey & Hawkes company was able to offer many fine compositions from its catalog, as well as original works by such light music composers as Frederic Curzon, Trevor Duncan, Edward White, Cyril Watters, and Eugene Cines.

Prior to WW II, their first "BH series" of disks suffered from inferior pressings. After the War, many sides were re-pressed and/or re-recorded. 78 rpm singles were produced until 1978, when LPs were introduced. The subsidiary label, Cavendish, took over distribution of the library, with the advent of CDs. [J.I.M. 3/97, pp. 34 - 41.]


Teddy Holmes sets up a recorded music library for Chappell Publishers in London, for theatrical films, newsreels, and radio broadcasting. The first sides have a 1942 copyright date. Chappell is destined to become one of the largest and most prestigious sources of Mood Music. Although the library includes a "classical" series and a "dance music" series, its first Mood Music series includes original compositions by film and Light Music composers: Charles Williams, Eric Coates, Hadyn Wood, Edward German, Clive Richardson and Cecil Milner, and later Robert Farnon, among others. In its first five years from 1941 - 1946, the "Chappell Recorded Music Library" offers approximately 100 discs of original Mood Music. The 78rpm format lasts until 1969, when LPs are introduced. The Bruton label issues library material on CDs these days. [J.I.M. 12/96, pp. 43 - 59.]


It is believed that W. Paxton and Company began selling recordings in 1941 from their London headquarters, although the exact origins of the Paxton Library is still being investigated. Early composers included Granville Bantock, Walter Collins, C. King Palmer, Edward Carmer, Frederick Charrosin, Peter Yorke, Ronald Hanmer, Dennis Berry (under various pseudonyms including Peter Dennis), and Dolf van der Linden. During the period when library music was prevented from being recorded in Britain due to a Musician's Union ban, many recordings were made by the Dutch Metropole Orchestra directed by Dolf van der Linden. Latter-day CDs including re-issues appeared on the Atmosphere label owned by the Novellos. [J.I.M. 12/97, pp. 25 - 29.]

late 1940s

Capitol Records in Hollywood begins a "Capitol Transcription Service" to supply radio series with music. Its discs includes artists such as "Louis Castelucci and the Capitol Band" performing the march "Bombasto" by O.J. Farrar. (This was a march used on local and network radio in the late 1940s as a sports theme, for example.) The "Capitol Transcription Service" library was a predecessor to the "Capitol 'Q' Series" Library, and the "Hi-Q" Libraries which followed.

late 1940s

From their New York offices, two publishing companies - Thomas J. Valentino and Emil Ascher - begin representing European recorded music libraries, as sole selling agents for their libraries in the United States.Sometimes they changed the names of library cues, so that uses can be tracked for obtaining performance royalties via US licensing agencies ASCAP and BMI. Valentino's catalog even went so far as to create their own label called "Major Mood Music", which did not identify which libraries it was re-cycling. These libraries included Chappell and Parry Mood Music. Emil Ascher's catalog included the names of the European sources -- Harmonic, Conroy, Ring Music, FDH (Francis, Day and Hunter), Impress, JW (Jacob Weinberger) Theme Music, Keith Prowse, and Ruthanne. He also distributed the New York label Video Moods owned by Mort and Everett Ascher. In time Emil Ascher got out of the library business, and so Thomas J. Valentino absorbed some of the labels Ascher used to represent. [1960-1970s catalogs of Major Records and Emil Ascher Inc.]

late 1940s

One of the more interesting lesser-known U.S. labels was called Video Moods. It too drew on an international pool of mood music composers from Europe, Canada and even a few in the U.S. The U.S. Composers of course had to use pseudonyms to avoid conflict with the AF of M (Musician's Union) which hated production libraries. For example, Ward Sills was the pseudonym of Wladimir Selinsky who wrote for "Kraft Theatre" among other popular TV series. Franz Mahl was a pseudonym claimed by Emil Ascher Inc., but was probably to cover for George Chase, a prolific New York-based composer, originally from Europe who worked for Ascher and European libraries both at the time.

Video Moods included an eclectic catalog of cues -- even a few nice Opens and Closes used for News Themes in the U.S. (One in particular was used for a local San Diego News Theme and was known to this author.) Some of the Video Moods suspense cues ended up tracked into the infamous Ed Wood feature film, "Plan 9 From Outer Space." Video Moods was owned by Mort Ascher and his son Everett Ascher and distributed by Emil Ascher. [Liner Notes of the soundtrack CD "Plan 9 from Outer Space" by Paul Mandell]


The "Lone Ranger" radio series in the US becomes one of the first filmed series for the new medium of Television. The US Musician's union under the stern mandate of autocratic president James Petrillo, demands a second payment for recording and re-use of cues equal to its live performance rate, which is not practical for fledgling TV producers.

