How does music in silent movies help tell the story?
Since in silent movies the emotional or connotative part of a speech utterance, usually supplied by inflection, cannot be shown on a caption, the music supplies some of that aspect of spoken language: tension, tenderness, etc. Since music appeals to the listener in emotive ways, rather than in logical ways, the composer matches the musical phrase with the connotation: fast-paced music for hurried emotional responses (fear, danger, imminent action, etc.), langorous music for contemplative moments, whimsical music for flights of fancy, etc. Originally, the musician – usually an organist or pianist – had to “interpret” the sense of the movie scene by “translating” the speed, tension, etc. of the scene to a fairly limited musical repertoire. Later, audiences “learned” the “vocabulary” of the musical accompaniment, and the performer only had to play from this limited “vocabulary.