For years, I have been tantalized by a piece mentioned in Forsyth’s Orchestration. In several of the chapters, he mentions a piece called Apollo and the Seaman by Joseph Holbrooke. It’s known as an early use of symphonic saxophones and sarrusophones, and as such holds a significant place in the history of orchestration. Not only that, it is quite possible that it was the first composition designed to be played in a multimedia setting. To perform the piece, the orchestra and choir were to be placed in the dark, what a projector shown images of the of the text of the poem or images based on the text on a screen in front of the orchestra. If this sounds like the setting for a silent movie, you’re right. Except this piece dates from 1908, right at the dawn of feature length movies.
Essentially, Apollo and the Seaman was the first ever soundtrack.
The work received only a handful of performances due to its size and the cantankerous nature of the composer. The last time any part of it was played, according to my research, was in 1914 – over 100 years ago.
I am currently working on a modern day edition of the second movement for wind ensemble so that some part of this lost work may live again. I’ll continue to provide updates as the project progresses, but as of right now, on hearing the first few notes of the work, it really has been unjustly neglected for the past century.