This spurs music directors and editors to think of ways to obtain music for the new medium of TV, that will skirt this restriction. In the US, a period of "runaway production" begins whereby cues are recorded outside the US, at "dark sessions" where union players play for lower scale at a non-union session, or cues are re-cycled from old motion picture scores. This means that US libraries are often created by forner music editors and composers, rather than traditional music publishers, as was the case with the European libraries.

For example, "The Lone Ranger" radio series had used a small library of cues which had been performed live, usually from classical sources but including a few B-picture film cues from the Republic Pictures stock library which were composed by Cy Feuer, William Lava, and others.

To re-use these cues in the filmed "Lone Ranger" TV series, caused nervous producers to commission slight re-arrangements of these same melodies by NBC staff arranger Ben Bonnell, and re-recordings in Mexico City under the baton of Daniel Perez Casteñeda, who also arranged the classical excerpts for the orchestra. So these are the versions and recordings which became familiar to the TV viewer. [Liner notes to the CD "Music From The Lone Ranger" and the book, "The Mystery of The Masked Man's Music", 1987, by Reginald M. Jones, Jr.]

David Chudnow, who was to later start one of the first large-scale TV Music Services - MUTEL ("Music For Television") - was the music editor for the "Lone Ranger" TV series. [Book "TV's Biggest Hits", 1996, by Jon Burlingame.]

late 1940s

The "Guild-Universal Library" PA (Production Aids) series is created for the Armed Forces Radio Service by enterprising composer/publisher Alexander Laszlo. [Laszlo Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming at Laramie.] Hungarian-born Laszlo had been a European piano prodigy and composer of music for chamber ensembles under his birth name Sandor Totis; he also wrote for German silent films and European sound film scores. He emigrated to the US in 1938 where he taught music in Chicago, then he moved to New York state, and finally settled in Hollywood. [ASCAP Biographical Dictionary, 1966.]

Laszlo scored his first US picture -- a Charlie Chan film, "The Chinese Cat" -- released by Monogram Pictures in 1944. Although music director Edward Kay was credited, it was Laszlo's who actually composed the cues. [Laszlo Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming at Laramie. Catalog of Copyright Entries for Motion Pictures 1940 - 1949, US Library of Congress.]

His "Guild-Universal" library of musical Production Aids for the Armed Forces Radio Service, consisted of recycled cues which Laszlo composed for European pictures before he came to the US. [correspondence with author/producer Paul Mandell, Brooklyn, NY.]

It is possible that the opening theme for the US TV series "Racket Squad" may have come from one of Laszlo's early European pictures via this "Guild-Universal" library of Production Aids, and may have been one of a series of cues Laszlo licensed to David Chudnow's MUTEL library as well. However, nothing in Laszlo's business files points to a particular cue, despite an exhaustive search.


Alexander Laszlo creates a second library in Hollywood called "Structural Music" which he marketed primarily to low-budget TV series producers. For "Structural Music", he used an architectural analogy to explain the roles of various cues. For example, he called an Opening Theme an "Arch", a transitional bridge a "Frame", and a Closing Theme a "Dome", etc. For the first few volumes, he even tries a complicated coding system in three dimensions of emotion - for identifying happy, serious, and mechanical moods. But all of this may have been a marketing gimmick, since he dropped the complicated coding system after a few volumes.

Laszlo provided about 1200 cuts in 38 Volumes of "Structural Music", which were copyrighted between 1950 - 1960. Over half of the library consists of re-cycled cues from his scores to more than 50 US films, beginning with the "Charlie Chan" film "The Chinese Cat" in 1944, a couple of "Joe Palooka" films, some naval adventures, some industrial films, and his latter-day science fiction films (including "Night of the Blood Beast"), as well as Laszlo's cues for the radio/TV series "This Is Your Life". [Laszlo Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming at Laramie.]

This author has worked for several years, comparing video airchecks with manuscript scores, and going through the composer's business files to identify which cuts in Laszlo's "Structural Music" library were used as Main and End Credits themes for 25 TV series, including: "Beulah", "Trouble With Father/Stu Erwin Show", "Dupont Cavalcade of America", "Rocky Jones - Space Ranger", "My Little Margie", "Waterfront", "The Lone Wolf", "Dr. Hudson's Secret Journal" and "The Adventures of Kit Carson." Hundreds more US TV series of the 1950s and 1960s used the library for tracking behind episodes.


Several film composers provide small "libraries" of cues for a few specific TV series. Albert Glasser re-records cues from his "Cisco Kid" motion pictures in France, to supply a library of tracks for the "Cisco Kid" TV series. He also provides a library for the series "Big Town" which may have been recorded in dark sessions in L.A or in Tokyo [correspondence with composer Glasser in the 1980s.] Irving Gertz recycles some of his film cues for the early medium of Television, becoming an early supplier of TV music to "Kit Carson" and other shows. [correspondence with author/producer Paul Mandell, Brooklyn, NY.]


