Joseph Breil

The Father of Movie Music

Joseph Carl Breil was American lyric tenor, stage director, composer and conductor.  He was the first person to ever compose a score specifically for a move.  The film was “Queen City” starring Sarah Bernhard that was release in 1912.  He composed and arranged scores for several other movies including D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916).  Breil wrote original material for "Birth" including the love theme "The Perfect Song" that became the first hit song taken from a film score. It was later used as the theme song of the "Amos 'n Andy" radio show.

Joseph Breil was born in Pittsburgh in 1870.  His father was a prominent lawyer who had immigrated from Germany.  Breil graduated from Duquesne University in 1888 He continued his studies at St Fidelis College in Butler, Pa. and Curry College.  His family sent him to the University of Leipzig to study law.  But in Leipzig he instead studied music composition and singing at the Leipzig Conservatory.  He continued his music studies with singing lessons in Milan and Philadelphia with Giuseppe del Puente.  Breil toured as the as principal tenor of the Emma Juch Opera Company from 1891 to 1892.  He returned to Pittsburgh where he taught singing and directed the St Paul’s Cathedral choir from 1892 to 1897.

After 1897 Breil was the music director for several theater companies around the country including Chicago and New York.  During this time he composed instrumental works, was and an arranger.  His first success as a composer was the “Song of the Soul” recorded by Marguerite Dunlap on Victor Records in 1910.  He worked as a film composer for ten years.  His film scores include "The White Rose" (1923), and "America" (1924),  "Martyrs of the Alamo" (1915), "The Wood Nymph" (1916), "The White Sister" (1923), and "The Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln" (1924).

Breil also wrote operas.  His first opera, "Orlando of Milan", was performed when he was 18.  His one-act lyric opera “The Legend” premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1919.  Breil wrote five operas: Orlando of Milan (1888), Love Laughs at Locksmiths (1910), Prof. Tattle (1913), The Seventh Chord (1913), The Legend (1919), Der Asra (1925).  He died of heart disease in 1926.