Charlie Chaplin the actor is universally synonymous with his beloved Tramp character, and Chaplin the director is considered one of the great auteurs and innovators of cinema history. Less well known is Chaplin the composer.
Chaplin is probably best known as the composer of the chart-topping hit songs "Smile," "Eternally," and "This Is My Song,” but he could not read or write music. It took a rotating cast of talented musicians to translate his unorthodox humming, off-key singing, and amateur piano and violin playing into the singular orchestral vision he heard in his head.
From his earliest compositions in 1916 as part of the short-lived Charlie Chaplin Music Publishing Company through his first experimentations with film music helping to compile scores for The Kid (1921) through The Circus (1928), Chaplin then composed original scores for every film he made during the sound era, from City Lights (1931) until A Countess from Hong Kong (1967). In the last decade of his life, he returned to his silent roots and composed music for the remainder of his silent features and shorts from 1918–1928.
Along the way, he worked with well-known musicians such as Alfred Newman, David Raksin, and Meredith Willson as well as a host of lesser-known and often-forgotten names, most of whom lasted only one film — if that.
Drawing on numerous transcriptions from 60 years of original scores, The Music of Charlie Chaplin is the first comprehensive study that reveals the untold story of Chaplin the composer and the string of famous (and not-so-famous) musicians he employed, shedding new light on the man behind the icon and offering a new way to approach Chaplin’s films — through his music.