MUTEL ("Music For Television") Music Service is created by David Chudnow, former music editor for Republic and Monogram Pictures. It is probable that many of the cues in MUTEL originated in "stock tracking libraries" Chudnow had assembled for B-pictures for film studios like Monogram and Hal Roach on which he was "Music Supervisor" or Music Editor. Chudnow created MUTEL in part because of the US Musician's Union ban on recording cues for TV tracking, and part as a way to market his pre-existing "stock" cue library.

Often a cue was "modified" with small variations in the melody or orchestration before being sent off to Europe to be re-recorded so it could be "re-used" in Chudnow's libraries -- a token gesture to get around any objections to re-use with a minimum of effort. These variations were discovered by this author in comparing several THEMEs -- such as the original "Jack Benny THEME" by Mahlon Merrick, and a slight variation of it which appeared in the MUTEL and Capitol "Q" Service libraries.

His principal composers even before MUTEL were Herschel Burke Gilbert, Joseph Mullendore, Herb Taylor and Mahlon LeGrande Merrick, among others. Cues were re-cycled from B-pictures and other radio/TV series, possibly even European pictures. Original cues are recorded by a "40-piece French orchestra." [Book "TV's Biggest Hits", 1996, by Jon Burlingame, and other sources.]

Most likely the French orchestra was conducted by George Tzipine who got occassional scoring credits himself, but was more of a conductor than a composer [Documents provided by library music researcher Paul Mandell, Brooklyn, NY.]

The MUTEL scoring service provided both custom themes for such early TV series as "Adventures of Superman", and also a library of themes and cues for tracking episodes of many shows. Among the other US TV series which made much use of MUTEL were "Racket Squad", "Captain Midnight", "Man With a Camera", "Broken Arrow", "Annie Oakley", "Sky King", and "Ramar of the Jungle." [Book "TV's Biggest Hits", 1996, by Jon Burlingame.]

MUTEL music editor Leon Klatzkin often is credited as a composer, for the purpose of collecting royalties from the uses of MUTEL cues and themes. Klatzkin's name appears on ASCAP credits for "Superman", "My Hero", and "Racket Squad" TV themes, which were probably not written by him [correspondence with author/producer Paul Mandell, Brooklyn, NY.]

Some of the most popular themes from MUTEL were published in the form of sheet music and band arrangements published by David Gordon, whose Gordon Music also supplied TV tracks. Published themes included "Secret of the Silent Hills" (William Lava's theme for "Lassie"), "Man With a Badge March", and "Game of the Week March" by Joseph Mullendore (used for network sports and "Adventures of Rin Tin Tin").


The Omar Music Service is created by B-picture music supervisor Raoul Kraushaar. Primarily it is created to provide tracks to the "Lassie" TV series, but branches out into a few other shows including the TV series "The Thin Man" and "Northwest Passage." Ghost writers for this service include Republic Studios composers Dave Kahn and William Lava. Kraushaar had the habit of not crediting his writers. When Kraushaar saw the theme music for Lassie had become popular, he first allowed David Gordon to publish sheet music and orchestra arrangements of it under the title "Secret of the Silent Hills" (it had originally been a cue for an early Dr. Christian film by Lava.)

Not satisfied with retitling the theme, or letting Lava get credit, Kraushaar composed his own slight variation on Lava's melody, but with the same harmonic background, for the second season of the show, and called it "Lassie Theme", with himself as composer. This melody is surprisingly similar to "Secret of the Silent Hills" with only a slight variation. [Correspondence with production library music researcher Paul Mandell.]


David Chudnow licenses part of his MUTEL Music Service library to Capitol Special Products as "The Capitol 'Q' Series Library, marketed to broadcasters for live TV use. The cues are renamed again, this time identified only by number, as a THEME, MOOD, BRIDGE, etc. A series of 78rpm "audition disks" are created for the library, which was also provided on sound film and tape. [Capitol 'Q' Series catalog.]

Early 1960s

Composer Den Berry sets up his own Conroy Music label in England. [J.I.M. 12/97, p. 27.]


Network Production Music is created by Tom Dinoto, owner of the US commercial jingle company "Tuesday Productions" in San Diego, California. Craig Everett Palmer is the principal composer of many of the successful early cuts, which feature string and French horns on top of a modern drum beat, with Timpani and brass accents.

One Craig Palmer composition -- entitled "Energy" -- practically defined the genre of 1980s production music. Early "Network" cues and themes often were used on TV network sports shows and syndicated US TV shows such as "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous", and behind national commercials. Network becomes a successful US-owned production music library for this style of music.


Carlin Production Music is born in the U.K. in September, 1988. The first Production Music album was released in November, 1988. [J.I.M. 12/96, p 60.]

[to be continued...]

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