The Theodore M. Finney Music Library at the University of Pittsburgh has been awarded a grant of $145,897 by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), under its Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program, to complete the processing and digitization of the Mirskey Collection, an archive of sheet music for silent film accompaniment. Principal investigator for the grant is Jim Cassaro, head of the Finney Music Library and Professor of Music. The Collection is comprised of approximately 3,000 sets of ‘photoplay’ music, or music published specifically for cinema orchestra, with each set averaging fifteen instrumental parts, for a total of 45,000 pages to be digitized and made available globally via open access via a dedicated Web site on the University of Pittsburgh Library System’s Digital Research Library (https://digital.library.pitt.edu/).
Nek Mirskey, for whom the Collection is named, was a Polish immigrant violinist and conductor who collected this music for his Polonia Orchestra, which was the house orchestra for the Metropolitan Theatre in Washington, D.C., from 1916 until Mirskey’s death in 1927. After his death, the Collection was donated to the Alliance College (Cambridge Springs, PA), and upon that institution’s closing in 1991, it was transferred to the ULS, along with other Polish materials. Markings on the instrumental parts indicate that they were well used in performances and marked in ways that indicate performance practices such as synchronization, cuts, repeats, the interpolation of music from one piece into another, and other alterations. Included in the Collection are full runs of photoplay albums, among them those of Sam Fox, the Forster Motion Picture Incidental Music Series, the Jungnickel Photoplay Series, and the Kinothek series, among others.
The Collection has been recently used by silent film scholars to reconstruct scores for various films. Among them are Gillian Anderson’s restoration of the score to Rosita, an Ernst Lubitsch film restored by the Museum of Modern Art (New York), which opened the 2017 Venice Film Festival, as well as the score to Forbidden Paradise, another Lubitsch film. Currently, Anderson is using the Collection to restore the score to Way Down East (1920), a D.W. Griffith film, starring Lillian Gish.
Approximately eighty-seven percent of the Collection is cataloged, with full-level records appearing in PittCat and OCLC WorldCat. The funds from the two-year grant will not only cover the digitization costs, but to complete the cataloguing of the collection, and to create the dedicated Web site.